Historic Colorado Connections: Cowboys, Chaps & Commodore Clothing

Levi Strauss & Co.
June 11, 2015

I recently visited Denver to attend the “Western Roundup,” a conference hosted by the Society of Rocky Mountain Archivists. Colorado has a storied past rooted in cowboy culture as well as a long history of mining. Levi Strauss & Co. shares ties to the Centennial State, also known as Colorful Colorado, based on its location and heritage in the American West. From cowboy shirts to denim duds, I discovered some unusual LS&Co. and Colorado connections.

During my visit, I stopped by the KUSA-TV Colorado & Company studio to share our “Commodore Chaps” blue jeans:


Cowboy Clothing

One of my favorite finds? A cowboy mural painted on the side of a building near Denver’s Union Station. The colorful painting depicts a cowboy dressed in a Western shirt, bandana, and cowboy hat. While I couldn’t confirm that the cowboy was wearing a pair of Levi’s® blue jeans, I noted that the mural was situated near Rockmount Ranch Wear. I met Steve Weil, grandson of Jack Weil, the original Rockmount owner who opened the store in 1946. Back then, the upscale retail area now known as “LoDo” was considered skid row, Denver’s warehouse district.IMG_2264

Today Weil’s shop boasts colorful Western shirts, cowboy hats, belt buckles, and boots. Like LS&Co., Rockmount has outfitted ranchers, cowboys and even movie stars. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal wore a Rockmount shirt in the 2005 movie, Brokeback Mountain. Weil displays the shirt in an exhibit on the second floor of his store.

What pants did Jack Twist (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) wear in Brokeback Mountain? In scenes 66 to 69 of the movie he wore Signature by Levi Strauss & Co.™ jeans. Jack Twist, in scene 66, returns the year after he meets Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) to ask Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) if he needs help on Brokeback Mountain, hoping to see Ennis again. The Brokeback jeans worn by Gyllenhaal were acquired by the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives in 2014.

Cowboy mural on Wazee Street in Denver near Rockmount Ranch Wear:


Colorado Mining: Commodore Mine

Along with its cowboy heritage, Colorado has a long history of mining. Twenty years after LS&Co. manufactured the world’s first blue jeans, the silver mine bonanzas of the 1890s brought hundreds of miners to the state. The Commodore Mine, in south west Colorado, was among the mines that began operation. The Commodore Mine was a flurry of activity through World War II, and finally closed in 1976. Today the historic wooden trestles of the Commodore Mine near Creed are about all that remains of an earlier era—with the exception of two unusual pairs of Levi’s® blue jeans.

Lot 501 men's jeans Big E Commodore Mine Colorado 1945-1972

Lot 501 men's jeans Big E Commodore Mine Colorado 1936-1940 red tab

The “Commodore” and the “Commodore Chaps” blue jeans were both found at the Commodore Mine and are part of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives. One pair was manufactured around 1938. The second pair date from after the war. Both pairs are 501® jeans with lots of wear and a few thread bare spots. The pants were presumably worn by miners.

The 1938 pair sports a back cinch and a Red Tab, a new addition to the 501® jean in 1936. The back pocket rivets are also covered, a change introduced in 1937. LS&Co. covered the back pocket rivets following complaints that the rivets scratched saddles and cowboy boots.

The “Commodore Chaps” were manufactured during World War II as evidenced by the missing back cinch—a wartime conservation measure. The most unique feature of the jeans is the shadow of chaps, a protective legging worn over the jeans with a belt.

Rodeo Rags

What other Colorado clothes reside in the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives? Two trucker jackets with a rodeo theme. One sherpa-lined jacket was owned by rodeo bull rider Shawn Edwards who was born and raised in Colorado.

The second is a 1995 trucker jacket with an embroidered back featuring a logo of a rodeo clown reunion held in Colorado Springs:

Rodeo Clown Reunion Pike's Peak or Bust Rodeo Colorado Springs Colorado customized blue denim jacket 1995

My trip to Colorado was informative and nostalgic—it left me conjuring up images of the old West, a way of life fashioned for the past 142 years by Levi Strauss & Co.


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