'Elvis Fashion: From Memphis to Vegas' is a delicious collection of photographs that make it clear that Elvis was one cool cat from just about the time he could do up his own shoelaces right up to the time of his death. Check out the group of pre-fame photo-booth photos reproduced early in the book and showing Elvis growing in flamboyant confidence; these, as much as anything else in the book demonstrate Elvis's self-modelling. Shortly after the final photo in this sequence, Elvis broke onto the entertainment scene and, as this book makes abundantly clear, not only helped to change the way we sing and perform, but also changed the way we dress: no more would men be tied to conservative dark suits and drabness; Elvis made fancy popular. Author Mundy was given unprecedented access to Graceland's store of Elvis's personal items and stagewear and her selection from these vaults shows that the fashion industry owes Elvis as great a debt as the music industry.
The cover of 'Elvis Fashion: From Memphis to Vegas' shows a well-known Alfred Wertheimer shot of Elvis caring for his still golden locks (though the pic is in black-and-white, of course). Perhaps the picture was chosen to indicate that Elvis was contemplating which items of clothing to wear from the book's impressive wardrobe. And it is certainly the clothing, rather than the man, that is the subject of the book. Elvis definitely takes second place to his clothes throughout the book; although there are still plenty of pics of the man himself, these are usually used as an accompaniment to a larger photo of a piece of clothing, to show how it looked on Elvis, rather than on a faceless dummy or spread across a piece of furniture.
Mundy has arranged the book into 12 sections, whose titles give a good idea of what can be expected, including 'Teen Idol,' 'Formal,' 'Accessories,' 'Superfly' and 'Jumpsuits'. Each section is crammed with excellent photographs, most of which are in full colour. (Interestingly, the only really terrible clothes appear in the section devoted to his films, where a page of photos from costume tests for 'Roustabout' makes one understand fully why Elvis looks as if he's about to attack the photographer in the fifth shot.) The textual content is limited -- this really is primarily a photo book, after all -- but what there is is sensible and unobtrusive, often offering useful and interesting background information about the clothes and their designers.
The book is very well bound and printed, with just one poorly reproduced photograph, an irrelevant small shot from 'Double Trouble' on page 45. Another problem with the printing is that a number of items are reproduced over two pages, making the viewing of the area in the fold almost impossible -- a common problem with photo-books, of course, but here particularly annoying with the several capes that are reproduced in this way. Let that not put you off, however, for the rest is excellent and I'm sure there is something for all Elvis fans, be they interested in fashion per se or not. Suits, jackets, film outfits, stage clothes, including the inevitable jump-suits and capes, are all present. The jump-suits, however, are shown in often glorious detail and are placed in context, so that the often irreverent way in which they are treated is in no way present here. Also included are items that might be less expected, such as pyjamas and riding britches; heck there's even a stunningly gorgeous kaftan. The whole gamma of Elviswear is represented, from his early radical 1950s' outfits, through the more conservative 1960s' film wardrobe, into the 1970s' jumpsuits and flamboyant private wear. I'm no fashion historian, but it seems to me that this book will be on such a person's required reading list.
The book is relatively expensive, but it is well produced and offers a different and often surprising look at an aspect of Elvis that has been largely ignored up until now. Few of us are ever likely to earn a piece of Elvis's clothing -- apart from the obvious barrier of the phenomenal prices achieved for the few items that are made available, there just isn't enough to go around! -- so 'Elvis Fashion: From Memphis to Vegas' offers just about the best alternative available.
Buy Elvis Fashion
Author: Julie Mundy
Hardback, 208 pp.