Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, Elvis Presley was known as a fashion icon, and Baz Luhrmann Elvis brings the King’s signature style to life with the help of his longtime collaborator Catherine Martin and his talented team of costume designers. Not only did they have the glamorous task of dressing star Austin Butler in some of Elvis’ most recognizable outfits and stage ensembles, but they also had to make sure that his wife Priscilla, his manager Col. Tom Parker, and all the extras looked perfect. too.
From hand-stitching intricate jumpsuit details and recreating belt buckles to ensuring Austin Butler can land every one of Elvis’ hip slams and moves without breaking a seam, take a look behind the scenes of the costume process for Elvis was as over the top as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself.
Austin Butler had 90 costumes in Elvis
One of the reasons Elvis considered the definitive story of the king of rock ‘n’ roll is Austin Butler’s electrifying performance, but his impressive wardrobe also deserves credit. Throughout the long run of 2 hours and 40 minutes, Elvis constantly changes his outfit.
Talk to Independent wire, Martin explained how Elvis blended “elements of blues, country, gospel and rock into a personal aesthetic”, and to capture it well, Butler had to undergo “nearly a hundred costume changes”. It was necessary to take the actor through the ages of Elvis’ career, making for a bold and demanding performance.
The extras in the 1968 Comeback special were exact replicas of the real audience
Among the many things the movie got right about Elvis’ life was the effect he had on popular music. Luhrmann and Martin therefore knew that they had to bring his stage performances to life as accurately as possible. One of the film’s biggest sections involves its ’68 Comeback Special, where everything about the NBC event has been recreated in exquisite detail.
Speaking to Pop Sugar, hairstylist and makeup artist Shane Thomas said every extra on the stage wasn’t just wearing period costumes and hairstyles – they were the costumes and hairstyles from crowd photos of the special itself. It achieves more than the feeling of being in a time capsule – it helps modern audiences feel like they’re witnessing something for the first time.
Priscilla’s Beehive Wig Was a Business
Priscilla Presley was as much a style icon in the ’60s as her famous hubby, known for her shift dresses, high boots and, of course, giant brunette beehive. In order to properly create such a bouffant, it was necessary to sculpt. In the same Popped sugar pierce, it was revealed that “[Olivia] DeJonge had to wear two wigs at once to get the height needed,” with fine baby hair added around his forehead to make it look more natural.
By the time Priscilla divorced Elvis in 1973, she had a bouncy blonde blowout, which was recreated using four distinct wigs. While it’s fun to see Priscilla’s beehive, it’s also fascinating to see her hair change over time, allowing her to be a woman in motion and not a static image.
Austin Butler and Tom Hanks both wore prosthetics
Thomas went on to say that Butler not only had to be fitted with prosthetics and wigs during each decade of Elvis’ journey, but also wore two sets of false eyelashes and makeup. The real Elvis was quick to create a larger-than-life character for himself, but it was harder for him to demand privacy.
To play Colonel Tom Parker, Tom Hanks had to spend more than five hours doing his hair and makeup, and Martin and his team had to make old-fashioned outfits over his jumpsuit. For a man with his carnival roots, he wasn’t a particularly flashy dresser, preferring to leave that to his clients and his acts.
9,000 costumes were created for extras
Luhrmann and Martin have been working on jaw-dropping films full of extras for decades, but Elvis presented an even greater challenge than Gatsby the magnificent because of all the concerts and stage performances.
According Harper’s Bazaar, Martin and his team made “over 9,000 costumes” for extras working on the film, taking great care to ensure that all crowd scenes (which were mostly real people, not CGI) were dressed appropriately. Giving so much attention to something as insignificant as extras in a flyby shot helps to add to the dizzying level of excitement of seeing Elvis perform live.
Some costume changes were made for Austin Butler’s moves
Another behind-the-scenes fact from Elvis involves the melodious movements of Butler, which required a little creative license from Martin and his team. Butler had to be able to not only move well, but also look comfortable and natural, so it was essential that they never looked like a costume and he never looked like a copycat.
In the same Independent wire article, the team explained that although changes to the costumes, such as collar height, pocket placement, or collar width were “unnoticeable” to all but die-hard fans, they helped Butler move from as convincingly as Elvis.
The suits were made by designers like Mui Mui and Prada
As Elvis reveals, when the singer became more popular, Elvis could afford the latest fashions on Beale Street, and by the time he was 21 and bought Graceland, he could afford to wear designer items from around the world. So it’s only fitting that modern fashion houses have created some of the King’s looks for the big screen.
According W Magazine, designers like Miu Miu and Prada worked with Luhrmann to recreate the style of Elvis and Priscilla, often creating “reimaginings of looks the pair wore in real life”. They incorporated elements of the 60s and 70s with modern styles to make the outfits look relevant to the actors, helping to make the luxurious lifestyle The King wore while still feeling cutting edge.
Austin Butler saved a suit for himself
It’s no surprise that actors keep a prop from a movie they worked on, and in the case of Elvis, his star chose to keep one of the most important outfits of Elvis’ career – the all-black leather suit he wore for the ’68 Comeback Special. After ten years of shooting stereotypical 3 movies a year, Elvis was finally going back to his rock ‘n’ roll roots and selecting a dangerous and sexy ensemble, something The King hadn’t seen in years.
The ’68 Comeback Special suit got a few tweaks for Butler (like a raised Napoleonic collar and a longer inseam), so it’s no surprise he feels connected to the piece. It’s also one of the most recognizable outfits of the King’s career and represents his vitality as an artist.
They replicated every stitch of Elvis’ personal tailors
In the 70s, Elvis was known for the flamboyant jumpsuits he wore on stage during his shows in Las Vegas. In order to recreate the dozens he debuted over the years, Martin and his designers turned to his real tailor’s patterns. The Independent wire the article explains in detail “reproduce the appearance of the original [jumpsuits]including intricate chain-stitch embroidery by Gene Doucette, who personally embroidered Presley’s own jumpsuits.”
Costumes can do a lot to help transform an actor into their character, from how they move to how they relate to other actors around them, so knowing so many Elvis costumes have been made with such attention to detail only increases the feeling of realism.
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