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Pean to Lee denim and modern repros

One Drop

One of the Regulars
Messages
184
Location
Swiss Alps
For a variety of reasons (marketing, lesser past and current popularity compared to Levis, limited production and distribution of repro versions, etc), Lee jeans and jackets get a lot less attention here and in general than Levis do.

Growing up in Montreal in the 60s and 70s, Levis were at first entirely unavailable and later only in limited versions and models, and remained far less popular then Lee, which were THE denim brand through these decades. If you were poor or if your folks didn't understand the importance of flashing the right brand, you wore the cheaper copy Lois.

Before it was even called the Canadian Tuxedo, wearing Lee Riders and a 101J denim jacket was the uniform that crossed the generation gap and various subcultures, everyone had them in the closet and many of us lived in them; I can remember wearing them religiously for years.

Eventually I got into Levis when raw shrink to fit versions hit the shops, though I had owned a few oairs before that I would get on NYC trips, foe example to get bell bottoms before they were available in Montreal, and soon after pretty much stopped wearing jeans until decades later, when raw denim and repros started really making waves.

During this time I tried out a few different brands, mostly sticking to classic cuts and not going crazy for extreme fades or extra heavy or slubby or other extreme denim types, having always loved the way good denim would fade and become velvet and soft and change character as it would wear, I preferred to cold machine wash them occasionally and wear the crap out of a few pairs rather than do what many denim heads did, namely buying multiple pairs and barely or never washing them. This way I'd always have a pair for work, for casual wear, and for kicking around, getting dirty, etc.

I tried a few brands that no longer exist, Naked and famous, a few versions of Levi repros, but never fell in love with a pair until I stumbled across my old favorite and standby HD Lee.


I now wear vintage 101Js, Westerner and Storm Rider jackets, and the superb European 101 series jeans, mostly the 101Z regular fit and recently a pair of the very cool 50s Rider, high-waisted and straight-legged, and all in the original beautiful Lee blue and the very soft and comfortable left hand twill. They go great with my Western shirts, or any traditionally cut shirt worn tucked in, and especially cool with the short vintage jackets, which really don't work as well with modern untucked fashion.

I'd love to hear from any other fans of this special brand, whether past or present !

I'd love to
 

Ernest P Shackleton

One Too Many
Messages
1,220
Location
Midwest
I grew up in the Midwest USA. I'm oversimplifying here... Lee were for girls, farmers, and for people who couldn't afford Levis. The girls wore them because the pre-fade and lighter colored denim were more feminine and fashion conscious. The farmers wore them because they were very inexpensive (often half the price of Levis) and more readily fit over their boots. If they wore Levis, it was more for special occasions or their church jeans. I never liked jeans because they irritated my skin and simply weren't comfortable to me. I didn't really wear jeans because I liked them until I got my first pair of Lees. I liked the looser fit because they didn't bother my skin and were easier to wear when active and doing things. The denim wasn't as stiff right off the shelf too. I liked that. Breaking in clothing is not fun to me. I have to say that the Lees weren't as durable as Levis, and because of that, I moved to wearing Oshkosh dungarees, which are still my preferred style of jeans. When tight jeans and stretch jeans came into style, I never understood it. They look like the most uncomfortable things. I now have a Lee jean jacket that I picked up for nothing at a thrift store, and I don't like it more or less than the Levis jacket I once owned. I guess I'm not really a denim person. I still find it an uncomfortable material. I'd honestly rather wear duck canvas.
 

One Drop

One of the Regulars
Messages
184
Location
Swiss Alps
I grew up in the Midwest USA. I'm oversimplifying here... Lee were for girls, farmers, and for people who couldn't afford Levis. The girls wore them because the pre-fade and lighter colored denim were more feminine and fashion conscious. The farmers wore them because they were very inexpensive (often half the price of Levis) and more readily fit over their boots. If they wore Levis, it was more for special occasions or their church jeans. I never liked jeans because they irritated my skin and simply weren't comfortable to me. I didn't really wear jeans because I liked them until I got my first pair of Lees. I liked the looser fit because they didn't bother my skin and were easier to wear when active and doing things. The denim wasn't as stiff right off the shelf too. I liked that. Breaking in clothing is not fun to me. I have to say that the Lees weren't as durable as Levis, and because of that, I moved to wearing Oshkosh dungarees, which are still my preferred style of jeans. When tight jeans and stretch jeans came into style, I never understood it. They look like the most uncomfortable things. I now have a Lee jean jacket that I picked up for nothing at a thrift store, and I don't like it more or less than the Levis jacket I once owned. I guess I'm not really a denim person. I still find it an uncomfortable material. I'd honestly rather wear duck canvas.

