Icons / May 2017

Style Heroes: Elvis Before He Was King

Elvis might be more well-known for his eccentric stage attire, yet his early style of the 1950s is the stuff of legend.

When you think of Elvis Presley, chances are the first image that’ll come into your head is Vegas Elvis: the sequinned, white jump-suited, open-chested, flared-trousered demigod who stirred crowds up into a frenzy with his intoxicating wail and highly sensual performances. Although, according to Time magazine which reviewed one of his gigs in his breakthrough year of 1956, it seems he was just as intense from the very start, ‘in the spotlight, the lanky singer flails furious rhythms on his guitar, every now and then breaking a string. In a pivoting stance, his hips swing sensuously from side to side and his entire body takes on a frantic quiver, as if he has swallowed a jackhammer. Full-cut hair tousles over his forehead, and sideburns frame his petulant, full-lipped face.”

In these early days though before he was King, Elvis’ style was one of classic elegance and restraint, and he very much embodied the clean-cut 1950s Americana that was more synonymous with the likes of James Dean. There is an attitude in his early style though that gives him a certain edge, belying the commerciality of his later looks and contrasting with the sobriety of early 1950s post-war life. On paper, he would wear conservative, every day garments: white oxford button-down shirts, pleated, high-waisted, wide leg trousers and penny loafers - essentially simple, ivy league inspired clothing. Yet young Elvis wore these clothes in a way that was entirely his own. Much like the stage in which he dominated, Elvis owned his attire. Shirt sleeves would be nonchalantly rolled up to the biceps, a patterned sock would come into play every now and again, and he’d utilise simple jewellery including pinkie rings and silver bracelets, an early hint, perhaps, at the flamboyance that would come in the latter years.

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Charlie Thomas

Charlie Thomas is a former staffer at The Rake.