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OFF THE CUFF

Levi's May Fade and Wear, but Their Image Remains Intact

March 02, 1995

A t Stray Cat Vintage and Costume store in Fullerton, the racks are lined with letterman jackets, flappers dresses from the '20s, poodle skirts from the '50s and Kramer shirts from the '60s. But those aren't the store's hottest ticket.

It's Levi's, that all-American, buns-hugging standby, says owner Sabrina Contreras.

Denim has been in favor since Levi Strauss created the first jeans in the 1870s for cowboys and miners. Elvis, James Dean and Bruce Springsteen made the mercilessly well-worn jeans cool. Since the early '80s, used jeans have been in demand all over the world, with used 501s--the Levi's model with the button fly--selling for about $70 in Japan.

This is another in a series of first-person columns that allow people connected to the fashion industry to talk about their encounters.

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When we opened six years ago, we wanted to bring into our store vintage clothing and Americana novelty things. From Day One, we have had lots of Levi's. It's such an American item to carry. Our volume just grew because everyone wants the old ones versus the new ones.

We get buyers who are moms, kids and people collecting them to sell. People who bring in their used Levi's for us to sell do so because they are losing weight or just want to get rid of them. It's amazing how many Levi's people collect over the years. It's epidemic.

Other companies sell Levi's overseas, but we try to keep everything here. Our attitude is, "keep it in the U.S.A.; let the kids enjoy it." We have contacts who want to buy hundreds for Japan, but we say no.

The Levi's purist only wants the 501, but we'll look at anything.

We have thousands of Levi's stored in our warehouse. There they are washed, inspected and sized. We display them in the store so customers can find their size. We have them organized into categories such as having holes or no holes, if they are light colored or dark.

We specialize in bell-bottoms, which are kind of a constant trendy thing. Large sizes, long ones and those shredded at the bottom are also popular. In the summer, we have cutoffs. We have wearable art Levi's too; we can specially paint them, or they may already be painted. We also carry denim jackets and vests.

Mall stores carry used Levi's now because people love the comfort and look of the resale ones. It's cooler to wear old ones than new ones. And they don't shrink. Customers know how their Levi's are gonna fit in a month, and they don't have to wash them 100 times to get that look and fit. The older, the better.

We can look at vintage Levi's and tell you when they were made, but there's no reason to date them. Our customer isn't that interested in how old they are, but how cool they look.

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