Austin Butler as Elvis: Black Suit for a 4th of July Concert

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)


Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, country rock guitarist and singer

Memphis, Tennessee, July 4, 1956

Film: Elvis
Release Date: June 23, 2022
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin
Tailor: Gloria Bava


It doesn’t get much more American than Elvis.

Austin Butler went all out in his performance as the King of Rock and Roll in Baz Lurhmann’s characteristically flamboyant biopic, released last summer. Butler’s performance received particular praise—including endorsements from the Presley family—and Elvis would be nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Costume Design.

Elvis follows Presley’s brief life from boyhood through the various levels of stardom, particularly through the lens of his complicated relationship with his domineering manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). In the early years of his fame, Presley’s hip-swinging celebration of Black music is shown to so enrage the bigoted establishment that he’s being threatened with legal trouble.

The film presents his July 4, 1956 concert in Memphis as an opportunity for Presley to maintain the cleaned-up “New Elvis” image he had introduced three days early while performing “Hound Dog” on The Steve Allen Show three days earlier, stuffed into a white tie and tails as he crooned to an actual basset hound. Instead, having rediscovered the meaning behind his music among the blues joints on Beale Street, Elvis delivers a sweltering performance of “Trouble”—and lands himself right in it, arrested by the Memphis vice squad when he soundly disobeys being told to not “so much as wiggle a finger.” To avoid prosecution, Colonel Tom devises a plan for Elvis to swap out his blue suede shoes for spit-shined service derbies: “It’s either the Army or jail.”

Except that isn’t quite what really happened.

True, Elvis had just felt embarrassed himself by the overly formal “Hound Dog” bit on Allen’s show on July 1, and indeed there was some pressure to maintain the more widely acceptable “New Elvis” image. But when Elvis took the stage at Russwood Park on that 97-degree night in Memphis, the city that the Tupelo-born singer had called home since he was 13, he reclaimed his pulsating persona to the delight of the crowd… and nary a notable protest from any law enforcement. True, he was rushed out of the stadium by Memphis police—but it was merely to protect him from the usual mob of excited fans.

When the furor finally died down, and Elvis had graciously accepted a city proclamation designating Wednesday, July 4, as Elvis Presley Day, he turned to the crowd and announced, with that inscrutable mixture of boyish charm and adult calculation, “You know, those people in New York are not gonna change me none, I’m gonna show you what the real Elvis like tonight.”

— Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley

The real Elvis Presley performing at Russwood Park in Memphis, July 4, 1956.

The King’s set list 67 years ago tonight could not have included “Trouble”, as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wouldn’t write this blues number until more than a year later, when Presley recorded it for the soundtrack of his 1958 movie King Creole. Instead, he opened his half-hour set with his recent chart-topper “Heartbreak Hotel”, followed by a series of Presley standards and “Hound Dog” to close… without a top hat-wearing basset hound this time.

Presley’s Army career was also far less calculated than Elvis depicts, though Colonel Tom did encourage his client to not resist the draft as he suspected that military service would help improve Presley’s image among older Americans. After he received his draft notice, the Army and Navy both made Presley attractive offers, but the singer refused both and chose to simply enter the U.S. Army as a regular soldier, sworn in at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas on March 24, 1958 to begin his two-year service.

What’d He Wear?

Costume designer Catherine Martin deservedly received her fourth Academy Award nomination for Elvis, bringing three decades to vibrant life on screen as well as dressing Austin Butler’s Elvis in at least 93 costume changes, including dozens through the 1950s sequence that “encapsulated Elvis’ rebelliousness and sexuality at that watershed moment,” as she explained in a call with Helen Barrett for Financial Times. Martin expressed her desire to focus on designing costumes that allowed Butler’s characterization to breathe on its own “rather than slavishly copying the originals,” but she still brilliantly recreated many of the King’s looks through the two dozen years of his professional career.

“He was dressed all in black save for red socks and the red tie which he and his father had picked out just before the show,” Peter Guralnick writes in Last Train to Memphis of Presley’s attire for the July 4, 1956 charity concert in Memphis, a description that also accurately describes how Martin dressed Butler during this era before Elvis transitioned to his famous leather jumpsuits of the ’70s.

Austin Butler’s screen-worn black suit was tailored by Gloria Bava with a loose fit, echoing the actual black silk suit that Elvis wore for the Memphis concert. Looser fits were fashionable through the ’50s, partly as there was still an association between prosperity and excess fabric following the end of World War II-era fabric rationing. The fashionably full fit also allows the King a full range of movement for his famous gyrations that begin with his little finger and end with his sprawling across the stage.

Similar to how the real Elvis wore his single-breasted suit jacket that night, Butler’s Elvis wears only the lowest of the two buttons fastened on his jacket. The shoulders are wide and padded, again consistent with ’50s fashions. The sleeves have roped heads at the shoulders and are finished with four buttons on each cuff. The single-vented jacket has appropriately sporty patch pockets over the hips and left breast.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

The singer keeps his jacket buttoned through the duration of his performance—no small feat, given how much his swinging pelvis tests that single button’s strength. This keeps the top of his trousers mostly covered, but we can safely assume that they’re pleated (consistent with the era’s trends and King’s other trousers at this point in the story) and held up by a black leather belt. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).

