With the recently released Elvis movie making waves in the US, there’s no better time than the present to revisit a famous performer of the past: Elvis Presley. The King of Rock N’ Roll was also quite the fashion boundary breaker. As he wore many hats, from musician to actor, he made waves in fashion, and his memory is still making headlines today, several decades after his death. His modest upbringing in Tupelo, Mississippi, certainly didn’t keep him from being the star he was destined to be, and it didn’t hinder his iconic style. Instead, it challenged him to step out of staples like denim that he wore while he was in the working class. This man of great style and fashion rocked the pop culture world, and he did it in style.
Elvis began wearing full suits—ones cut fuller than traditional stage suits—perhaps to offset his history-making moves. It was the gold lamé suit he wore on the cover of his 1959 album that first broke clear gender lines. The shiny suit stood out from a Brooks Brothers generation full of Ivy league-inspired suits, making the rock star a clear boundary breaker. Americans didn’t wear shiny suits, and they didn’t dye their hair either.
As Elvis gained fame, he became an early adapter of flamboyant fashion. Elvis’ fashion of the 50s consisted of Cuban collars, bubblegum pink blazers, crop tops, trousers with pleats and wide legs, and blouson jackets complete with loafers. He likely inspired the likes of David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Today, his style influence still carries on and can be seen in the wardrobes of singers like Harry Styles and Bruno Mars as they embody elements reminiscent of Elvis’ unique style of dressing.
Elvis’ hair, while not a direct fashion piece, was a big part of his identity. His perfectly quaffed and dyed pompadour, which he adapted from influences like Little Richard, was not the typical style for men during this era. In combination with his look and his performances, he quickly became a sensation that would live on in history long after he passed at the young age of 42. Another item in Elvis’ wardrobe was zoot suits, large suits typically worn by BIPOC men, further cementing the influence of southern Black musicians on both his style and music.
It was in 1973 when Elvis made broadcasting history while performing in Hawaii. Wearing a white jumpsuit with an eagle decorated in red and blue studs, complete with his standup collar and bell-bottoms, 1.5 billion people saw his glamorous style. The patriotic jumpsuit was glamorous and a gender-fluid take on menswear. He was able to masterfully pull off outfits with a blend of masculinity and femininity that went contrary to his conservative following, and it didn’t seem to matter as Elvis continued to climb in popularity.
Presley’s rebellious style spoke to the post-war generation, especially men, who began to experiment with a more flamboyant style. There is no doubt that Elvis redefined what it means to dress like a man paving the way for androgynous and gender-fluid clothing.