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As we’ve mentioned numerous times before, the Japanese are the world’s super denim nerds, and Lee Japan makes some of the most incredible reproductions. This is a stitch by stitch recreation of the Lee 101Z Riders as it was in 1952. Once you start inspecting the details further, you’ll soon realise the level of commitment put into these jeans to make them look completely like the original. Actually, the stitches in the “Lazy S” have already started to come out, which they also did on the originals. Oh, and by the way, there’s wide consensus among the denim aficionados that this was the model that James Dean wore in two of his movies. Yet the jeans were also worn by countless other rebels like Jackson Pollock and Bob Dylan.

In the European market, the exclusive Japanese Lee jeans are marketed as “Lee Originals.” The dry ones also sell under the “Lee Archives” alias, while the prewashes on the other hand are sold as “Lee Vintage” or “Lee Archives Worn”, but then this is just my interpretation of the constellation. The rounded Lee back pockets are made in a slimmer cut than the earlier Lee jeans, and they sit very far a part. Your girlfriend might not find your butt as cute when you’re wearing these as she does when you’re wearing those tight fashion skinny jeans.

I showcased these beauties in the article about “how to rinse your jeans“, and I was eager to find out if they would shrink at all. It’s a waist size 30, but they were a bit too big for me, so I crossed my fingers. And considering that these jeans are sanforised and shrinkage therefore should be down to 2-3%, they actually shrunk quite a lot. The waist shrunk from 43 cm to 41 cm (laid flat), the inseam went from 93 cm to 88,5 cm, and the rise shrunk with an even 2 cm. Now they fit like they should.

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In a few weeks time, the jeans will once again be the centre of an article when I take them to Unionville in Stockholm to have them shorten and hemmed with their Union Special.

The waist is high, but the fit is regular and the legs are straight. The fabric is a hard wearing 13¾ oz. sanforised left-hand twill (as all Lee jeans) made by Kaihara with attention to detail. It’s an amazingly slubby fabric that I can’t wait to break it in!

For extra strength, the inside seam of the leg is double stitched (which is another Lee innovation) and when you cuff them the single sided plain ecru selvage denim is revealed. And of course, the hems are heavily chained stitched, something you only achieved by using old American sewing machines, like the Union Special 43200G.

The riveted front pockets are made with a heavy boat sail cloth for pocket bags, and the back pockets are half lined as reinforcement with the same cloth.

One of the important characteristics about these jeans is the zipper (hence the Z). Introduced in 1926, Lee was the first manufacturer to use zippers (the “Whizit” as they called it) in their overalls (back then termed “Iron Branded Cowboy Pants”). These jeans feature a heavy brass “Universal” zipper. You can read more about the history of Lee here.

They also feature the iconic Iron Branded cowhide patch and the famous black Lee label is of course found on the back pocket. However, notice that both label and leather patch are missing the “R” trademark sign, which only appeared from the 60s onwards.

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Cross tags instead of copper rivets on back pockets.

This is truly old school selvage denim.

Notice the stitches in the middle of the pocket.

It’s a hidden patch inside the right back pocket that I haven’t yet been able to find any information about. But I’m still waiting for my Lee-guy to get back to me with some details about the jeans. Maybe something will come up there. Until then, if any of you guys out there have any knowledge about this label, please contact me.

Words by Thomas Bojer.

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