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Levi Strauss: A History of American Style

Feb 13, 2020–Aug 8, 2021

In 1873, at the end of the California Gold Rush, Levi Strauss & Co., named for a Bavarian Jewish dry goods merchant in San Francisco, obtained a U.S. patent with tailor Jacob Davis on the process of putting metal rivets in men’s denim work pants to increase their durability. It was the birth of the blue jean. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is pleased to present Levi Strauss: A History of American Style, an original exhibition showcasing the life of Levi Strauss, the invention of the blue jean, and their iconic place in the history of American style.

This exhibition tells the distinctly American story of Levi Strauss—a Jewish immigrant, businessman, and philanthropist whose lifelong commitment to family and civic life were fundamental to the history of San Francisco. Starting with the company’s foundation and early local renown as purveyors of “waist overalls” for gold miners and famously indestructible garments for farmers and tradespeople, the exhibition follows the evolution of Levis Strauss & Co. Continuing into the early twentieth century, the exhibition illuminates the pivotal role Levi Strauss & Co. played—through finely crafted clothing and advertising—in capturing the expanding mythology of the American West. The exhibition culminates in the second half of the twentieth century, when the democratic blue jean became a cultural staple and a blank canvas for the rising international youth culture—a symbol of effortless cool for youth, rockers, and revolutionaries alike.

Featuring over 250 items from the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives, Levi Strauss: A History of American Style represents the largest public display of the company's archival materials ever assembled. The show will also present a range of loans from additional lenders. Visitors will experience Levi Strauss & Co.’s enduring impact with rarely before seen objects, including a suit owned by Lauren Bacall, a never-before-exhibited jacket worn by Albert Einstein, an AMC Gremlin car with an interior upholstered completely in denim, and a custom ensemble worn by Lauryn Hill on her Miseducation tour, among many others. Works in a variety of media will be on view, reflecting the myriad ways Levi’s® has infused the culture of this country, and has become shorthand for classic American style abroad.

Across film and television, on concert stages, and in the streets, Levi’s® classic appeal continues to inspire and evolve. Spanning three centuries, Levi Strauss & Co. has defined an American approach to self-presentation that is authentic, hard-working, and inclusive. This exhibition will present a range of garments, media, and archival materials that celebrate the man, the clothing, and the history of San Francisco where it all began.

Levi Strauss: A History of American Style is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco in collaboration with Levi Strauss & Co. Historian Tracey Panek and co-curated by The CJM’s Chief Preparator and Exhibition Designer, Justin Limoges and Senior Curator, Heidi Rabben.


This exhibition is included in your general admission ticket. Become a Member to receive free admission. All visitors are required to book their timed tickets online in advance to facilitate a contactless visit to The Museum.

Virtual exhibition

Your health and safety are of the utmost importance to all of us here at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM). During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering a virtual version of Levi Strauss: A History of American Style that you can explore from home if you are unable to visit The Museum in person.

Exhibition Preview
Related Content
Exhibition Reading List

The following is a curated reading list that covers themes of the Levi Strauss exhibition and gold rush-era California, with topics ranging from Jewish life in nineteenth- and twentieth-century San Francisco to the history of the Ohlone Tribe. Purchase these titles from Bay Area bookstores in the links below, or check your local bookstore or library for a copy.

Mar 4, 2020

Forever in (Jewish) Blue Jeans, ​​​​​​​Tablet

Feb 26, 2020

INTERVIEW: Contemporary Jewish Museum Senior Curator Heidi Rabben Talks About Levi Strauss Exhibit, ​​​​​​​CBS KPIX

Feb 25, 2020

Looking Back at Levi's, ​​​​​​​C Magazine

Feb 20, 2020

Rhapsody in blue: The legend of Levi Strauss, The Economist

Feb 18, 2020

Levi Strauss: A History Of American Style, ​​​​​​​Antiques and the Arts Weekly

Feb 14, 2020

Riveting Levi Strauss exhibit opens at Contemporary Jewish Museum, ​​​​​​​7X7

Feb 13, 2020

The Fashion Frontier, Nob Hill Gazette

Feb 12, 2020

New Levi’s Exhibit to Showcase Albert Einstein’s Iconic Leather Jacket, Sunset

Feb 12, 2020

Exclusive Preview of ‘Levi Strauss: A History of American Style’ Museum Exhibit, ​​​​​​​WWD

Feb 10, 2020

This Might Be the Most Famous Jacket In Levi's History, ​​​​​​​GQ

Feb 8, 2020

Jean Mapping, ​​​​​​​Airmail

Feb 7, 2020

Colorful exhibit shows how Levi’s jeans became an American icon, J Weekly

Feb 1, 2020

Levi Strauss Exhibit Comes To Contemporary Jewish Museum, Bay Crossings

Jan 29, 2020

Levi Strauss: A History of American StyleSF/Arts Monthly

Jan 22, 2020

2020 Winter Arts Preview, SF Weekly

Jan 6, 2020

Burning Man, Black Power, and American Style, ​​​​​​​Alta 

Dec 30, 2019

Looking ahead: 2020 in Bay Area art museums, ​​​​​​​Bay Area Reporter

Sep 4, 2019

‘Levi Strauss: A History of American Style’ Exhibit to Open in San Francisco Museum, Rivet

Sep 3, 2019

A new fashion exhibition explores the life and legacy of Levi Strauss, Yahoo News

Sep 3, 2019

Largest public display of Levi Strauss to open in 2020, FashionUnited

Sep 3, 2019

Levi Strauss: A History of American Style, Chicmi

Sep 2, 2019

Levi Strauss: A History of American Style – Ausstellung wird 2020 in San Francisco erwartet, Vogue Germany

Sep 2, 2019

San Francisco dedica una mostra a Levi Strauss, MFFashion

Aug 30, 2019

Levi Strauss Exhibition Coming to San Francisco Museum in 2020, ​​​​​​​WWD

Press contacts

Abby Margulies

Public Relations

Sarah Bailey Hogarty

Director of Marketing and Communications


Support for Levi Strauss: A History of American Style is generously provided by Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Gaia Fund; John Pritzker Family Fund; Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund; Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund; Mimi and Peter Haas Fund; The David Berg Foundation; John & Marcia Goldman Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Colleen and Robert D. Haas; Dana Corvin and Harris Weinberg, in honor of Paulette Meyer and David Friedman, and Catherine and James Koshland; Kendra and Tom Kasten, in honor of Robert D. Haas; Michael Righi; Dorothy R. Saxe; David Saxe; Marilyn and Murry Waldman; and Rosanne and Al Levitt.

Lead Corporate Sponsorship is provided by Levi’s®.

Media Sponsorship is provided by the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED. In-kind support is provided by Corduroy Media. 

Image Credit

Levi Strauss: A History of American Style (installation view), at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, on view Feb 13, 2020–Jan 10, 2021; photo by Gary Sexton Photography