Elvis Presley's jumpsuits were his signature. He is definitely one of the biggest stars of all time, but how would we see him according to modern standards?
Elvis Presley was an iconic figure in American history and pop culture, and his name was synonymous with rock and roll until he turned into a running joke of sorts for people who saw him only as a sad, washed-up star. However, his untimely death at the age of 42 gave birth to the legend of this man, turning him into the world-famous icon we all remember him as. Now, because he died so young, it makes us wonder, what would it have been like if Elvis were still alive in the 21st century? He might still be making hits, adapting his style to the new musical and cultural trends like Jennifer Lopez or Madonna, or he might have faded into obscurity anyway after failing to transcend for the new generations. Unfortunately, we'll never know, but what about his persona? How would we perceive and judge a modern-day Elvis?
People like to say that Elvis was one of a kind, but he wasn't that special really. I mean, the man was extremely talented, he had an impressive voice and killer dance moves, but in recent years, we’ve seen loads of people just as talented as him or even more so. What really made him so iconic was his charisma and the innovative (even scandalous) way he moved; if you don't remember, do yourself a favor and search for videos of his legendary dancing. Do you think his style would be as appealing to us today? Maybe, but not for the best reasons. The way I see it, people today would probably be more drawn to the lavish life he led with all his luxuries and eccentricities than his music (just like modern-day celebrities whose only claim to fame is fame itself - talking to you, Kardashians).
To be honest, the more I think about it, the less I think a man like him would fit in today’s world, but let’s go back to the point of our title and the reason why I think social media and the internet today would have destroyed him. One of the things that made Elvis so iconic was his legendary style. Take a look at any of his impersonators or the thousands of t-shirts and posters with his face on them, and you’ll see his classic pompadour and sparkly jumpsuits. If he were alive today, those jumpsuits, which nobody in their right mind would dare to wear, would be the end of his career. I know what you're thinking, “yes, they’re fashion suicide, but why would they ruin a person’s career, aren’t we free to wear whatever we want?” The thing is that behind those luxurious and iconic suits, there's a crime that is too grave to forgive.
According to Gene Doucette, the main creator of these intricate and fancy garments, the idea of the suit was to create something stylish and memorable, but also comfortable for Elvis to perform in. Since he danced a lot in his shows, regular two-piece suits didn't cut it. As a result, jumpsuits were the perfect solution: he could dance his heart off, yet still look put together. As the suits became his signature look, Doucette decided to turn them into actual canvases to tell stories, but the question is what kind of stories. He thought that one way to make them special, unique, and innovative was by taking inspiration from “primitive” art, as he called it (you see where this is going?). For years, Elvis wore a set of jumpsuits with incredible embroidery and some pretty problematic themes (or stories, as Doucette called them), like Egyptian, Aztec, and Native American-inspired ornaments.
Many celebrities have received tons of backlash after wearing hairstyles and clothes that belong to other cultures. This is called cultural appropriation, and if you’re a public figure, this can be one of the worst social crimes you can commit, mainly because you’re taking tradition and culture as costumes. If the King were to perform today and have a social media presence, he’d probably get a lot of criticism because of it, not to mention the racism allegations or the stories of him only wanting to have sex with "virgin" women.
We could say that he was a man of his time, sure, but does that make it ok? I mean, if I see a foreign tourist wearing a Mariachi hat in Mexico and having fun, I don't mind. For me, it's all about the intention. Yes, sometimes people take elements from oppressed cultures and profit off of them, but there are also people who just love a different culture and want to show it. However, I’m quite sure that in Elvis’ case it's more the former. After all, Doucette was the one who created them and sent his designs only for approval. The man didn’t even meet Elvis, so there’s no way he could share his ideas. So, yes, I think it’s important to bring things like this into the conversation, especially with a figure as iconic as him, but also because it's something we should do with all of our idols.
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