American Denim Showdown: Levis 501 vs. Wrangler 13MWZ

In the interest of full disclosure, I am admittedly quite biased toward the 501s because I've been wearing them for years and I am more comfortable with them.  However, I will do my best here to give the Wranglers a fair chance.
Levi's 501 Background
Unless you've been sleeping for the past 100 years, you've heard of and/or probably have seen Levi's iconic jean, the Original 501.  They've been produced in some form or another since the late 19th century.  In 1947, the 501 blew up and is probably the closest in cut and features that we have today in the modern iteration.  The 1947 501 was so ubiquitous that several companies still replicate it today (including Levi's itself through its heritage LVC line).  The quintessential five-pocket jean retains the gull wing pocket stitching and 'red tab' logo fabric that is sewn under the left side of the rightward rear pocket.  Levi's had the pocket design trademarked in 1943 (upper right) and is described thusly in documentation: "a double arcuate* and tab design shown on the shape of a pocket, as indicated by a solid line. The lining and shading shown in the drawing are features of the mark and not intended to indicate color."
(*ar·cu·ate: adj. Having the form of a bow; curved.)

 Wrangler 13MWZ Background
Born out of the need for rodeo-wear in the mid 1940's, Wrangler was another American overalls company (fast fact: the term "jeans" wasn't used until the 1960s).  Incidentally, 1947 marks the birth of the Wrangler 13MWZ "The Original Cowboy Cut Jean", which is still available today.

Truthfully, I did not know that Wrangler still manufactured rigid denim at all until last month when I read a post by Guiseppe on An Affordable Wardrobe.  He turned me on to Wrangler and I had to see for myself.  I ordered a pair of 13MWZs from Sheplers.  No offense to any certifiable cowboys that read this but the pictures on Sheplers make these jeans look pretty hilarious.  The crease, the cowboy boots; its a western-wear supplier, I know.  Anyway, I got a pair. The cost was not at all prohibitive (they're on sale right now for $21.99!) Also, never fear you regularly-sized people out there who want a trimmer cut: Sheplers also stocks the Wrangler 936; from what I can tell this is the slim fit version of the 13MWZ.

Notable Similarities:
  • Both have no problem accommodating my massive thighs even after shrinking, which leads to:
  • Both are unsanforized, meaning that they will shrink significantly after being saturated with water and dried.  Generally, they will shrink about 2 inches in length and 1 inch in the waist, although they will stretch out in the waist without frequent washing.
  • The fabric of both seem very similar in weight.
  • Both have a mid-high rise.
  • Both are straight through the legs.
  • Unfortunately, both are made in Mexico.
Notable Differences:
  • The rise on the Wranglers is about an inch bigger than that of the Levi's (ref. waist size 33).  That's probably the first thing I noticed after putting them on; the rise is almost ridiculous.  After soaking and drying them, however, the rise shrunk down a bit and everything was fairly cool.  This translates to having to wear the Wranglers higher on the hips or opting to "sag" them a bit.  I pull them up higher; I think they just look better that way.
  • The 13MWZ has a zipper fly, the 501 has a button fly.
  • The texture of the Wranglers feels rougher in that it seems as though the material was woven with a thicker thread.
  • The rear pockets on the Wranglers are placed about one inch higher that that of the Levi's.  According to Wrangler, this is so when rodeo dudes saddle up, they don't have to sit on their wallets.
  • Likely due to the higher rise, the 13MWZs have more room in the seat than the 501s.  Since they are straight cut, this also translates to a more roomy lower leg and leg opening.
  • The Wranglers have riveted rear pockets.  The Levi's just have rivets on the front two pockets and the coin pocket.
  • The fifth pocket (coin pocket) on the Wranglers is wider and positioned higher on the waist as compared to the Levi's.  For me, it is much harder to reach into the Wrangler coin pocket than it is for the Levi's.
  • 501s are currently available in five colors in their rigid, shrink-to-fit form: indigo, black, green, light blue, and gray.  The 13MWZs are available only available in indigo in rigid form.  If you're willing to buy a pre-washed pair, there are a bunch of colors available.
  • The Wranglers retail for $25 and the Levi's retail for about $50 (however, they frequently go on sale and can be easily had for less than $40.
A few notes on the pictures:
The 501s are of the green variety and not the standard indigo.  They've been worn for about seven months.  The Wranglers are nearly brand new: worn about four times.  The 13MWZs come with a brown rubber patch sewn into the top of the right rear pocket.  I really didn't like the way it looked so I removed it.  I think the back of the pants look way cleaner without it.

Well I've given you most of the facts.  The choice is yours.  Get one or the other (or both like me).

Bonus: Supreme badass, Harrison Ford wearing 13WMZs in his most recent movie Extraordinary Measures.


