Levi’s® Spring Bottom pants are a most fascinating garment. Introduced in 1889 they are essentially jean trousers intended for Victorian (and later Edwardian) gentlemen. This is the first time Levi’s had focused their products on such an audience. Previously their stock in trade was miners and loggers, but this was a very early attempt by the company to branch out. Spring Bottom pants are a classic item of denim history, yet most folk have probably never heard of them.
With this in mind we contacted costume designer Jenny Beavan recently and asked if she would consider putting them in the next Sherlock Holmes film. No-one was paying us to do this – we just thought they would be exactly the type of innovative garment Sherlock (Robert Downey Jr.) would like to wear. Apparently Ms. Beavan was going to run them by Downey Jr. so who knows – maybe we’ll see the famous Baker Street detective in a pair of denim Spring Bottoms yet? Incidentally the ‘spring’ is a basic version of the 1960s flare or bell bottom, although would probably be referred to as ‘bootcut’ in contemporary usage.
Few photographs of intact Spring Bottom pants exist, but the above illustration was a starting point that cropped up during research into early denim. This got your Clothes on Film editor thinking: perhaps we could team up with our regular photographer, David Wade of Photak, and recreate the picture as a photograph? Why? Because it’s fun. We contacted Levi’s, asked nicely, and they kindly lent us a pair of Spring Bottom pants, probably from their mid-2000s LVC reissue period. These are not precisely the same as the original garment; for example the colour is black denim and white, not light blue and gold. However the braces buttons, rivets, elaborate stitching, cinchback and waistband lining are all intact – so they stand up fairly well as a recreation. In addition to the pants we also needed some soft ‘boxcloth’ braces with extra long runners to tuck into the waistband. Albert Thurston are the finest braces makers in the world and upon hearing our idea were more than happy to loan us a pair that fitted the bill. Everything else, the dress shirt, Chelsea boots, tie and fluffy real moustache belong to your very peculiar Clothes on Film editor.
We shot the images outside over a few hours with David trying several different lighting set-ups and perspectives to replicate the Levi’s advertisement as best we could. With the main ‘money shot’ in the bag we added a few seperate close-ups of the pants and braces, simply because they looked so darn lovely together. We have included some images from the shoot here and you can find more at David’s fashion and commercial photography site Photak. The only bad part of this little adventure is giving the jeans and braces back to their rightful owners. You see for your editor this is basically Friday-night-down-the pub attire. Re-release the Spring Bottom pants again please Levi’s. Now.
All photographs by David Wade. Much higher resolution images are available at his site Photak.
With thanks to Levi’s® and Albert Thurston.
© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.