The Man Who Dressed the King: Bill Belew and Elvis Presley

Rock stars love the grungy look: sweat-stained T-shirts, ragged jeans, worn-out shoes.

But Elvis Presley was no ordinary rock star.

He was, after all, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and he dressed like it. Fans never saw Elvis on stage in anything less than the best. Even early on in his career, he carefully chose his fashionable stagewear. He wanted to give the audience a thrill – not just with his music, but with his look. All these years later, Elvis’ style is as iconic as his music.

Elvis had great fashion sense, but it was designer Bill Belew who helped take Elvis’ fashion to the next level. Belew designed clothes for Elvis to wear both on and off the stage.

“You could be daring as a designer and put anything on Elvis and he could make it work,” Belew said. “And the simplest outfits that didn’t seem particularly remarkable on the rack transformed into something spectacular when Elvis put them on. He was that beautiful and powerful a presence.”

The Black Conquistador jumpsuit, designed by Belew, was worn by Elvis on stage in Las Vegas, Honolulu and San Bernardino. It was inspired by a tile floor pattern.

The Black Conquistador jumpsuit, designed by Belew, was worn by Elvis on stage in Las Vegas, Honolulu and San Bernardino. It was inspired by a tile floor pattern.

On June 11, 1968, Elvis met with costume designer Bill Belew to go over ideas for his upcoming TV special.

Elvis’ famous black leather suit was designed by Belew, as were several other pieces that were seen in that special.

The suit is on display at Graceland; it was recently exhibited at Elvis at The O2 in London.

Elvis' '68 Special was iconic for many reasons - one of them being the black leather suit he wore.

Elvis’ ’68 Special was iconic for many reasons – one of them being the black leather suit he wore.

Belew designed for other musical acts and celebrities, such as Gladys Knight, The Band, The Jacksons, Brooke Shields and the Osmonds, but he’s especially remembered for his designs for Elvis.

Elvis is known for so much – his velvet voice, his Southern generosity, Graceland, his pink Cadillac and, of course, his eye-catching jumpsuits. Belew designed them all, and many of them featured elaborate embroidery by Gene Doucette.

Bill Belew's design for the Flame jumpsuit is on the left, with the actual jumpsuit on the right.

Bill Belew’s design for the Flame jumpsuit is on the left, with the actual jumpsuit on the right.

Check out the beautiful detail on the Flame jumpsuit. Elvis wore this suit in 1976 at shows in Dayton, South Bend and Duluth.

Check out the beautiful detail on the Flame jumpsuit. Elvis wore this suit in 1976 at shows in Dayton, South Bend and Duluth.

There are actually two versions of Elvis’ Flame jumpsuit; the other version’s kick pleats are red, while this version’s is orange.

Belew said that many of Elvis’ jumpsuits were white to allow the stage lights to truly capture Elvis on stage. They experimented with several colors, however, such as red, black and blue.

Most of Elvis' jumpsuits were white, but not all of them. This is the Owl from 1972 while filming his second concert documentary, "Elvis on Tour."

Most of Elvis’ jumpsuits were white, but not all of them. This is the Owl from 1972 while filming his second concert documentary, “Elvis on Tour.”

Another of Belew’s celebrated jumpsuits is the American Eagle, which Elvis sported in the 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” special.

Eagles show up in several other of Belew’s jumpsuits. He also created a colorful Chinese Dragon jumpsuit, four Phoenix jumpsuits (white with turquoise, dark blue with silver, white with red and white with black) and one called the Black Butterfly, which is covered in beautiful golden butterfly studs.

Elvis' American Eagle jumpsuit, designed by Belew, is his most famous jumpsuit.

Elvis’ patriotic eagle jumpsuits are a fan favorite, and the detail work is exquisite.

Belew didn’t just design jumpsuits for Elvis. He also designed those elaborate belts, as well as three-piece suits and much more.

These outfits make Elvis’ already-powerful stage performances even more entertaining and memorable. And while some stars today go for the casual look on stage, many have been inspired by Elvis to make a statement on stage with specially designed, tailored, sparkling outfits. Belew didn’t just create eye-catching stagewear; he created works of art.

What’s especially incredible about Belew’s work is the detail. See these jumpsuits and outfits up close here at Graceland, or look for them at ELVIS: The Exhibition in Las Vegas or Elvis at The O2 in London (which has been extended through January 10, 2016).

Do you have a favorite jumpsuit or outfit that Elvis wore?


47 Comments

  1. Diane Deaville

    Great outfits, Elvis always looked very smart on stage.x

  2. Carolyn

    loved Elvis’ on stage appearance and costumes. I have seen them up close at Graceland and they are beautiful. The workmanship is truly art.

