An Introduction into the World of Levi's Silvertab Denim

Vintage Levi’s denim are a staple amongst those in the current streetwear zeitgeist. Orange Tabs, Big ‘es’, Vintage 505s, and 501s have all become mainstays within the fashion community, having dominated the explore pages of anyone who follows HiddenNY or any Instagram page regarding men’s fashion. Meanwhile, a now-defunct Levi’s sub-label has captivated those of another subculture at the core of and inception of many trends within streetwear.

Silvertab 'Baggy' Denim. Photo: Brock Arends

Originating initially as a failure in the European market two years prior, Levi Strauss debuted its ‘Silvertab’ line in 1991 to the US market. 501s and Chuck Taylor’s became loose jeans and Timberlands as the next wave subcultures began to define America’s youth in the early 1990s. The relaxed, straight cuts of Seattle’s Grunge and New York’s Rap movements were a departure from the tight leathers and spandex of the 1980s, accurately depicting the fashion of America’s rural and urban working classes. Levi’s Silvertab offerings fell in line with these movements offering graphic tees, boxy button ups, and, infamously, an array of baggy pants and denim.

Levi Silvertab 'LOOSE' - Available Now

Much like the Levi Strauss brand itself, denim defined the Silvertab label. Though the line varied, offering bottoms in ‘Relaxed’, ‘Flared’, and ‘Loose’ variants, the ‘Baggy’ cut (often referred simply to as ‘Silvertabs’) set the unrivaled standard for baggy denim. Owing its success to its tailoring; the ‘Baggy’ outseam widens promptly and aggressively after the waist, climaxing just before the rise, only gliding into a light taper concluding at the hem.



Silvertab 'BAGGY' - Available Now

The ‘Baggy’ cut solved a common issue faced by those sizing up their jeans like Harold Hunter infamously in Kids. The widened outseam following the waist gives the wearer the desired baggy look without having to scrunch the waist of the pants with a belt. Additionally, the slight taper allowed for jeans to stack on top of as opposed to absolutely engulfing footwear and dragging with every step.
Silvertab Advert circa 1996

The genius of the Silvertab line however, lies in its marketing. As grunge exploded through the mid-1990s, the genre ascended past music becoming a fully-fledged fashion trend embraced by big box and designer brands alike. Though the Levi Strauss Co was certainly able to capitalize upon this moment in fashion, ‘Grunge’ never defined the label or the product. The line was marketed to the suburban teenager looking outwards from their immediate surroundings in order to establish an identity. The advertisements for Silvertabs portrayed teenagers embracing Hip-Hop, BMX, rollerblading, and, of course, skateboarding. 

Silvertab Television Commercial Circa 1990s
Silvertab Print Ad 1999. Illustrations by Graham Rounthwaite

As these subcultures began to grow through the remainder of the 1990s, so did the Silvertab line, expanding its offerings and cultural namesake. As Nu-Metal and Hip-hop began to gain traction among youth culture at large, so did a formidable demand for oversized denim. Baggy jeans became the unanimous symbol for the countercultures embraced by American teenagers in the years surrounding ‘Y2K’. Ravers, rappers, skateboarders, and Fred Durst all became ubiquitous with the fashion statement. The ascension of these movements was timed impeccably with the launch of the Silvertab line, allowing Levi Strauss to piggyback off the rising demand for oversized bottoms. Silvertabs ultimately became so popular that they are a source of nostalgia for those who spent their formidable years during the turn of the millennium. 

Fred Durst in all his Glory
It was around this time as well when the brand adopted a new logo, exchanging the black sphere for a yellow and grey triangle, though the back tab remained silver. The line itself expanded as well, providing consumers with a greater selection of bottoms including cargo pants, carpenter denim, and jorts. The second iteration of the line also brought a small selection of cut-and-sew pieces like bowling shirts and vests in addition to the classic t-shirt.  

As southern rap began its reign of pop-culture domination, oversized clothes continued to captivate youth through labels such as Fubu and Roca-Wear. Silvertabs, inversely, began to fade. The emo and metalcore bands dominating Van’s Warped Tour as well as skaters (Kr3w denim) began drifting towards a slimmer look, pushing youth subculture towards more fitted silhouettes. Levi Strauss discontinued the Silvertab Line in the mid 2000s as the surf-skate style defined by brands such as Quicksilver and Pac-Sun began to dominate malls across America. 

Silvertab Jorts - Avaliable Now

Today, the legacy of Silvertab denim remains deeply rooted within those Levi’s used to sell the jeans in the first place, skateboarders. Though not designed specifically for skaters, the line was marketed to kids as a ‘skate brand’. In recent years, Silvertab denim has become a sought-after piece for skaters at the forefront of fashion. Notably, Sweaden’s Polar Skate Co has emerged as the authority on baggy pants among skaters with its ‘Big Boy’ line, which was modeled after Silvertab Baggys. Additionally, teenage skaters on TikTok are seemingly in competition to wear the most sizable pants.

Silvertabs in Motion. Photo: Lucas Mccomb

 With the late 1990s and early 2000s ‘y2k’ nostalgia dominating Instagram’s’ Explore’ and TikTok’s ‘For You Page’, the baggy look has been resurrected. In 2018, Levi Strauss relaunched its Silvertab line for a brief capsule collection, only to be discontinued shortly thereafter. The company seems to have jumped the gun with the relaunch, having mistimed the trend cycle by only about two years. Levi’s does offer an array of baggier tailorings within the 511 and the ‘Stay Loose’ denim variants, but none match those of the iconic Silvertab Baggy. With Levi’s having a defined place within the skateboard market, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another relaunch of the Silvertab line targeting younger, more fashion forward skaters.


Photo: Lucas McComb

At present, not only is baggy denim experiencing a second coming, but it has played a part in bringing a rapture upon the skinny jeans that once reigned a half a decade ago. At current, vintage 501s, 505s, and workwear cover the individuals most visible upon the Instagram explore page. However, Silvertabs may very well strip their crown due to their exclusivity, heritage, and distinct cut. Though the Silvertab line has yet to reach the coveted status of other vintage Levi’s, the current reemergence of 90’s and 2000’s skate culture may bring the sub label to greater heights. Jonah Hill’s ‘Mid 90s’ and Virgil Abloh’s recent affair with vintage skate tees all lead to an environment suitable for Silvertabs to thrive. Whether or not you subscribe to the baggy look is entirely up to you and your personal style. But what is undeniable is the comfort, mobility, and effortless steeze that comes with looting a pair of Silvertabs.


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