Thanks for your comments, I found them fascinating, this is the kind of thing that really interests me about past fashions, styles, and trends, and how they vary from region to region and person to person.

I haven't noticed a difference much in durability but by the time I wore Levi's I was much less hard on jeans than when I was younger, so I can't really compare based on experience. I used to, and still do, rinse or soak my jeans once before wearing them, raw and completely dry they just feel terrible to me too, and they actually wear far less well because breaks and tears end up developing where they fold and crease the most heavily, as I'm not concerned with extreme fades I end up with that great but short sweet spot window when they get velvety soft and not yet frayed or torn, and look amazing as well, in a way pre-faded jeans can never look or feel.

I always remember Lees being about the Boot Cut, too, it was their most common style through the decades.
 

mullitt

Familiar Face
Messages
96
I love a good Levi's 501, but Lee Riders have a more interesting cut to me. Higher rise to match the classic 101J short cropped jacket. I wish they sold those European repros in America, I'd like to try some on to figure out what size I'd wear.
The jackets are the best. The 101J Rider is the perfect trucker design, with the higher crop and the slanted, rounded pockets. Levi's Type III don't hold a candle in my opinion.
In my jacket rotation I have a 60s 101J, a 70s Storm Rider and a 60s Lee Westerner in white, which is I think the best western jacket ever made.
 

One Drop

One of the Regulars
Messages
184
Location
Swiss Alps
I love a good Levi's 501, but Lee Riders have a more interesting cut to me. Higher rise to match the classic 101J short cropped jacket. I wish they sold those European repros in America, I'd like to try some on to figure out what size I'd wear.
The jackets are the best. The 101J Rider is the perfect trucker design, with the higher crop and the slanted, rounded pockets. Levi's Type III don't hold a candle in my opinion.
In my jacket rotation I have a 60s 101J, a 70s Storm Rider and a 60s Lee Westerner in white, which is I think the best western jacket ever made.

I'm with you all the way regarding the 101J, and have almost the same rotation, save for my two Westerners, both being Japanese repros, one in the classic cream colour and the other in a greenish hue that has faded to tan since <i picked it up in used but excellent condition. The cream/white one comes out for special occasions, it's minty and I find it more difficult to match up with my everyday clothes, but when paired with the right pants looks incredible.

I just picked up one of the last available 101 50's Riders pants from their last Euro run, the waist is very high and the drape is amazing with the wide straight legs, at first it feels like a whole lot of jeans these days after getting used to slimmer cuts, but they look great with a tucked in shirt and/or a short jacket. I wear them un-cuffed with a good break with boots, the need a boot or chunky shoe to look their best.

RE : Sizing, in the European 101 series they seem to all fit exactly true to size, across their models. be careful, though, if you're looking for a repro of the 101J jacket, the '50s version (in right hand twill, unfortunately) is cut short and a bit boxy and looks fabulous, but the other model based on '60s version of the original is just too long to loo the part, even though advertised as a short trucker trucker.
 

mullitt

Familiar Face
Messages
96
I'm with you all the way regarding the 101J, and have almost the same rotation, save for my two Westerners, both being Japanese repros, one in the classic cream colour and the other in a greenish hue that has faded to tan since <i picked it up in used but excellent condition. The cream/white one comes out for special occasions, it's minty and I find it more difficult to match up with my everyday clothes, but when paired with the right pants looks incredible.