  3. bonjour bien elvis presley

  4. Letitia Ryan

    Those famous jumpsuits. My favourite is the American Eagle jumpsuit from the Aloha concert. One of the first pictures I ever collected of Elvis he was wearing the American Eagle jumpsuit. I was only a child at the time but I remember I was fascinated by what I saw, the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I still feel the same way when I look at him, especially in that special jumpsuit.

  5. Jackie Ridling

    Black Leather suit!!

  6. Liliana

    Excelentes diseños,que quedaban perfectos en Elvis.

  7. William Luethke

    I am probably like a lot of other fans as my favorite suit is the Hawaii jumpsuit. I hope to have one made for myself someday. Everything Elvis wore was great as he was.

  8. Joseph Caterina

    The second best ,after the American Eagle was the one he wore in Boston ….10 November 1971
    Joe Cat

  9. Conny Pouwels

    Those are wonderful jumpsuits. My favorit jumpsuit is the American Eagle.

  10. Linda Hanson

    I truly believe all of Elvis’s outfits were the best for the performance he was doing, all of them were beautiful.

  11. Robert Fenton

    I was born October 3rd 1955 my Mom listened to Elvis Presley when she was pregnant with me and he wasn’t perfect man like Jesus Christ is but he was very good decent guy who loved his mom country and his family and fans never forgot about you and the fact everything he had came from his Fan’s sorry but he wasn’t the King of Rock and roll because he was very much more the King of entertainment

    • Tony Trout

      Thank you for that comment, Robert! I get really irritated and bothered by comments from people/fans who idolize Elvis to the point of thinking he was a god – he was not! He put his pants on one leg at a time like we all did.

      However, I do have many favourite jumpsuits that I like that he wore but, surprisingly, they are all from the 1970 – January, 1973 era. The one he wore in Boston, MA was the “Black Pinwheel” jumpsuit and I also love the White and Red Pinwheel suits (“Red Lion”/”White Pinwheel” & “Red Matador”/”Red Pinwheel”/”Red Byrning Love” jumpsuit (named that way because it appears on the sinle release of, “Burning Liove”, which Elvis’s drummer, Ronnie Tutt, produced because Felton was very sick at the time with kidney issues so Ronnie took over the March, 1972 session (of which we see mock footage of in “Elvis On Tour” & “This Is Elvis.”

      (Sorry that was so long…..I learned the latter stuff recently in a FB group dedicated to Ronnie. I have a couple of FB friends who have actually put together their own Ludwig “Blue Sparkle” double-baa drum sets like Ronnie used from late 1970 – August 20, 1974 when he switched to the larger Ludwig drum kit. I’m hoping and praying that I can do the same thing in a couple of years because, since I’m a drummer, I’ve always wanted a drum kit like that!)

      Continued……

      However, God blessed Elvis with anenormous amount of talent and charisma that, to this day, no one has been able to match. Elvis will always be the greatest singer ever, IMHO, but he was also human…..a very fragile but complicated human who was and still is loved by billions around the world. He hated being called “The King”, period…..of anything. He knew that there was only one true King — and that man was Jesus Christ – who STILL lives and reigns today!

      Take Care/God Bless,
      Tony Trout

  12. deedee weber

    Elvis looked wonderful in everything he wore. I love him in The Patriotic eagle jumpsuit.

  13. dominic j rice

    I am 65 years old I never got to see elvis live I have all his records and I wish he was still here I am a paraplegic love to hunt and fish I know he would buy me a track wheel chair I would pay him back when I could rest in peace elvis I miss you dom from ny

  14. Shely Scott

    i liked what he wore before the jump suites I think the jump suites took away part of Elvis

  15. Beth Finstad

    Beautiful! !! My favorite is the Eagle one he wore in the Aloha from Hawaii, and a baby blue one that has like long peasant sleeves with elastic in them…..thnx Beth.

  16. Donna Weiner

    i love them all black leather flame and American eagle I’ve been to Graceland 6times and have seen them . Is there a book on Elvis jump suits, I would to get one.

    • Hi Donna – we published a book about Elvis’ jumpsuits when we had a special jumpsuits exhibition here at Graceland, but that book is unfortunately out of print! These jumpsuits would make a great coffee table book!

  17. the dragon

  18. John Mason

    Simply iconic and stunning work’s of art, well done Mr Belew,can’t imagine Elvis without his trademark jumpsuits, we’re there new one’s that Elvis never got to wear I wonder?

