Serious clotheshorses will pay top dollar for vintage denim. Two collectors from Los Angeles just blew some minds, though, when they paid $87,400 ($76,000 plus a buyer’s premium) for a pair of jeans made almost 150 years ago.
Did we mention the jeans were found in an abandoned mine?
Zip Stevenson, who runs a denim repair shop in L.A., and his associate Kyle Hautner teamed up to purchase the jeans at a vintage clothing auction called the Durango Vintage Festivus in Aztec, New Mexico.
“We didn’t have any plans to buy the jeans together until the auction started, which is kind of insane looking back on it,” Stevenson told CNN.
The jeans were found in an abandoned mine shaft several years ago by Michael Harris, who calls himself a denim archaeologist. He sold them to vintage expert Brit Eaton for $23,000 five years ago.
The jeans are in surprisingly decent condition, considering they were manufactured sometime in the 19th century. There’s plenty of wear and tear, of course — one of the legs has a sizable hole — but they wouldn’t look terribly out of place on the street today.
Word about the shocking sale price, and the garment’s good condition, spread across the Internet. Twitter user @natew6 joked that perhaps his cargo pants might spark some future interest:
Another reason to hang onto my cargo pants. Somebody will want that someday. https://t.co/r0G1TwT3U8
— nate (@natew6) October 17, 2022
@georgeovich quipped that one flaw kept the jeans from an even higher price:
Levi's discovered in 1880s mine shaft auctioned for $87,400 …. would have sold for over $250,000 if not for mustard stain. @absrdNEWS
— gary georgevich (@garygeorgevich) October 14, 2022
Another Twitter user, @katthedame, notes that today’s cheap jeans barely last a year:
These have survived in a mine shaft for 140 years; meanwhile, your fast-fashion jeans wear out in 6 months. https://t.co/qLW4Dh7tNG
— The Wild Kat (@katthedame) October 13, 2022
One detail really shows the jeans’ age, though. A printed tag on the inside of the jeans boasts that they’re “the only kind made by White Labor.”
A cringe-worthy sentiment, but one which was sadly common in the 19th century. An NPR article on the find notes that, at the time, economic troubles and unemployment were blamed on Chinese immigrants. The U.S. government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; Levi’s must have thought it was good business to appeal to racist opinions.
Levi Strauss & Co. abandoned this awful approach in the 1890s, a company spokesperson told NPR.
For now, the jeans reside at Denim Doctors, Stevenson’s vintage denim shop, stored in a bank vault. Visitors can see the jeans in person by appointment only.
One question remains: Why did someone remove and stash their jeans in a mine shaft? Something to think about!