The Vintage Denim Banner – An Old Western Custom

Today, Stylesight’s denim team takes a look at one of denim’s most cherished and sought-after relics: the denim banner.

The colorful and eye-catching banners of mid-century denim advertising are getting a significant resurgence at the moment. We’ve noted the banners cropping up at trade shows as well as being re-embraced in stores, design studios and among collectors alike.

So how did they come about? By the early `50s, denim pioneers Levi’s wanted to grow the brand and broaden the audience for their jeans – aside from the typical cowboys and workmen who were most associated with denim. In order to market their wears to general public the brand came up with the idea to create a selection of stunning denim banners (like point of sale billboards of the time) that would sit alongside their pants in store. Selling the romance of American West, the banners were designed to entice the average folk to begin to adopt their patented jeans as a staple item of their wardrobe. This was a fantastic piece of advertising at the time, with the then iconic American cowboy (championed by Western heroins like John Wayne and Gary Cooper) depicted in serene sunset scenes on horse back or smoking a cigarette in their Levi’s. Each banner would feature slogans like “America’s finest overall since 1850” and funny tag lines like “Without a match” or “For solid comfort…”. And they came in epic proportions too with each banner reaching anything from seven to ten feet long.

The imagery was delicately printed onto Narrow Ring Ring Selvage Denims using a silkscreen process. While this created beautiful high quality visual, the rugged character of the fabric meant that they were only able to get a couple of hundred impressions before the screen broke down so they were only available in very limited numbers.

Today, these iconic pieces have become a must-have collectors piece for denim and vintage enthusiasts alike. Take a look on eBay, Japanese vintage sellers websites and even renowned auction houses and you’ll see the demand for these relics with rare items reaching into the thousands.

In early 2000s Levi’s Japan came up with the ingenious idea to remixing these amazing visuals with some of Levi’s iconic silhouettes. A super limited-edition run of type-ii jackets and pants were released throughout Japan and were immediately snapped up by collectors. Fear not though, for F/W 14, Levi’s Vintage Clothing design director Miles Johnson revisited this story, creating a collection of similar type-i jackets, 5-pocket fits and a bag using some of the archive prints. LVC has also commissioned British artist, Mark MacDonald to recreate a selection of the archival designs for their their launch events.

Of course it wasn’t just Levi’s that produced these banners; competitors like Wrangler Bluebell and Lee also knocked up their own versions too. And more recently, purists brands like Kapital, Flat Head and Studio D’artisan have produced their own tributes to the concept too. 

Check out this old video from the antiques roadshow where experts talk through the history of the banner.

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