Elvis Presley as “Lucky” Jackson, mechanic and aspiring race car driver
Las Vegas, Summer 1964
Film: Viva Las Vegas
Release Date: May 20, 1964
Director: George Sidney
Costume Designer: Donfeld (Donald Lee Feld)
Regarded as one of the better movies of Elvis Presley’s acting career, Viva Las Vegas stars the singer opposite Ann-Margret, and it’s reported that the very real chemistry between the two was indicative of their off-screen friendship that briefly grew into romance.
On screen, however, Elvis played “Lucky” Jackson, a mechanic who wins – then literally loses – the money he had hoped to use to finance his own race car. To raise the money back, he takes a part-time gig in the Fabulous Flamingo casino in Las Vegas, where he meets sultry swimming instructor Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret, of course).
After Lucky tenacious pursues her for a date, Rusty finally agrees to let Lucky take her dancing… though their date is for the following morning at 9 a.m. in the UNLV gymnasium. Lucky arrives in time for the dance pro Rusty to goad him into a performance, though Lucky opts for a song instead, leading the gym full of students in “C’mon Everybody”, written by one of Presley’s go-to songwriters Joy Byers.
Over the course of the number, Rusty joins Lucky on stage and is evidently so wooed by his performance – he is Elvis, after all – that she allows him to take her one one of the most ridiculously elaborate dates that begins with skeet-shooting and motorbikes to helicopter rides and jet-skis… not to mention a surreal interlude where the two face off with replica revolvers on an abandoned Old West set. For a guy who just lost all of his money, this is really one hell of a date!
It ends when Rusty takes Lucky home to meet her father (an avuncular William Demarest), and Lucky takes a moment of solitude to emote via the Liebestraum-like “Today, Tomorrow and Forever”, written by Presley songwriters Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, and Florence Kaye. This remains one of my favorite songs from Elvis’ vast repertoire, though it could be due to my own partiality for Franz Liszt’s “Liebestraum No. 3”, from which the song was clearly adapted.
What’d He Wear?
Even before the elaborately embroidered jumpsuits, Elvis Presley was always a colorful dresser who eschewed convention in favor of individualism. The King also cared about wearing high quality goods, and even his brightly colored stage suits of the 1970s were intricately made by designer Bill Belew who outfitted Elvis in everything from black leather to bedazzled butterflies.
In the early ’60s, the name that Elvis and his performer peers turned to for top quality was Sy Devore of Hollywood. In the two decades after he moved from New York to his shop on Sunset and Vine, Devore tailored celebrities like the Rat Pack, Nat King Cole, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and John Wayne; even John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson counted themselves among Devore’s high-profile customers.
“Devore’s threads made those cats the epitome of 1960s cool,” wrote Alison Martino – whose famous father Al was also a Devore customer – for Los Angeles Magazine in August 2015. “There were sharkskin suits lined in paisley silk, sports coats, pastel sweaters, skinny ties, dress shirts, and trousers with big belt loops, all finished with an impeccable fit.” Given Devore’s reputation for both specialty and quality, it’s no surprise that he also earned Elvis’ patronage. “Elvis Presley shopped at Devore’s off the rack, picking out 20 suits at a time at $350 a pop.”
Just four years after the Rat Pack sported Sy Devore’s sleek suits for their Las Vegas takeover, Elvis Presley outfitted himself in Sy Devore duds for his own venture into the city of lost wages.
All of Presley’s wardrobe throughout Viva Las Vegas is distinctive to the artist’s personal tastes, from the gray sharkskin shawl-collar suit to the short bolero-style jackets he wears for many of the film’s dance numbers. One particular standout suit is the sporty beige suit worn first for this dance number with Ann-Margret’s Rusty Martin in the UNLV gymnasium.
Likely constructed from a linen blend suiting, this suit’s most obvious unique detailing that should jump out to viewers is the lack of lapels or collar.
Collarless suits and tailored jackets were hardly groundbreaking in the early ’60s. In fact, there were early references to “daytime jackets without collars” that had been predicted to revolutionize men’s warm-weather attire for the 1940 summer season; a collarless jacket had even been worn by Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story that year. World War II put a considerable halt on advances in men’s fashion, and the collarless jacket remained relatively dormant for two decades until the concept was revived by Paris designer Pierre Cardin in 1960 with a high-necked model that would go on to become the signature look of The Beatles (pre-LSD, that is.)
