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Elvis also broke fashion boundaries

Everyone has a personal Elvis. He is there for all of us, embedded in the collective unconscious, one of the few people who can legally be described as an icon, though it is not always certain what.

There is musical Elvis and race calculation Elvis and sex symbol Elvis and Las Vegas Elvis and Mississippi Elvis and rockabilly Elvis and Hollywood Elvis and Warhol Elvis and Imperial Elvis and imitator Elvis. There’s also the warning Elvis: the bloated, pill-dependent burnout died at the age of 42.

There is first and foremost Elvis, the legend, a man whose humble origins and meteoric rise have been practiced so often the details hardly seem to describe a human being who breathed the same air as the rest of us. Reviving that character is no easy task, which is why the Elvis in Baz Luhrmann’s dreamy exaggerated historical biopic “Elvis” will inevitably fall short for many. How could it not? Capturing Elvis is like describing a quasar – a distant and intensely luminous object from an early universe.

It’s been four and a half decades since Mr. Presley’s death, almost 87 years ago, he was born in a modest frame house in Tupelo, Miss. Yet he somehow remains as potent a figure as ever. He is instantly identifiable and at the same time obscure, a symbol of the working class south he came out of; a pop world he transformed; a plain culture that already now leaves doubt as to how much of Elvis was his own creation, and how much borrowed from the black culture that is still the less-recognized American mother lot.

There is, more simply, Elvis, a creature of style and fashion – and Elvis should be the easiest to find. But even here, Elvis remains temptingly elusive, the person inside the clothes stubbornly clinging to his mystery. While we can not know with great certainty how Elvis arrived at and developed his indelible image, we can at least trace what he was wearing.

In the beginning, there were surprisingly conservative stage suits and jackets that were cut fuller than was customary in the 50s, though less for stylistic reasons than to accommodate Elvis’ pelvic scandalous movements.

As his fame grew and club dates became arenas, visibility of him required greater flamboyance. One result was a far from radioactive gold-lame suit, which his manager Colonel Tom Parker ordered from rodeo tailor Nudie Cohn, who appeared on the cover of the 1959 album “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong . “

Anyone who has ever visited Graceland knows that Elvis’ homely tastes – apart from the Jungle Room – were more prone to bourgeois gentility than his public image suggests. It is true that he owned a lot of flashy cars (according to some accounts more than 260 during his short life), a private jet and had a penchant for diamond-plated rubber ball rings and pendants (most famous with his Taking Care of Business logo, TCB ).

But the get-ups we most often associate with him, and which have influenced artists as unequal as Tupac Shakur, Bruno Mars and Brandon Flowers, and continue to inspire, if that is the word, designers at labels such as Versace, Cavalli, Costume National and Gucci , was far from the bathrobes Elvis lay in at home.

If that lame suit, more than any other single garment, argued for Elvis as a sartorial rebel, pushing the boundaries of convention in a Brooks Brothers era where the boundaries between the sexes were clearly drawn, it was undoubtedly his pompadour that established him as a gender radical. American men in the 50s monochrome Brooks Brothers did not wear shiny gold suits. They certainly did not dye their hair.

Yet under the clear influence of black musicians like Little Richard, whose teased bouffant locks even today look radical, daring queer, Elvis not only dyed his locks but trained them to wrap volutes, which he then grew and pomade to lacquered immobility .

Without the pompadour, no Elvis costume can be considered complete. Mimics would never consider going without Elvis’ lacquer coiffure. Austin Butler’s hair in Mr. Luhrmann’s film is shoe black just like Elviss was. What each has in common with the other is hair that in its natural state is some shade of blonde.

In civilian life, and as his income grew, Elvis became an early adopter of fashion. Like many hipsters and countless musicians from the late 1950s, he preferred Cuban collar shirts, wide legs, pleated pants, slip-on loafers and blouse jackets – a style that men wear labels that Prada rediscovers with unparalleled regularity.

Unlike millions of other Americans then and now, Elvis rarely wore jeans outside of the movies he starred in, once Hollywood discovered the beautiful working-class southern state hero and set him in motion to make 31 films in 13 years. Elvis did not like denim, it was said, because it was too sharp a reminder of his humble origins.

Because Elvis was in some ways less of an innovator than a magnifying glass, it seems like a stretch to credit him, as many do, with original trends for floral print aloha shirts (which enjoyed a fashion after the release of his movie “Blue Hawaii “from 1961”) Or tight-fitting cowhide suits, like the black leather he wore to a 1968 TV comeback special, or a rockabilly style that was already well-established among fans of the rural subculture when he became famous.

But for anyone who traces the genus of menswear styles, whether it’s for western shirts with snaps, angle-picking shoes, argyle socks, penny loafers or quiffs, Elvis is inevitably there in the pedigree.

Is it perverse to find grandeur in the most parodied element of Elvis’ style development? That is, his famous jumpsuits, the costume standard for imitators and trick-or-treaters on Halloween. These jumpsuits, typically treated as sartorial jokes, symbolize the star of his feast, the moment before his fame and his life collapsed over him and he curled up to the ground. These glittering garments with their embroidery and nail head patterns or glued gems were forerunners of the stage wear worn by any pop star – Prince, David Bowie, Harry Styles – who ever invited his fans to enjoy him erotically.

Oddly enough, at their core, the one-piece unisex garments were a practical solution devised by Bill Belew, Elvis’ costume designer, to allow him to move freely on stage while maintaining his silhouette. The stand-up collars that the lace-neck smokers of a Spanish infanta in a Velázquez portrait framed not only Elvis’ classic profile, but also seemed to hold his noble head up.

However, they did something else. Dressed in these jumpsuits, Elvis not only cemented an image destined to last far beyond any other pop star, but made him an almost divine.

If proof is needed, just see the last concert, in 1977. Though swollen and hoarse, short of breath and with sweaty paws stroking a face with pancake, his trademark hairstyle stiff as a wig, Elvis nevertheless rises from a dull opening number to achieve a state resembling exaltation.

Dressed in his white Mexican sundress, adorned front and back with a picture of the Aztec sunstone depicting five consecutive solar worlds, Elvis slowly moves across the stage like a holy idol, followed by a stage hand with a bundle of snow-white scarves draped over one arm. One by one, the helper hands them over to Elvis, who drapes each card around his neck for initiation before throwing it to eager prayers.

By this time, Elvis has crossed the boundaries of fashion and star status. And though he would very soon be dead, Elvis Presley was apotheotic at this very moment.

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