Elvis (2022) is a biographical film by Baz Luhrmann, starring Austin Butler in the title role as the King of Rock ‘n Roll. The film is narrated and told from the point of view of “Colonel” Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks, and it takes some interesting liberties and sideswipes historical facts on occasion in order to make for a good story. Honestly, what else would you expect from Luhrmann? It’s a musical spectacle full of gorgeous, dreamy visuals and a relatively lightweight plot, but because the film straddles our 1969 cut-off date, I was concerned it wouldn’t have enough pre-1969 costume content to merit a discussion on this blog. I shouldn’t have worried, because there is quite a bit to discuss about the film’s costumes (designed by Luhrmann’s wife and frequent collaborator, Catherine Martin) that deal with the first 10 or so years of Elvis’ career, all with the added side benefit of Austin Butler being total eye candy.
“It’s not imitation, it’s interpretation.” — Catherine Martin, Vanity Fair video interview
Martin took a very nuanced approach to designing the costumes for Elvis, setting out to recreate some of Elvis’ iconic outfits, such as the pink plaid blazer he wore on an early TV appearance, and the black leather “comeback” ensemble from his 1968 TV special, while also designing looks that draw inspiration from Elvis’ extensive wardrobe without being exact copies of any one thing.
Another thing the film doesn’t shy away from is the obvious influence African-American performers such as B.B. King, Little Richard, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe had on Elvis’ music and especially his early image. B.B. King, in particular, plays a rather more embellished role in the film as Elvis’ friend and confidante, and a run-in with Little Richard at Club Handy, a Black-owned nightclub in Memphis that Elvis frequents, serves to underscore the way that Elvis profited from Black style in his clothes, music, and movements throughout his career.
There are other noteworthy costumes from the film that I want to highlight, such as the Nudie-esque suits of father-and-son musicians Hank Snow and Jimmie Rodgers Snow, who were repped early on by The Colonel when Elvis was signed on:
They represent the passing trend that was already wearing thin on the Colonel by the early 1950s as he hunts for the next big act. In reality, Hank Snow enjoyed a successful career spanning 50 years, but the film makes it seem like he was headed for nowheresville once Elvis Presley appears on the scene. It is true that Snow and Parker parted on very bad terms, however, with Snow remarking that Parker “was the most egotistical, obnoxious human being I’ve ever had dealings with.” BTW, “Nudie” suits make a comeback in Elvis’ later career, with the tailor making some of his iconic rhinestone suits from the last several years of his career. (I could write an entire dissertation on Nudie Cohen and his protege Manuel, and their influence on early rock ‘n roll, FYI. It’s kind of a weird nerdy rabbit hole I know way too much about.)
The costumes worn by actress Olivia DeJonge, who plays Priscilla Presley, definitely evoke the type of fashions the real Priscilla favored in the 1960s and 1970s, during her marriage to Elvis. Again, some are fairly faithful copies of actual outfits worn by Priscilla during important points in the story, while others are more evocative.
What did you think of Elvis (2022)? Share your thoughts in the comments!