Lee 125 Year Denim History


1889 - Henry David Lee


Henry David Lee established the H.D. Lee Mercantile company in Kansas and started a business in making and selling fine goods. He quickly saw the need for reliable workwear. Unhappy with the quality and inconsistent delivery of workwear from Eastern suppliers, Lee started with his venture to do better and became one of the most successful garment companies in the world.
1911 - The beginning of overalls


Lee starts making overalls of high quality in 1911. The first one was called the Bib Overall and was originally made in 8oz denim and had a multi-function breast pocket and a button fly.
1913 - The iconic Union All


Invention of one-piece coveralls – the iconic Union-Alls was conceived. Inspired by seeing a chauffeur fixing the car, H.D. Lee develops an overall that will protect the wearer both below and above the waist. A jacket and dungarees are stitched together to a full jacket coveralls. It gained immediate national popularity.
1920 - Buddy Lee


The H.D.Lee Company created Buddy Lee as an advertising piece. The first Buddy Lee was dressed in a Lee overall and displayed in the window of the Dayton Company Department Store on Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, Minesota. Over the years, Buddy Lee has become hugely sucessful and a collector's item.
1924 - Lee Cowboy Pants


Introduction of the first Lee cowboy pants - 101 jeans with U-shape saddle crotch and button fly. It was designed to cater to the specific needs of cowboys and rodeo riders. This idea to focus on the cowboy proved to be crucial as it was the market that was to become the major promoter of jeanswear throughout the world.
1926 - The birth of the Zip Fly


The zipper technology was added to cowboy pants. The world's first ever zip fly jeans - 101Z went to the market, featuring tailored sizing that based on the rise and seat proportions as well as inseam measurements. The U-shaped crotch was introduced for added comfort.
1936 - Hair-on-Hide


Lee created 'hair-on-hide' leather label on the back of Lee jeans. The logo was branded directly onto the cowhide and appeal to the cowboy life-style.
1944 - The Lazy S back pocket stitch


Lazy S back pocket stitch was introduced. The stitches on both pockets are viewed together they resemble the shape of the famous 'Long Horn' comics. This is also the year when Lee's cowboy garments are put together under the label Lee Riders.
1949 - Lady Lee Riders was introduced


Lady Lee Riders were introduced and promoted as the best fitting jeans for women in the market.
1954 - James Dean wears Lee


James Dean appeared in 'Giant' and 'Rebel Without a Cause', wearing Lee jeans. This was the birth of the biker cult and the beginning of the transformation of denim from workwear to pop culture. In addition to dominating the workwear and western markets, Lee moved into leisure wear with Leesures: 'Comfort Clothes for Work and Play'.
1969 - Lee consolidates with VF


Lee consolidated with VF Company, one of the biggest apparel manufacturing alliances in the world, allowing Lee to upgrade its manufacturing operations and expand its overseas production.
1973 - Australia welcomes Lee


Lee lands on the sunny shores of Australia
1973 - The Sharpies


Before Punk There Were The Sharpies. Lee landed on our shores in 1973 and so did an influx of Ten quid poms and European imigrants. In an extension of the UK skinhead/Rude boy movement- Australian youth culture took hold of our worker's denim and re- conrextualised it as edgy youth fashion.


Lee built its reputation through the adoption by subcultures such as the sharpies and skins who fused a love for punk rock and rebellion with denim style.
1980 - Denim goes stretch


Always first to market with the latest innovation in denim, Lee released stretch denim into the Australian market in 1980s - within 18 months, the trend for stretch denim had sky rocketed establishing Lee’s reputation as the purveyors of the latest denim trends.
1982 - Lee does fashion with acidwear


Lee shifted completely from the workwear business and begins catering into fashion cycles, such as applying acid stone washing on jeans for the youth culture.
1995 - Lee expands to Asia Pacific


Lee moves to China and grows substantially in the Asia Pacific region, including Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, taiwan, Thailand, etc, becoming one of the most important denim brands in the region.
2006 - First Lee flagship store


Lee opens it's first Australian Flagship store on Chapel Street, Melbourne.
2006 - Lee launches the L series


Launches the L Series for the Men's category.
2009 - Lee launches Licks


Lee launches Licks, the definitive sexy skin tight jean and Lee Black – the statement rock ‘n’ roll jeans.
2009 - Lee Launches Licks


120 years since H.D.set out on his original aims and setting standards of delivering ‘quality & strength’ denim.

2012 - First Flagship store in Hong Kong


The first Lee flagship store in Asia sets its foot in Hong Kong, which is deemed as the ultimate hub for bringing denim passion to the city.
2014 - Lee launches the Z Series


Lee launches the Z Series Fits. Featuring our signature golden zipper; worn low on the hips, with a long rise and a tapered hem.
2014 - Lee celebrates 125 years


For 125 years we've been designing denim with purpose for the cowboys, and the farmers and now the thrill seekers, the rule breakers, and the people who stay up all night until the sun comes up.


Lee continues to push boundaries and collaborate with creative minds to deliver cutting edge ideas.

Dedicated design teams in Australia create designs for the Australian and New Zealand markets with a continued focus on bringing the latest denim trends to the fashion forward market.