Elvis Presley had an undeniably iconic look.
Fans could instantly recognize his perfectly coiffed jet-black hair and his extravagant, bedazzled jumpsuits. His incredibly unique look only helped him become a cultural symbol and icon.
His leg-shaking dance moves, smooth and romantic ballads, and rock ‘n’ roll attitude also helped.
What Were the Iconic Jumpsuits Made Of?
When Elvis Presley was onstage, the only thing he let weigh him down were his iconic jumpsuits. In the early ’70s, he wore suits that were around 25 pounds. Eventually, he added more elaborate jewels and embroidery that could make the jumpsuits weigh closer to 75 pounds.
Despite the heavy weight, Elvis moved in ways while he was performing that would become his trademark. Although his dancing was considered “vulgar,” “sexual,” or “scandalous” by some, it was all a factor in creating an entire different subcategory of music and music consumption.
According to a 2017 interview with the man who dressed Elvis, Bill Belew, on Elvis Australia (Elvis Presley’s official fan club of Australia), his jumpsuits could be rather elaborate.
Belew explained the choice of using a certain fabric on the jumpsuits called gabardine. The jumpsuits had resembled a Napeopleon-type fashion meant to frame his face with a tall collar.
“Because I would like to use what is known for ice skaters as stretch gab, or gabardine. And, it allows skaters to do their splits, their turns, and everything … I thought it would be great for Elvis because the one thing he said that he wanted to incorporate in his act was his karate. And I thought I’ve got to find something that will allow him to do that. The wool jersey that we used for a lot of these suits on the special, although it looks great, it’s very warm,” Belew said.
The material allowed Presley to stretch and dance freely but wasn’t overly warm. He changed the material from what used to be a stretchy wool jersey, which was a rather hot fabric. Belew was first approached to design for Elvis during his 1968 Comeback Special.
He wore countless of these stylish, functional, and unique artistic designs during his career.
Belew also designed costumes for celebrities like Joan Rivers, Brooke Shields, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, and Gloria Estefan amongst others.
Designing for The King
In a 2010 article from The Guardian, Gene Doucette recalls what it was like to get to work on the famous jumpsuits Elvis Presley used to wear.
Doucette said he was struggling to survive in Los Angeles before he ended up with a job in a costume shop. He ended up mastering embroidery and becoming one of the best in the area. Bill Belew approached him about making jumpsuits with embroidery designs for Elvis.
“Bill handed over to me and I began working on Elvis’s jumpsuits. I loved working with themes, such as primitive, Egyptian, Aztec Thunderbird. I didn’t just want glitter, I wanted a story,” he wrote.
He said his favorite design was from Elvis’ Aloha in Hawaii performance in 1973. He came up with a patriotic design including a massive eagle in blue and yellow. Doucette helped design the suits for a decade but never met Elvis Presley. Instead, he heard from those surrounding him what needed to be done.
The “American Eagle” or “Aloha” jumpsuit was one of his most well-known and iconic suits. It was worth about $65,000 and he wore it on broadcast television in front of billions of people around the world.