Lynn Downey has a pretty killer job as Levi’s archivist. I visit her and the vault any time I can think up an excuse. Recently I was chewing the fat with her about my visit and subsequent fascination with Elko and North East Nevada. She told me all about the history there with Bing Crosby and the Levi’s denim tuxedo. I asked if she would write a piece on the subject for One Trip Pass and she agreed. The following is her story on the subject. Thank you, Lynn!
“Quick. What comes to mind when you hear the name Bing Crosby?
“White Christmas.” Goofy movies with Bob Hope, like “Road to Morocco” and “Road to Zanzibar.” Golf. Levi’s® jeans.
That’s right. Bing was a huge fan of the Levi’s® brand, and in 1951 the company went above and beyond the call of duty for Bing when he and his favorite jeans were insulted by a hotel clerk in Canada.
First of all, Bing had always been a Levi’s® jeans and jacket wearer. He owned a working ranch near Elko, Nevada and was also its honorary mayor for years. He posed for the covers of albums and sheet music in the clothing. Get it? He loved the brand.
So when he went hunting in Canada with a friend in 1951 he naturally wore his favorite jeans and jacket. One evening, the pair decided they wanted to stay in a hotel in Vancouver, and when they got to the registration desk they were politely but firmly told by the clerk that they would not be admitted to the hotel.
Because they were wearing denim.
You see, in the 1950s, denim had a very bad reputation, thanks to Marlon Brando, James Dean and all those other malcontents who were upsetting the social order by not conforming to America’s postwar obsession with suburbs, picket fences and men in grey flannel suits. Not only that, denim still retained its work wear, laborer origins.
In other words, not at all the appropriate clothing that this particular hotel allowed beyond the lobby.
Luckily for Bing the bellhop recognized him, and the men were given a room. And when he got back to Elko he told his neighbors what had happened. They in turn contacted Levi Strauss & Co., which immediately went to work on a special garment made just for Bing, and which would not likely be duplicated by anyone.
They made him a denim tuxedo jacket.
It was made of the same denim used for the 501® jeans, had a lovely cluster of red Tabs in the lapel, fastened by another cluster of copper rivets, and a huge leather label on the inside. This stated that denim was appropriate attire for any occasion, and that stuck-up hotel clerks should just get over it.
The company presented the tux to Bing at the 1951 Silver State Stampede rodeo in Elko. Dressed in 501® jeans and a cowboy shirt, Bing happily donned the jacket and posed for the cameras. He was so taken with the tux that he wore it to many of the press appearances for his next movie, “Here Comes the Groom.”
The company made replicas of the tuxedo jacket as display items for salesmen to loan to favored retailers. And a few of the replicas reside today in the LS&Co. Archives. Under lock and key.”
- Lynn Downey