June 23, 2022

"Is it perverse to find magnificence in the most parodied element of Elvis’s style evolution? That is, his famous jumpsuits..."

"... the costume default of impersonators and trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Typically treated as sartorial jokes, these jumpsuits emblematize the star at his apogee, that moment before his fame and his life collapsed on him and he crumpled to earth. Those glittering garments with their embroideries and nailhead patterns or paste gem barnacles were precursors to the stage-wear worn by every pop star — Prince, David Bowie, Harry Styles — who ever invited his fans to feast their eyes on him erotically."

Writes Guy Trebay, in "Elvis Broke Fashion Boundaries, Too/He was many things, as a new biopic illustrates, but one of the least appreciated was his role as a gender pioneer" (NYT).

This makes me want to retell my Elvis's jumpsuit story. Back in 2005, I blogged a 7-point list of notes from my visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was the 7th item:
In front of a case full of Elvis memorabilia, a parent took it upon himself to translate Elvis to his 9-year-old daughter. They were gazing on a classic Elvis-in-Vegas costume. 
DAD: When he started wearing these white jumpsuits that was kind of weird. 

GIRL: That was awesome!
I loved that. I mean, us older folk assume we know that Elvis went wrong when he put on the white jumpsuit. But here's this girl, and she's correcting her dad. She thinks she knows. She's grounded in some new world. And there, the suit is awesome.

That little girl is now 26 years old. She's on the millennial/Gen Z cusp, and I've always remembered her as representing the new point of view, the one that's not embarrassed by Elvis's jumpsuit but loves it... and — I leap to presume — everything it represents.

Whatever that is!

29 comments:

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Wonderful bloggery. The jumpsuit is indisputably the go-to uniform of impersonators. Let’s face it, 1968 comeback special Elvis is a much harder look to pull off.

n.n said...

Give Me That Suzi Quatro Look | The Iconic Leather Jumpsuit

Spiros said...

Why does this have to be about gender fluidity? Isn't Elvis's behavior more like male courtship displays in the wild? The mallard duck's bright coloration, for example, is assumed to provide information to females about some aspect of the male's value as a mate. Can't we say that Elvis's jumpsuits are more similar to iridescent plumage than to this bullshit about transvestitism?

Also did Liberace do it first?

Quaestor said...

Is this the prototype of all the Elvis suits?

If he'd worn gold lamé instead of those white outfits Elvis could have sweated off 500 pounds of jelly donuts in one Vegas performance.

Rory said...

My money's on Liberace.

TheOne Who Is Not Obeyed said...

It's highly unlikely that Elvis was a "gender pioneer". That's just a modern author looking back and appropriating the pieces of someone's life for the author's own purposes.

It's all part of an effort to really, really convince the rational people in the world that this idea of 'gender' so recently tossed out by some academics really, really exists. They're failing at convincing rational people, so they feel the need to re-write people's lives to serve the Gods of Gender.

In the end it's all about how many two-spirit were-elf-selves can dance on the head of a prick.

madAsHell said...

When did Peter Townshend start wearing white jump suits?? I thought the jump suit was odd.

Howard said...

It seemed appropriate to the times

Another old lawyer said...

The Elvis sartorial spectrum is highlighted in an old SNL skit from seasons 4 with the original cast (less Chase). Aykroyd in gold lame as the young Elvis, Belushi in a jumpsuit as the older Elvis 'after he discovered carbohydrates.'

Found here, at about the 2 minute mark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx9VGQDNMJA

Heartless Aztec said...

I was in Lansky Bros last year while doing a Beale St walk through. The clothes in store were the coolest hep cat styles - vibrant and stylish in 1954 and still so in 2022. The jump suit look? A very dated 70's look. What Sly Stone or Lionel Ritchie made passable was not so for the King of Rock n Roll. He'll forever be that 1955 rebel in my minds eye. The young lady's father was right.

traditionalguy said...

Elvis loved his Momma. Cross dressing in a subtle way was rebellious act the way his customers wanted him giving himself to them. They were teen age girls. But he had a great voice and a Pentacostal like fearless performance style.

Narr said...

