Denim hunter Rose DeBruin stands in front of racks of clothing in her vintage shop. She is smiling and her hands are looped in her front belt loops. She wears a black T-shirt and green pants. The photo is placed over a blue denim texture background.

Rose DeBruin, Denim Hunter

Tracey Panek, LS&Co. Historian
Levi Strauss & Co.
March 21, 2024

Denim hunting, where denim enthusiasts on the lookout for old denim explore surprising locations — old attics and walls, barns, mine shafts, even caves — is a hobby that has been traditionally dominated by men. But that hasn’t stopped Rose DeBruin, a bright and bold new denim hunter who is giving the guys a run for their money. She and I recently spoke about her denim hunting adventures and the day she found a unique pair of Levi’s® pants.

An Intergenerational Love for Levi’s®

Rose was surrounded by Levi’s® pieces starting from a young age — literally.

“My grandpa loved to sew and make jean quilts, and my mom says I was rolling around on those quilts since I was little,” she told me. “So apparently I’ve been rolling around on buckle backs and Levi’s® forever.”

Rose’s grandfather, like many others in her hometown of Lewiston, Idaho, wore Levi’s® for practical reasons. “I remember my grandpa was always wearing Levi’s®. There are a lot of hard-working, blue-collar people in our area, and they wear Levi’s® because they just hold up.”

Rose also wore Levi’s® as a child, although hers were a bit different. “I showed [as part of the 4-H Club] novelty goats — dairy goats, but smaller ones — and in the ring you had to wear white. I always wore white Levi’s®, because they were the ones that were easiest to get the dirt off of,” she said.

Discovering the Thrill of the (Denim) Hunt

As she got older, Rose developed a love for vintage clothing, particularly bell bottoms and Western wear. She started running a vintage clothing booth and traveled to different vendor events. It was at one of these that she met denim hunter Idaho Jeans, who told her about going on picks — trips looking for denim in different old houses. They exchanged information, and a few weeks later Rose got a text from Idaho Jeans, inviting her on a pick.

“I was like, yeah, I’ll change my whole schedule and go on this pick,” she said.

Rose was hooked immediately. She and fellow denim hunters would travel from town to town, looking for old denim. Some leads they got from people they talked with, other times they drove around towns searching for places that might have denim hiding inside their walls.

Left: Rose DeBruin stands in front of a concrete wall and looks up towards the right. She is wearing a grey headband, distressed T-shirt, grey cargo pants and hiking boots. Right: Rose DeBruin smiles and holds up a pair of brown Levi's® trousers that she found on a denim hunting pick.

Conditions were sometimes hard — she had to wear hazmat gear while searching locations, and temperatures varied from extreme heat to extreme cold. Rose was also the only woman in the group, which had advantages and disadvantages.

“I never go on picks alone for safety reasons,” she said. “On the flipside, because I don’t seem like a threat, I can connect better with people whose homes we’re going into — we never go anywhere we’re not invited. I’m also smaller and can fit into spaces others can’t, like attics.”

A Surprise Discovery

These advantages came in handy last year on a pick in Montana, where Rose and her group stumbled upon an old stone house. “We call it ‘the feeling,’” Rose explained. “We passed this house and could just feel that there was something cool inside.”

The group quickly found the homeowner and gained access to the house, where they noticed fabric coming out of the kitchen ceiling and realized that old clothing had been used as insulation. There weren’t any ladders in the home, so, taking advantage of her smaller stature, Rose stood on another denim hunter’s shoulders to get up into the attic, then started pulling out the clothes.

That’s when they found something exciting: a pair of brown woolen trousers with buttons imprinted with “Levi Strauss & Co.”

The cuffed pants had a long straight fit. They had been heavily repaired, with visible black stitching on the side seam at the cuff of one leg and a distinct patch on the front lower leg. A piece of medical-grade gauze was in one of the pockets.

Left: a photo of distressed brown Levi's® trousers found by Rose DeBruin on a denim hunting pick. Right: the back of the pants.

“We looked at each other and went, ‘Are we crazy?’ We’re so used to denim. But we looked at all the buttons and they all matched,” Rose recalled.

Shortly afterward, Rose reached out to me to authenticate her find — they were indeed a pair of well-worn button-fly Levi’s® trousers. A metal clasp at the top of the fly included patent number 727970, which was granted in 1903 and was a clue to dating the Levi’s ® pants to the 1910s.

Rose’s Montana Miner’s Levi’s® trousers are now preserved in the LS&Co. Archives, a testament to how all our products — denim and non-denim alike — withstand the test of time.