I just picked up one of the last available 101 50's Riders pants from their last Euro run, the waist is very high and the drape is amazing with the wide straight legs, at first it feels like a whole lot of jeans these days after getting used to slimmer cuts, but they look great with a tucked in shirt and/or a short jacket. I wear them un-cuffed with a good break with boots, the need a boot or chunky shoe to look their best.

RE : Sizing, in the European 101 series they seem to all fit exactly true to size, across their models. be careful, though, if you're looking for a repro of the 101J jacket, the '50s version (in right hand twill, unfortunately) is cut short and a bit boxy and looks fabulous, but the other model based on '60s version of the original is just too long to loo the part, even though advertised as a short trucker trucker.

I'd be interested in the 50s Riders, but now the secondhand market is insane and really not worth it to me when you can get better stuff for far less than $3-400. I personally wouldn't buy a repro jacket because I like jackets more broken in and you can get great 101js for fairly cheap still. Not like Levi's yet. The Westerners are a different matter, since they're usually really expensive now and can look dingy if they're old and not taken care of. When I was in Europe last year I found some of the repro Westerner pants to match the jacket but they didn't have them in my size.
 

One Drop

One of the Regulars
Messages
184
Location
Swiss Alps
I'd be interested in the 50s Riders, but now the secondhand market is insane and really not worth it to me when you can get better stuff for far less than $3-400. I personally wouldn't buy a repro jacket because I like jackets more broken in and you can get great 101js for fairly cheap still. Not like Levi's yet. The Westerners are a different matter, since they're usually really expensive now and can look dingy if they're old and not taken care of. When I was in Europe last year I found some of the repro Westerner pants to match the jacket but they didn't have them in my size.

You might find the Westerner pants from Japanese sites, there seem to be a lot left i many sizes, but you'd have to have a good look at the measurements to make sure they'll fit.

I wouldn't buy a repro denim jacket either, you're right about the vintage Westerners not looking great by now or if they do, costing an arm and a leg.

The 50s Rider pants still available cost far less that USD 300-400, more like €150 - 200, with shipping you're probably looking at under USD $250.

A steal at USD 170.00, where I ordered mine from, on closeout sale :
https://britishpartsluzern.ch/products/lee-101-50s-rider-jeans-dry?variant=39309445857440

Even cheaper from a German site than ships worldwide, looks legit, small sizes only :
https://www.dress-for-less.ch/en/lee-101-50's-rider-dry-jeans-blue/A0047972.html

Other options :
https://deeceestyle.ch/products/lee-101-50s-rider-jeans

A few sizes left on a good Swedish site :
https://www.dress-for-less.ch/en/lee-101-50's-rider-dry-jeans-blue/A0047972.html


Fortunately there are still good deals, as you say, on the vintage 101J jackets, I haven't paid more that $200 for very good condition 60s examples, with a little patience and searching. Good Storm Riders from the 60s have become quite spendy, unless heavily worn, I'd love to find a pre-side pocket version with a good wool liner but haven't seen one I can (or rather want to) afford yet.
 

mullitt

Familiar Face
Messages
96
You might find the Westerner pants from Japanese sites, there seem to be a lot left i many sizes, but you'd have to have a good look at the measurements to make sure they'll fit.

I wouldn't buy a repro denim jacket either, you're right about the vintage Westerners not looking great by now or if they do, costing an arm and a leg.

The 50s Rider pants still available cost far less that USD 300-400, more like €150 - 200, with shipping you're probably looking at under USD $250.

A steal at USD 170.00, where I ordered mine from, on closeout sale :
https://britishpartsluzern.ch/products/lee-101-50s-rider-jeans-dry?variant=39309445857440

Even cheaper from a German site than ships worldwide, looks legit, small sizes only :
https://www.dress-for-less.ch/en/lee-101-50's-rider-dry-jeans-blue/A0047972.html

Other options :
https://deeceestyle.ch/products/lee-101-50s-rider-jeans

A few sizes left on a good Swedish site :
https://www.dress-for-less.ch/en/lee-101-50's-rider-dry-jeans-blue/A0047972.html


Fortunately there are still good deals, as you say, on the vintage 101J jackets, I haven't paid more that $200 for very good condition 60s examples, with a little patience and searching. Good Storm Riders from the 60s have become quite spendy, unless heavily worn, I'd love to find a pre-side pocket version with a good wool liner but haven't seen one I can (or rather want to) afford yet.
Thanks for the links, I'm considering a pair now.

