5 (Surprising) Style Lessons from Elvis Presley

5 (Surprising) Style Lessons from Elvis Presley
The recent release of Baz Lurhmann’s biopic Elvis has many revisiting the music and style of the King of Rock and Roll.

Considering Elvis Presley’s style may conjure that gold lamé suit or those rhinestone-laden jumpsuits from the ‘70s, but the King knew when to tone it down. He was certainly a clotheshorse, his vast closet running the gamut between gaudy stagewear and tasteful tailoring, often cut for him by Sy Devore, the “tailor to the stars” who also dressed the Rat Pack.

Few of us have any need or desire to incorporate lamé or rhinestones into our daily fits, but digging deeper into Elvis Presley’s style reveals a few sartorial lessons that can add star power to your wardrobe… without needing to spring for blue suede shoes.

The Harrington jacket offers timeless appeal

image of a black and white photo of elvis presley

Even a groundbreaking artist like Elvis knew when to embrace the classics. The design of the Baracuta windbreaker was more than 20 years old when Elvis brought this golf jacket off the green and onto the screen in his fourth movie, King Creole.

image of a man wearing a harrington jacket and shorts

Whether the costume choice was suggested by costume designer Edith Head or Elvis himself may be lost to history, but the hip-swinging star in his stone-colored G9 ignited a movement that would later include fellow stars Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, and Ryan O’Neal—whose Peyton Place character inspired the nickname “Harrington jacket”—and cemented the jacket’s legacy.

Harrington Jacket Picks:

image of a man wearing a green jacket and black shirt

Baracuta G9 Jacket

image of a navy blue zip front jacket

Orivs Weatherbreaker Jacket

Bold stripes aren’t just for inmates

image of elvis presley wearing a striped button down shirt

Yes, Elvis made a prison uniform rock harder than it should in his 1957 movie Jailhouse Rock, but his more colorfully striped sport shirts in later movies like the banally titled Fun in Acapulco present a way to incorporate bold stripes without looking like you just broke free from a chain gang.

Striped Shirt Picks:

image of a man wearing a multi color stripe shirt

Banana Republic Slim Untucked Shirt

image of a man wearing a short sleeve striped shirt

Express Striped Shirt

image of a man wearing a red and white striped short sleeve shirt

Express Camp Collar Shirt

image of a man wearing a striped short sleeve shirt

Urban Outfitters Striped Shirt

image of a man wearing a multi color spread collar striped short sleeve shirt

Zara Striped Shirt

It’s time to embrace Aloha summer

image of elvis presley wearing a red hawaiin print shirt and flower lei

Elvis’ 1961 musical Blue Hawaii did plenty to promote tourism to the Hawaiian islands as well as its bright aloha style. Tropical shirts had already been increasingly popular over the previous decade, but the King’s parade of colorful Hawaiian shirts continue to make the case in favor of floral prints more than 60 years later.

image of elvis presley wearing a red printed short sleeve shirt

Floral Print Shirt Picks:

image of a man wearing a red floral printed shirt

Abercrombie & Fitch Performance Shirt

image of a person wearing a multi color floral print shirt

Goodthreads Poplin Shirt

image of a blue floral printed short sleeve shirt

J.Crew Camp Collar Shirt

image of a man wearing a floral printed short sleeve shirt

Old Navy Camp Shirt

All of the above are from traditional retailers, but if we wanted to go true Hawaiian, there are great selections from authentic company Aloha FunWear, including the original worn by Tom Selleck in Magnum PI:

image of a red printed hawaiin floral print shirt

Aloha Funwear Hawaiian Shirt

Don’t be afraid of big sunglasses

image of elvis presley wearing sunglasses and a collared shirt

… and not just those famously oversized “TCB” aviators with holes punched in the arms. Before the Vegas residency days, Elvis’ eyewear still gravitated toward the larger and more eye-catching (so to speak.)

Sunglasses Pick:

image of ray ban sunglasses

Ray-Ban Sunglasses

And don’t step on—or rule out—blue suede shoes

By way of the hit single originated by his Sun Records contemporary Carl Perkins, Elvis warned listeners not to step on his blue suede shoes, but the singer’s preferred stage kicks during the era were more frequently black-and-white lace-ups, which would have also looked flashier on those black-and-white TV sets of the ‘50s. These spectator shoes can be frequently spotted throughout early scenes in Elvis, for which costume designer Catherine Martin worked with high-end designer Manolo Blahnik to recreate the King’s favored footwear. 

Neither Perkins nor Presley stipulated just what shade of blue, so more daring gents can add some rockabilly flair to their summer style via penny loafers or moc-toe drivers with tasteful navy suede uppers that stand apart from the usual black and brown.

Blue Suede Shoes Picks:

image of blue penny loafer suede shoes

G.H. Bass & Co. Larson Penny Loafer

image of blue suede loafer shoe

Sperry Manchester Penny Loafer

image of blue suede penny loafer shoe

Jay Butler Cromwell Penny Loafer

image of blue suede penny loafer shoe

Thomas Bird Hampton Penny Loafer

Nick Guzan

Nick Guzan is a public relations consultant and writer living in Pittsburgh. He blogs about men's style in movies and TV at BAMFStyle.com. His interests include old movies, muscle cars, maritime disasters, fast food, and single malt Scotch.