  19. The Man Looked Good In A Suit Of Armor He Was ELVIS!!!

  20. Gary Landsman

    The posting here of the exhibit, looks wonderful. Wish can take the opportunity to come down and see it.

  21. Yes, the white jumpsuit with front grommets and tfringed ties.

  22. kathryn butler

    there is not anything to say..he was so special and great will always be.

  23. janet styring

    they are all fab fab.

  24. Milica Djukich

    The AMERICAN Eagle especially the one in ha LOHA Hawii! I like the white ones best,but the leather one in the 68 special really looked nice on him! It looks good on the Impersonators too when they ware it!

  25. andrea

    Yes, I do! The “Red Ladder” jumpsuit….he wore it when I saw him in San Francisco 1970, November at the Cow Palace….Gosh, he was gorgeous and yes he could wear anything and look like a King!!!

  26. Indian feather/Chief jumpsuit

  27. rob cole

    After waiting many years we came to Graceland in August 2014 to celebrate my 50th birthday.What an honour to be your guest and see everything.January 2015 went to O2 London and going again August 16 th .Cannot say which outfit was the best but Elvis certainly was and will always be in my heart x
    Thankyou Elvis for being such a lovely part of my life

  28. David Adey

    It would be hard to pick one but i would say the peacock suit as worn on the promised land album i loved the leg work on it and also the sundial suit is another one i loved great colours on it.

  29. Sherrie Curts

    The one he wore in Hawaii. All of his jump suits were wonderful.

  30. Patricia Smith

    When Elvis strode on stage wearing one of his extraordianry jumpsuits, you felt the electricity gather in the arena-something powerful was just about to explode. And it did. The King delivered a powerful performance, each and every time. You talk about clothes making the man-this man made the clothes a part of the entire experience of what was Elvis Presley.

  31. Marc Cole

    My favorite has to be the peacock or the white spanish flower.

  32. MemphisFlaah56

    Indian Jumpsuit

  33. Richard Rodriguez

    My favorite jumpsuit is the AMERICAN EAGLE from the aloha concert.

    • Richard Rodriguez

      My favorite jumpsuit is the AMERICAN EAGLE from the Aloha Concert.

  34. Michael

    Nobody wore a suit like elvis…but much of the credit has to go to the designer…

  35. janet hudson

    I loved elvis in his eagle costume it was stunning

  36. Mary Fett

    Elvis was a very Special person with “Class”. He was different & knew what he liked. So many guy’s wanted to be like him & dress like him, but no one could pull it off. Loved his style, he was one of a kind & no one will ever replace him.

  37. Lucille Walkup

    I always loved his clothing styles. He could wear anything from
    casual to those gorgeous stage costumes. I loved the exhibit at
    Graceland.

  38. Linda Johnson

    I love the Raindrop Suit and the very First Jumpsuit in “ETTWII”. White Fringe w/beads….he was so awesome in everything he wore.

  39. Shron Crissman

    I loved them all. No matter what he wore, they all look good on Elvis.

  40. Vicki Seward

    Belew Faves: Black Leather, 1970 TTWII White Fringe, 2-Piece Dark Blue 1975 (looked like colorful fish scales on shoulders), Charcoal 1969 LasVegas (which, contrary to most accounts, is what he wore to meet Nixon, topped with dark velvet coat from nightclub portion of 1968 “Singer Presents Elvis”). Most interesting: Cisco Kid series of different colors. Oh! And love, love from 1972 Madison Square Garden: press conference suit (Was that the same shirt from TTWII rehearsals?) & of course the metallic show suits & capes from the Garden. Other than that, nothin’ (LOL) Love them all – Don’t get me started on the earlier years.

  41. mark brandum

    Love your work , Mr. Belew !
    Wher does one get the vast array of hardware that is required for those belts. Craft stores and leather shops only have a limited variety of shapes to choose from. Usually just buttons , and nail heads. I am looking for other shapes , like triangles diamond , etc. Or where are the lion’s heads obtained from. Any clearing house , or supply hose recommendation is greatly appreciated.
    Thank you .

  42. Glynda Henderson

    I have two favorites. The white with macramé belt and white with clear ringtones.

  43. “Rock stars love the grungy look: sweat-stained T-shirts, ragged jeans, worn-out shoes.”?

    Really? Like the Beatles? Led Zeppelin? Buddy Holly? Little Richard? British invasion bands? The Who? Tom Petty? Your article is great, but opening with such a stupid remark born of some stereotype you formed in your head based on perhaps a narrow view or experience of the grunge or punk scene could have been left out in favor of something more honest and relevant

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