I was lucky enough to get my Westerner years ago for $40. One of the best deals I've ever come across.
Storm Riders are crawling up in price. I had a 60s one for awhile but it didn't fit the way I liked and I traded it in and got a deadstock 70s one, but it does have a wool blend liner instead of just the wool. I don't really care, though, because ultimately the fit and look are correct.
 

Edward

Bartender
Messages
24,787
Location
London, UK
Lee were big news in Northern Ireland in my youth. Some time in the early eighties, they opened a factory in Newtonards. Some point after 83, that was. The previous owners of the brand had a factory in Greenock, in Scotland. In 1981, it was announced that factory would be moving to NI; the workers revolted by barricading themselves into the factory and refusing to leave until their jobs were secured. Intended originally as an overnight protest, it escalated and they were there for seven months. The story had a happy ending..... for a while: new owners bought out the brand and kept the Greenock factory alive, until they went bust in 1983, and it got sold off, and the factory closed. There were NI plants in both Derry and Newtonards from the early eighties, an era in which the British government were offering attractive subsidies to take jobs to that region, then suffering from a lack of inward investment as a result of our well-publicised local 'Troubles'.

I remember the Ards factory well; they had an outlet shop where you could buy jeans at less than retail. Anything dubbed a 'second' - which was often a flaw you really couldn't find easily - sold c.1993 for £12 (just over GBP23 in today's money). This was around the time that Levis 501s had dropped from their circa 1989 peak of GBP50 a pair (£121 in 2023 money) to about £40 in 1993 (£78 today). The Lees were nice, but the cut never worked for me so I didn't wear them. That was I think before the time they did any sort of repop model (at least that sold in NI), so it was the standard issue line on sale, with the same low waistband that hit four inches south of my actual waist, and were desperately uncomfortable. I had one pair once - they got worn maybe twice before being passed on to my brother. My jeans of choice in the 90s were Lee Cooper at £20 - a more modest £35 in 2023 money. Those and combat trousers from the local army surplus place, £15 (£27.07 today). The Ards factory shut down in the late 199s (1997, if memory serves), and Lee concentrated their UK operation in Nottingham, though I don't think that is there at all now - or if it is. it's all distribution and no manufacturing.

I've not looked at any of those brands in a long time. The Levis I had (615s, 522s, 521s) mostly wore out pretty quickly by comparison. These days I mostly wear Wrangler 13MWZ, Prison Blues, or Lutec. High and wide. The rise of these would have pleased teenage me - not that I would have had the vocabulary for it, I would just have noticed the comfort factor - though I' have been aghast at wearing something wider than drainpipes!
 

One Drop

One of the Regulars
Messages
184
Location
Swiss Alps
Lee were big news in Northern Ireland in my youth. Some time in the early eighties, they opened a factory in Newtonards. Some point after 83, that was. The previous owners of the brand had a factory in Greenock, in Scotland. In 1981, it was announced that factory would be moving to NI; the workers revolted by barricading themselves into the factory and refusing to leave until their jobs were secured. Intended originally as an overnight protest, it escalated and they were there for seven months. The story had a happy ending..... for a while: new owners bought out the brand and kept the Greenock factory alive, until they went bust in 1983, and it got sold off, and the factory closed. There were NI plants in both Derry and Newtonards from the early eighties, an era in which the British government were offering attractive subsidies to take jobs to that region, then suffering from a lack of inward investment as a result of our well-publicised local 'Troubles'.