"Is it perverse to find magnificence in the most parodied element of Elvis's style evolution?"

IDK, but it may be stylishly parodic to find perversion in Elvis's magnificent evolution.

A friend of mine played at the Graceland premiere. Says he thinks Tom Hanks might have waved at him.

Clyde said...

It's difficult to understand the cultural context for someone who died long before you were born. You may get an intellectual understanding, but not the emotional reaction that the people who were there and lived the experience at the time had. You can listen to their music, view their art, read their writings, but the past is a foreign country, and you will forever be a foreigner to it if you didn't live through it. World War II ended fifteen years before I was born, but to me, it was ancient history, just as much as Elvis would be to a girl born in the late 1990s.

FleetUSA said...

If you've never seen an Elvis impersonator live show. If he's good (i.e. fills the theater), you will have a thrilling experience.

We went to one last December. My wife was looking forward to it. I was meh.... Then I was stunned how much we both enjoyed it.

Joe Smith said...

The jumpsuit just seems like a different version of a Nudie suit (Nudie Cohn designed suits for Elvis as well as many others).

Nudie Cohn began designing suits in the late '40s...

Some goos stuff here:

https://www.elvis.com.au/presley/elvis-presleys-jumpsuits-bill-belew.shtml

Joe Smith said...

That's 'good.'

FleetUSA said...

A live Elvis impersonator show is a must see if you get the chance. Big band sound and all the hits. Just wonderful.

gilbar said...

n.n said...
Give Me That Suzi Quatro Look | The Iconic Leather Jumpsuit

i LOVE the Suzi Quatro look, but she goes WAY BACK from there.
When she was 14, she was in The Pleasure Seekers with her sisters, and the Ball girls
Jumpsuits.. All The Way

tommyesq said...

Who wore it best - Elvis or Evil Knievel?

tommyesq said...

Who wore it best - Elvis or Evil Knievel?

Marc said...

Yes, it is perverse to find the virtue or quality of magnificence in Elvis's costume. Trebay probably thinks of 'magnificence' as a simple if pretentious synonym for 'eye-catching'.

Edmund said...

About 10 years ago, I had a peak Las Vegas moment. I was eating dinner with some friends at a steakhouse in the Venetian casino. As we were waiting for our dessert, a man was being seated that was the stereotype of a sleazy agent - shirt open several buttons, gold chains, sunglasses, and slicked back hair. He was leading not one, not two, but three Elvis impersonators to his table. A black leather Elvis, a young Elvis in a tan suit, and a white jumpsuit Hawaii special Elvis.

Peak Vegas.

Dustbunny said...

My favorite rock and roll jumpsuit was the sequined purple one worn by Van Morrison in The Last Waltz.

Scott Patton said...

This was destined for a cafe comment. It seems relevant here though.
Too Much Beauty (Cretinetti che bello!) is an Italian 1909 comedy film directed and starring André Deed
The portrayed effect on the women is, at the same time, both absurd and believable, as proved by Elvis 50+ years later.
Credit where it is due. Seen at the vile and wondrous BoingBoing.

farmgirl said...

One of my brother’s friends got married in Vegas.
On their anniversary, probably the 10th- 4 or5 couples went back and the guys all dressed in different phases of Elvis for the renewal of vows. Very cool.

Ann Althouse said...

Here an early example of a star in a jumpsuit.

Josephbleau said...

At least Jack was careful to take pictures without showing a bulging hidden organ. I don't know if I would have been so careful.

Lilly, a dog said...

Leave it to Current Year to insist that airborne/flight/auto-racing suits are iconically queer. Elvis may have died on the toilet with an impacted colon, but he will always be [heterosexually] cool.

Molly said...

(Eaglebeak)

Elvis had a gold lamé suit made for him by Nudie Cohn (ordered by the Colonel). The Colonel told Elvis to stop falling to his knees in concert because whenever he did, gold dust from the suit was left all over the floor (the Colonel was the cheapest guy that ever lived, except when he was gambling). Elvis hated the suit and stopped wearing it as soon as he could.

Elvis's own explanation for the jumpsuit was: When they come out to see you, you have to give them a show. Otherwise they could just sit home and listen to the record.