The same week that the boys from Liverpool put out their first British EP, Please Please Me, Elvis Presley took delivery on his Sy Devore suits and jackets that would appear in Viva Las Vegas. At least two of these beige collarless jackets were made, and the date printed on the tag is July 10, 1963 – just before production began in Las Vegas – as seen on this Graceland Auctions listing.
The jacket from this suit, referred to as “bone-colored” in the auction description, was auctioned in Memphis during Elvis Week in August 2015 but did not attract a high enough offer, according to the Brainerd Dispatch. The Elvis Blog expands on this story, adding that, oddly, the auctioneer stopped the bidding at $28,000 when it was $2,000 shy of its goal.
The ventless jacket has three brown horn buttons on the front and three on each cuff. Standing at 6’0″ tall and still maintaining his lean physique, Elvis benefitted from the visual balance of three buttons of this suit, especially without lapels.
As part of a considerably casual suit, the jacket has less formal patch pockets: one on the left breast and one on each hip. The seams around the edges of the pockets also add a degree of visual complexity that breaks up the potential monotony of a collarless jacket.
Elvis sticks with his warm, desert-evoking color palette by wearing a sunny yellow shirt with his sandy beige suit. The cotton shirt has a button-down collar, a plain (placket-less) front, and single-button cuffs, all fastened with mother-of-pearl buttons.
The suit has matching flat front trousers with a medium-high rise that harmonizes with the jacket by rising to Elvis’ waist, where the trouser waistband meets the center button of the suit jacket.
When Lucky removes the jacket for parts of his date with Rusty, the trousers’ buckle-tab side adjusters and side pockets are better seen. The trousers taper through the legs down to plain-hemmed bottoms.
With the exception of black patent leather shoes he wears for a stage performance, Elvis’ default footwear throughout Viva Las Vegas is a pair of black suede Chelsea boots with black elastic side gussets, which appear to be worn with black socks.
In yet another Beatles style connection, the fab four was known for their distinctive “Beatle boots”, a nickname given to the tight black leather boots that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had commissioned from Anello & Davide in October 1961 with their raised Cuban heels.
Elvis: The Mini-Series
In 2005, the two-part miniseries Elvis aired on CBS starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in a Golden Globe-winning performance. A portion of the series covers the filming of Viva Las Vegas with Rose McGowan as Ann-Margret.
Eduardo Castro and Helen Monaghan received Emmy nominations for their costume design in the series, including a reimagining of many of the King’s famous screen and stage outfits for the series, including this collarless suit.
Differences from the actual suit to the miniseries’ interpretation include a warmer-colored suiting, lighter-toned suit jacket buttons, and the inclusion of a belt on the trousers… though it does look like a belt that the King would wear.
How to Get the Look
Despite his penchant for bold and brash clothing, Elvis’ wardrobe in Viva Las Vegas shows how a timeless and traditional ensemble like a beige linen suit can be radically individualized by a modifying a single element, whether by removing the lapels as in Elvis’ case or by finding your own creative solution.
- Beige linen-blend tailored suit:
- Collarless single-breasted jacket with three-button front, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Flat front, medium-high rise, tapered-leg trousers with buckle-tab side adjusters, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Yellow cotton shirt with button-down collar, plain front, and single-button cuffs
- Black suede Chelsea boots with black elastic side gussets
- Black socks
The collarless tailored jacket isn’t for everyone. For a more accessible look, consider a more typical beige linen suit with slim notch lapels, and perhaps opt for more tonal-friendly brown suede chukka boots as opposed to the King’s black boots.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, and give “Today, Tomorrow and Forever” a listen, should you feel so inclined. Elvis’ solo version, released in July 1971, is linked below.
You can also check out the duet that Elvis and Ann-Margret recorded on July 11, 1963, a few days before filming of Viva Las Vegas began. Colonel Tom Parker supposedly banned the release of this duet as he didn’t want any of the limelight taken off of Elvis.