I remember the Ards factory well; they had an outlet shop where you could buy jeans at less than retail. Anything dubbed a 'second' - which was often a flaw you really couldn't find easily - sold c.1993 for £12 (just over GBP23 in today's money). This was around the time that Levis 501s had dropped from their circa 1989 peak of GBP50 a pair (£121 in 2023 money) to about £40 in 1993 (£78 today). The Lees were nice, but the cut never worked for me so I didn't wear them. That was I think before the time they did any sort of repop model (at least that sold in NI), so it was the standard issue line on sale, with the same low waistband that hit four inches south of my actual waist, and were desperately uncomfortable. I had one pair once - they got worn maybe twice before being passed on to my brother. My jeans of choice in the 90s were Lee Cooper at £20 - a more modest £35 in 2023 money. Those and combat trousers from the local army surplus place, £15 (£27.07 today). The Ards factory shut down in the late 199s (1997, if memory serves), and Lee concentrated their UK operation in Nottingham, though I don't think that is there at all now - or if it is. it's all distribution and no manufacturing.

I've not looked at any of those brands in a long time. The Levis I had (615s, 522s, 521s) mostly wore out pretty quickly by comparison. These days I mostly wear Wrangler 13MWZ, Prison Blues, or Lutec. High and wide. The rise of these would have pleased teenage me - not that I would have had the vocabulary for it, I would just have noticed the comfort factor - though I' have been aghast at wearing something wider than drainpipes!

Great reminiscences thanks !

I've never worn Wranglers, they were around but weren't popular in Eastern Canada. I did recently buy a fabulous vintage classic Wrangler denim Western shirt off of Etsy, it's lovely dark denim, the design and trim are really attractive, and his has a long tail, also a bugbear with me these days, as I really like the classic look of a tucked in slim-fit Western shirt with high-rise jeans or pants.
 

Albe64

One of the Regulars
Messages
161
Levis has always been big and mainstream in Italy...In my youth in the late 70s early 80s popped up several local interesting and aggressive brands (Roy Rogers, Rifle, Carrera, Jesus, Fiorucci and others...) that were making waves on the market. Like @Edward reminded, me and the boys from the punk/skin scene would never wear something "larger than drainpipes" and we were heavily customising our clothes so the fit was more important than the brand....Nowadays I wear only 40s style denims, high waist and large straight legs, and have developed a strong taste for ring denim or broken denim...I'd never buy a pair of jeans with open end denim (Levis after leaving Cone Mills and all the other cheap brands) so this narrows my choice to high quality Lees, Wranglers pro rodeo, and all the amazing japanese repros. In terms of denim jacket, I like only Lee 101J and Lee Storm Rider (not later than early 70s) or Studio D'Artisan Storm rider repro. A special mention to Lee that has kept in catalogue the heavy weights up to 21/23 oz. Props to them!
 
Last edited:

The Lost Cowboy

One Too Many
Messages
1,066
Location
Northern Alabama
When I was growing up, if you weren't wearing Levi's you were just nobody. I wanted to be Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon with his tight Levis and cowboy boots. Or Sam Elliot in Road House (I still love both of those characters, btw).

But as a semi driver, I tried all kinds of Levi's and none of them worked for me. They are just too tight in the crotch to be comfortable behind the wheel.

These days, I'm a Wrangler man myself and find the quality to be better than Levi's at a fraction of the price.

But most importantly, they are roomier in the crotch.

My experience was validated one day sitting in a restaurant outside of Cheyenne, WY. There is all kinds of cowboy memorabilia in that place and at my table was this newspaper interview with a famous cowboy who had moved to Wyoming as a boy. He said when he first arrived, no cowboy would be caught dead in Levi's, that Levi's were considered Hollywood fashion and working class men didn't bother with that.

Since that time, every time I see a sex symbol in Levi's all I do is wince.

Different needs produce different fashion. I'm thankful for my loose jeans.

E83A0DA0-6AB8-4F16-B2A8-44DA2345607E.jpeg
 

Teej

New in Town
Messages
28
I love Lee
For a variety of reasons (marketing, lesser past and current popularity compared to Levis, limited production and distribution of repro versions, etc), Lee jeans and jackets get a lot less attention here and in general than Levis do.

Growing up in Montreal in the 60s and 70s, Levis were at first entirely unavailable and later only in limited versions and models, and remained far less popular then Lee, which were THE denim brand through these decades. If you were poor or if your folks didn't understand the importance of flashing the right brand, you wore the cheaper copy Lois.