Elvis’ unconventional style meant a range of unique footwear, from a rotation of black-and-white spectators to the celebrated blue suede shoes of Carl Perkins’ rockabilly hit that the King had covered in ’56. For the Memphis concert, his black leather apron-toe loafers are a bit more conventional, following the guidance that black shoes are a safe bet with a black suit. That said, Elvis breaks up the black with scarlet-red socks that coordinate with his tie, uniting his outfit into a dangerous-looking black-and-red color scheme.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

Elvis’ red socks echo the primary color in his tie, both pieces boldly standing out against his black suit. In contrast to the pink-and-black that defined Elvis’ look for the first two years of his success, the new black-and-red color scheme looks more dangerous.

Martin’s costume team magnificently recreated the patterned scarlet-red twill tie that the real Presley had received (and was subsequently photographed wearing) when he signed his recording contract with RCA Records in November 1955 and indeed wore again several months later for the Memphis concert. As seen in photos from when it was auctioned by Julien’s Live in 2014, both the real tie and the silk screen-worn tie are patterned with a white repeating motif of RCA’s longstanding “His Master’s Voice” logo, depicting a dog gazing into a gramophone horn.

This logo originated around the turn of the 20th century after English artist Francis Barraud painted his late terrier Nipper listening to a Edison-Bell phonograph. After the image was promptly dismissed by the Edison-Bell company (“dogs don’t listen to phonographs”), Barraud showed it to a representative of the Berliner Gramophone company, who offered to buy the painting… on the condition that Barraud repainted a Berliner Gramophone instead of the competing brand’s phonograph. After Barraud obliged, the image was registered as a trademark for the Berliner Gramophone company on July 10, 1900 and was retained for use by its American successor, Victor Talking Machine Co.—which would be redubbed RCA Victor by the time they signed the King.

Elvis wears the tie with a solid black shirt, designed with a point collar and button cuffs.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

Elvis wears a tie depicting his master’s corporate logo… while rebelling against their wishes for his public image.

A staple of Elvis’ style by this point in his career was an assortment of diamond-studded gold horseshoe-shaped rings, worn on the ring finger of his right hand. He would continue to wear these through the next two decades of his life, eventually purchasing them from jeweler Lowell Hays, who recreated the ring from the original mold for sale on the Graceland store.

Not only was he wearing the ring for the Memphis concert, but Peter Guralnick writes that, among the festivities on that July night, “Elvis’ signature fourteen-diamond horseshoe ring (worth six hundred dollars) was won in a drawing by seventeen-year-old Roger Fakes.”

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

Elvis also wears a gold pinky ring with a dark inset stone on his left hand.

Elvis was associated with a variety of distinctive watches over the course of his life, from the triangular Hamilton Ventura seen in movies like Blue Hawaii to the funky gold Rolex King Midas he sported in the ’70s. We don’t see much of the timepiece dressing his wrist during the Memphis concert, aside from an unassuming metal case and a black leather strap.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

That night at Graceland (at least I believe it’s supposed to be that night), he has swapped out his watch for a more ornate gold watch with a black dial—detailed with two white sub-registers—on a gold expanding band.

Austin Butler and Helen Thomson in Elvis (2022)

Elvis shares a moment with his mother Gladys (Helen Thomson) as the family comes to terms with the Colonel’s plan to enlist the singer in the Army.

You can read more about the real Elvis’ favorite watches at Gear Patrol and Wrist Enthusiast.

How to Get the Look

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

I associate black suits with death, whether dressing for a funeral or as a movie hitman. Though this suit was informed by historical record, it’s an appropriate look for this sequence that depicts a rebellious Elvis decidedly “killing” his cleaned-up image and aligning himself against the puritanical establishment.

  • Black silk loose-fitting suit:
    • Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single vent
    • Pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
  • Black shirt with point collar and button cuffs
  • Scarlet-red silk tie with repeating white RCA “Nipper” logo motif
  • Black leather apron-toe loafers
  • Scarlet-red socks
  • Diamond-studded gold horseshoe ring
  • Gold inset-stone pinky ring
  • Metal-cased dress watch on black leather strap

For what it’s worth, just because my friends and I were huge Rush Hour fans in high school, I can’t see a black suit, black shirt, and red printed tie without thinking of Jackie Chan. But the King did it first.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

You can also see how closely Catherine Marine’s Oscar-nominated costume design echoed what Elvis Presley actually wore for the concert in this silent color footage from 67 years ago tonight:

The Quote

A lot of people sayin’ a lot of things. Of course, you gotta listen to the people that you love, and—in the end—you’ve gotta listen to yourself.


  1. Roberta J Campbell

    Austin did an amazing job. He truly deserved to win the Oscar and was robbed. He dud win tins of awards worldwide. The costumes, hair,and makeup were fabulous in the movie. That scene was one if my favorites.

  2. Alicia Rojas

    I LOVED, LOVED, ABSOLUTELY LOVED this movie!! Austin was FANTASTIC as Elvis💗💗💗💗💗

  3. AH

    Austin should have won the Oscar . How sad he was robbed of that . Never watching this awards show again

  4. Elizabeth

    Butler studied Elvis’s voice from 3 stages of his life. He really did deserve the Oscar, spoken by someone who was lucky enough to see Elvis in Las Vegas in 1969.

  5. Thomas C Follmer

    Mr. Butler. Through watched various singers try to imitate your Grandfather none, of them really really impressed me. All of them wore the costumes, all them tryed to capture the essence, but all them failed, miserably, but you got the one , thing that could get. Because you got the one thing that they could ever never get … heart of Elvis

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