  1. Great review. I recently just started wearing Wranglers after YEARS of nothing but Levi's. I think Wranglers offer a great product for the money, especially if you have an outlet near by. I paid 15 bucks for one pair of their 5 star jeans, and 9 bucks, yes 9, for a pair of 40 MWZ's on the clearance rack! I'm very happy with the fit and feel of these jeans.

  2. I absolutely agree with Dan's assessment. As a teenager, I wouldn't even dare consider buying or wearing a pair of Wrangler jeans, but boy has my perception changed. Initially, buying a pair of black Wrangler 936 MWZ's (Slim Fit) for work, I noticed that the Wrangler's fit very nicely and were snug on the thighs in much the same way that Levi's 501's were back in the 80's and early nineties when I was in my adolescence. A few years ago, I purchased a mail order pair of Wrangler's new Premium Performance jeans (36 MWZ's slim fit) and have been more than pleasantly surprised. The fit on the jeans is amazing and the darker color of the 36 MWZ rigid jeans looks every bit as good as the 501's albeit better fitting. Interestingly enough, the 36 MWZ's did come a bit long, but after a few washes they fit good enough to complement my boots perfectly. I'll put it this way, Levi's still look great, but I'm finding that I'm becoming more of a Wrangler fan every day.

  3. I love the way my wranglers feel and I love the way they go with the rest of my western wear. I sport the attire even with assholes like you who laugh cause I like it and I get plenty of looks from the ladies, so at the end of the day what's not to like about that? Also, cowboy is more than an occupation, it is an attitude and a lifestyle. There is no such thing as a "certifiable cowboy". You're obviously some city douchebag who I wouldn't expect to know anything about that.

    1. I only I hope is that the Wrangler MWZs don't become trendy and lose their original purpose. Marine-vaquero says it all! Uhrah!

  4. Love my Wranglers, as a regular biker I especially like the flat inside seam as it doesn't chafe on long rides.

  5. I used to wear wranglers when I was younger, but I have worn levis501 for the last several years. I think levis fit better and last longer than wranglers in whatever work I was doing; mending fence, palpating, branding, or just castrating bull calves. Levis the original cowboy jeans!

  6. A better comparison would be Wrangler 36MWZ Slim Fit Vs. Levi's 501. I used to be a die hard Levi's 501 wearer. I always liked the slimmer cut of the leg (even though they advertise it as a straight leg, it is a slim straight leg) and they were decent quality. Over the years, though, the quality of Levi's has gone down and I'm surprised the 501's in your article are made in Mexico because all the pair I find are made in China. I tried a pair of Wrangler 936 and didn't like the high rise but then found the newer 36MWZ Slim Cut that are a perfect fit and much more comfortable than 501's. The denim is thicker and last much longer and Wranglers fabric is made in the USA and assembled in Mexico, which I am okay with because we are on the same continent and at least Mexico is not a communist country like China.

    All in all, I am sold on Wrangler 36MWZ Slim Cut and do not wear anything else anymore. Quality and value speaks for itself.

    1. Wrangler's HQ is in Greensboro, NC with fabric made in the U.S. Mexico is OK. Lots of Mexicans are real cowboys. Ever heard of Charros/Charreria or the Buckaroos? If you need nice boots, check out Mexican made El General and Los Altos.

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  8. There is not contest, the Wrangler 13MWZ in either the rigid or the pre-washed is a better product and a better buy. Go look at what the real cowboys wear, you will see Wranglers outnumber Levi's by about 100 to 1 and there is a reason for it. The 13 MWZ was made for cowboys following their suggestions back in 1947. Levi's today are overpriced and only worn by dorks in the cities.

    1. The comparison is valid only because of the type of fabric. I see 501s as more "hippie" and trendy, and the MWZs as real cowboy work jeans.

  9. there have show remarkable competition between Levis 501 vs. Wrangler 13MWZ two huge brands thanks for share this post too.

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  10. I wear wranglers everyday, rigid indigo for work/play, tan or brown for meetings

  11. I wear wranglers everyday, rigid indigo for work/play, tan or brown for meetings

  12. after I read the article I got 13mwz and 501 STF and after 6 months ordered another 2 pairs 13mwz, because they are better, more comfortable and more durable than 501 STF. 13mwz I wore in his youth, when he was available in Europe. Now it is in Europe it is impossible to buy, so I order online from usa

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  14. You removed the backpatch.

    You missed the point.

    Go back to 501s. You do not "get" Wranglers.

  15. Excellent review, very helpful information! I love Levi's, much better fit for me.

    Incidentally, the word "jeans" actually came about in the 50's. The rock n' roll record "Bluejean Bop!" by Gene Vincent was released in 1956.

  16. I have worn Wrangler 13MWZ as work pants for years. Levi's are comfortable but wear out much too quickly at the crotch.

  17. The Levis 501 are worn by city cowboys. You need balls to wear those button fly, yeaAhaW!!!