Elvis Presley never wore boring outfits on stage. The King sported his own signature, sometimes audacious style, even when he was just beginning his fantastic career.
That certainly was the case with his gold lamé suit, which six decades later is on display at Graceland. Elvis’ manager Tom Parker commissioned the suit from Nudie Cohn, whose backstory was more flamboyant than the outfit he designed for America’s biggest star.
Nudie Cohn was born in Russia and moved to the United States when he was 11. He became a tailor and his initial specialty was creating G-strings for Burlesque showgirls. Then he branched out to sparkly rodeo wear. Seems like a natural transition, right? His own website claims that Cohn was the first man to put rhinestones on clothing. Cohn opened a shop in North Hollywood, Calif.
Cohn and his wife became custom tailors for Roy and Dale Evans in the early 1950s. And then Cohn met Parker. The two spent long lunches together and became terrific friends.
Cohn created the gold lamé suit for Elvis in 1957. There is some confusion as to how much the suit cost. The Graceland website says $2,500. The Nudie Cohn history site says $10,000. For context, $2,500 in 1957 would be almost $24,000 in today’s dollars.
According to Graceland.com, Elvis first donned the suit in late February or March 1957 for a photoshoot. And then he wore the suit for a concert in Chicago on March 28 of that year. Cohn designed it all for Elvis, from the jacket, pants, tie, belt and shoes.
Elvis wore the full gold suit only three times in 1957. All were in concerts within a a few days of each other. The other two venues were in St. Louis and Toronto. But he got more use out of the suit by wearing the sparkling gold coat with black pants.
When Elvis served in the Army, the gold suit went into storage. After he left the Army in 1961, Elvis put on parts of the suit for one more concert. And it was a special one, a benefit concert for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
Elvis’ career continued to sizzle. So did Nudie Cohn’s. The top stars in Hollywood sported his sparkles. His client list included the obvious choices for outlandish concert wear — Cher and Elton John. He also designed for John Lennon, Glen Campbell, George Jones, Michael Landon and Tony Curtis. He made clothes for Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, too. Musical groups, including ZZ Top, Chicago and America, wore his concert clothes, too. Robert Redford even wore a Nudie Suit in the Electric Horseman.
But Elvis probably made the Nudie suit a must wear for all the cool singers and cowboys.