Before it was even called the Canadian Tuxedo, wearing Lee Riders and a 101J denim jacket was the uniform that crossed the generation gap and various subcultures, everyone had them in the closet and many of us lived in them; I can remember wearing them religiously for years.

Eventually I got into Levis when raw shrink to fit versions hit the shops, though I had owned a few oairs before that I would get on NYC trips, foe example to get bell bottoms before they were available in Montreal, and soon after pretty much stopped wearing jeans until decades later, when raw denim and repros started really making waves.

During this time I tried out a few different brands, mostly sticking to classic cuts and not going crazy for extreme fades or extra heavy or slubby or other extreme denim types, having always loved the way good denim would fade and become velvet and soft and change character as it would wear, I preferred to cold machine wash them occasionally and wear the crap out of a few pairs rather than do what many denim heads did, namely buying multiple pairs and barely or never washing them. This way I'd always have a pair for work, for casual wear, and for kicking around, getting dirty, etc.

I tried a few brands that no longer exist, Naked and famous, a few versions of Levi repros, but never fell in love with a pair until I stumbled across my old favorite and standby HD Lee.


I now wear vintage 101Js, Westerner and Storm Rider jackets, and the superb European 101 series jeans, mostly the 101Z regular fit and recently a pair of the very cool 50s Rider, high-waisted and straight-legged, and all in the original beautiful Lee blue and the very soft and comfortable left hand twill. They go great with my Western shirts, or any traditionally cut shirt worn tucked in, and especially cool with the short vintage jackets, which really don't work as well with modern untucked fashion.

I'd love to hear from any other fans of this special brand, whether past or present !

I'd love to
I love Lee jeans and Lee western wear more than Levis. It wasn’t accessible to me growing up but when I went to college I saw some guys wearing it and it looked very cool and detailed and so well made- more so than what I had been accustomed to seeing in the Levis line. I now search out anything Lee and always find it more interesting than Levis.
 

One Drop

One of the Regulars
Messages
184
Location
Swiss Alps
I love Lee

I love Lee jeans and Lee western wear more than Levis. It wasn’t accessible to me growing up but when I went to college I saw some guys wearing it and it looked very cool and detailed and so well made- more so than what I had been accustomed to seeing in the Levis line. I now search out anything Lee and always find it more interesting than Levis.
When I was growing up, if you weren't wearing Levi's you were just nobody. I wanted to be Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon with his tight Levis and cowboy boots. Or Sam Elliot in Road House (I still love both of those characters, btw).

But as a semi driver, I tried all kinds of Levi's and none of them worked for me. They are just too tight in the crotch to be comfortable behind the wheel.

These days, I'm a Wrangler man myself and find the quality to be better than Levi's at a fraction of the price.

But most importantly, they are roomier in the crotch.

My experience was validated one day sitting in a restaurant outside of Cheyenne, WY. There is all kinds of cowboy memorabilia in that place and at my table was this newspaper interview with a famous cowboy who had moved to Wyoming as a boy. He said when he first arrived, no cowboy would be caught dead in Levi's, that Levi's were considered Hollywood fashion and working class men didn't bother with that.

Since that time, every time I see a sex symbol in Levi's all I do is wince.

Different needs produce different fashion. I'm thankful for my loose jeans.

View attachment 532552

Their jeans are very flattering if you are slim or have a good physique, I bought a pair of dead-stock 13MWZ from the '70s, I really like the Cowboy Cut, and they are extremely hard wearing, far more so than Levis and Lees. No crazy fades or wear, they are just a very well made jean that sells for a fraction of the other big brands.

I also picked up, both used, a like-new dark denim Maverick Bluebell Western shirt (copy of the '60s model) and a well worn and faded original Wrangler denim 50's Western shirt, the one with the funky and much copied slanted pockets. Both have long tails and stay tucked in, and both look amazing, by far my favorite of the old big brand Western shirts.

They sure made some ugly denim jackets but their jeans and shirts have always been great designs.
 

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