The true cost of “Made in the USA” Levi’s? $178


BANGKOK, Thailand — Want a “Made in the USA” tag stitched inside your iconic Levi’s 501 jeans?

Your patriotism will cost you.

In the outsourcing era, all Levi’s jeans are stitched outside America with one exception: a single line of jeans produced at a factory called “White Oak” in Greensboro, NC. The mill is staffed by old hands who’ve narrowly survived the American garment manufacturing industry’s collapse. 

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Levi’s ad copy tells you that the jeans are “handcrafted by our faithful friends at the White Oak denim mill” and “proudly made in the red, white and blue” before reminding you that 501 jeans are “the ultimate icon of American culture.”

If you’re feeling overrun with American pride, I hope your pants-shopping budget can keep up with your patriotic zeal. 

The standard-issue version of these 501 jeans costs a whopping $178. (Though, as I write this in early September, you can acquire a much cheaper version if you’re self-assured enough to wear purple jeans: a pair in the color “eggplant” sell for $58. A pair of “crushed wine” 501s is going for $138.)

In the world of denim, a “Made in the USA” tag has become a novelty. The garment industry’s economies of scale are long gone. The outcome: it now costs the equivalent of a car payment to buy jeans, sourced from a US factory doling out decent pay and benefits, from a major apparel brand. This is actually cheap compared to the $300 to $400 fashionistas pay for celebrity-endorsed luxury jeans handcrafted in L.A.

That doesn’t mean affordable “Made in the USA” jeans have gone extinct.

Though lacking strings of retail outlets and huge advertising budgets, little-known brands are quietly producing affordable US-made jeans. A pair of Gusset Jeans, made in Georgia, will cost you $55.95. A pair of Texas Jeans, made in North Carolina, goes for $29.99. Neither are shy about extolling their folksy, American bonafides. Texas Jeans even produces a “conceal and carry” line stitched to accomodate hidden pistols.

These brands are hardly hip but they are American through and through: even the buttons and denim are sourced stateside. The same can’t be said for the “Made in the USA” Levi’s, which are “meticuously crafted” in America — out of “imported fabric.”

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