© 2014 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Recreating the Levi’s Spring Bottom Pants Advert from 1905

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.

This Levi trade card image is from circa 1905, though the pants themselves were introduced in 1889. They petered out of production around 1910.
This Levi’s trade card image is from circa 1905, though the pants themselves were introduced in 1889. They petered out of production around 1910.

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.

The only issue we had was that the modern update of the Springbottom pants had a white lining on the button fly that was impossible to hide when shooting. We didn’t dare pin them.
As close as we could get to the original image without spending several weeks on prep. The only real issue we had was that the modern update of the Spring Bottom pants had a white lining on the button fly that was impossible to hide when shooting at this angle. We didn’t dare pin them.

Here you can see the rather fancy stitching designed to appeal to cigar smoking supervisor types and not blue collar workers.
Here you can see the rather fancy stitching designed to appeal to Victorian cigar smoking supervisor types and not blue collar workers.

These are the Albert Thurston boxcloth braces. Their runners are extra long to tuck into the waistband, a style not widely seen these days. The loops are white leather.
These are the Albert Thurston boxcloth braces; the fabric is soft like melton and doesn’t really stretch. The runners are extra long to tuck into the waistband, or can be left to dangle – a style not widely seen these days. The loops are white leather. Incidentally these are being worn back to front here because the illustration could not be recreated correctly otherwise.

These pants are surprisingly snug in the seat, true to the original shape.
These pants are surprisingly snug in the seat, true to the original 1889 shape.

Your Clothes on Film’s editor’s big close up face, really just to show how hard David Wade worked on the lighting.
Your Clothes on Film’s editor’s big close up face, really just to show how hard David Wade worked on the outdoor lighting.

Note all the rivets still in place. No friend of posh furniture but they do look sensational.
Note all the rivets still in place. No friend of fancy furniture, but they do look sensational.

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.