One of the most recognizable trademarks in the world has just turned 75. And we’re proud to say, it’s ours.
That trademark is officially known as the “Tab Device.” You might just call it “the red Tab” when you see it on someone’s, um, back pocket.
To vintage clothing collectors, graphic artists, designers and advertising executives, the Tab Device is an icon, and it’s sometimes hard to believe it hasn’t been a part of Levi’s® jeans since the beginning.
It was first used in 1936, but its story goes back much further.
Levi Strauss & Co. and tailor Jacob Davis received a U.S. patent to make riveted denim pants in 1873: the first blue jeans. In 1890, that patent went into the public domain, which happens to all inventions after a certain number of years.
Suddenly it seemed everybody who had a dry goods business or was somehow linked to the clothing industry started making riveted denim clothing. And of course, theirs looked just like ours.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
Brands such as Stronghold, Can’t Bust ‘Em, Boss of the Road and others started flooding the western market with dark blue, riveted denim jeans, which also happened to have a leather patch on the waistband and pocket stitching that was suspiciously similar to our Arcuate stitching design.
Now, this went on for decades, and in the 1930s our managers were, understandably, pretty frustrated. They were always doing informal market surveys – which generally meant looking at the public’s rear ends on the street and at rodeos – and had trouble distinguishing our products from the competition when viewed at a distance.
The problem was solved in 1936.
National Sales Manager Chris Lucier came up with the idea of placing “a folded cloth ribbon in the structural seam of a rear patch pocket,” which is how he described his idea to fellow employees. The word LEVI’S® was woven in white on the red ribbon and it was sewn onto the right back pocket of the 501® jeans.
It worked beautifully: the deep red contrasted with the dark blue denim, and suddenly management had a much easier time with its market surveys.
LS&Co. also made sure to include the phrase “Look for the Red Tab” on a variety of in-store and outdoor advertising in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Tab Device was registered as a trademark, and in 1938 it was first used on Levi’s® jackets. Beginning in the early 1960s the Tab Device color moved beyond red to white, orange, black, and silver. These represented different lines of clothing, from corduroy flares to boot cut jeans to womenswear.
But red is where it all started. Those early managers sure knew how to pick the right color – and where to put it!