The embodiment of rock and roll, Elvis Presley is one of those rare icons whose style influence has outlived their career. From the Presley pomp to embellished jumpsuits, Elvis singlehandedly transformed men’s fashion for decades to come. The Memphis Flash, as he was known in his youth, continues to impact modern design culture, from Hollywood to haute couture and streetwear.
As Baz Luhrmann’s big-budget biopic, Elvis, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, we take a look at the King’s style highlights and continued influence on fashion — in pictures.
Before he was a symbol of American excess, Elvis Presley could be found in a more laid-back, rockabilly attire. Among the singer’s favourites were Americana staples such as Cuban collars, pleated trousers and penny loafers — styles that have endured and evolved via New England prep and Riviera charm.
Pink to make the girls wink
Elvis invented pop culture in the mid-Fifties, changed the era’s rigid gender rules, and encouraged young men to experiment with clothing, which was previously seen as a feminine pastime. Elvis’ fondness for bubble-gum pink garments, lace, mascara and navel-baring cut shirts disrupted an environment of Brooks Brothers’ conformity. The emblematic bright pink suit that the King wore on the Milton Berle show in 1956 is a look mirrored in recent years by nonconformist pop-stars such as Harry Styles and Lorde.
After establishing himself as a successful musician thanks to hits such as Heartbreak Hotel and Blue Suede Shoes, Elvis reprised his hip-thrusting performance style, Elvis The Pelvis, when his hit movie Jailhouse Rock came out in 1957. In all his lip-curling, rockabilly-rebel glory, the star dressed in prison garb with a fitted striped shirt, a popped-collar denim jacket, drainpipe jeans, and a slicked-up quiff. Jailhouse Rock welded denim’s onscreen association with youthful rebellion, an affiliation previously evoked by Marlon Brando in The Wild One and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.
Shake, rattle and roll
In one of the most memorable moments in rock and roll history, Elvis dressed top-to-toe in provocative leather, spinning his way through the ’68 Comeback Special concert that signified the rebirth of his career and helped secure his place as the King of Rock and Roll. He sported many memorable outfits through the years, but when people think of Elvis, his matte black biker jacket and cocksure swagger are some of the first things that come to mind.
Elvis, in the 1970s, was a flamboyant and energetic entertainer whose style was influenced on and off stage by costumier Bill Belew. In his final years, Elvis modelled his signature shiny studded jumpsuits, which paved the way for entertainers such as Michael Jackson and Elton John. No better example of Vegas Elvis exists than his custom-made Aloha from Hawaii white knight jumpsuit. Belew designed the legendary outfit based on Presley’s Vegas suits that featured rhinestones, Napoleonic chokers, and a bright red lei. The design’s 12 pound-cape was decorated with an embroidered American eagle, stars and inlaid with semi-precious stones.