Arts & Culture

Remembering Elvis—In Style

At Memphis’ Lansky Brothers, the clothes are truly fit for The King

photo: Bernard J. Lansky Collection

Elvis Presley and Bernard Lansky in 1956.

From blue suede shoes and Hawaiian-print shirts all the way to the bedazzled jumpsuits, Elvis Presley was not only world-renowned for his music, but also for his style. August 16 marks the fortieth anniversary of Presley’s passing, and with it, fans will be swarming to his hometown of Memphis for Graceland’s annual Elvis Week to commemorate the King’s indelible impact on American music. To celebrate his influence on American style, head downtown to Lansky Brothers, a Memphis clothing store justly nicknamed the “clothier to the King.”

Bernard Lansky started the store in 1946 as an outlet for army surplus, but when the surplus clothing ran out, the Beale Street establishment quickly found a new purpose. Memphis was becoming a music mecca—and musicians needed clothing.

photo: Bernard J. Lanksy Collection)

An early photo of Lansky Brothers’ storefront on Beale Street.

Their most famous patron came upon the store by happenstance: “Elvis was working as an usher at Loews State Theater,” says Julie Lansky, co-owner and granddaughter of the founder. “One day, he was looking in the window of the store and my grandfather came out and spoke to him. Elvis said, ‘When I’m famous, I’m going to buy you out.’ My grandfather said, ‘Don’t buy me out, just buy from me.’ That’s how the relationship began.”

Bernard Lansky outfitted Presley for his junior/senior prom, which was held at the Peabody Hotel (where four Lansky Brothers stores reside today). It was only a matter of time before Elvis—buying with credit during the early stages of his music career—chose a plaid jacket and black pants for his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. “It launched his career,” Lansky says. “And ours.”

 

Elvis told everyone where he shopped, sending musicians and fans alike flocking to Lansky Brothers. Over the years, other famous clients have included Johnny Cash, B. B. King, the Beach Boys, and even “Little Michael Jackson from the Jackson 5,” Lansky says. When Elvis died in 1977, Bernard served as an honorary pallbearer and even picked out the white suit and blue tie in which the King was buried.

photo: Bernard-J.-Lansky-Collection

Presley with Bernard Lansky in the mid-1950s.

“We’ve put together a lot of outfits over the years and every decade has brought something new,” says Lansky. Various styles have included slim single-breasted sport coats in the fifties and long fur-collared-and-cuffed coats in the seventies, although the store has remained true to its flashy designs that tend to catch performers’ eyes. Among the Nat Nast bowling shirts and Southern Marsh fleece pullovers, modern-day budding rock stars can find black velvet lace-up pirate shirts or Res Ipsa skull-and-crossbones embroidered loafers.

All Elvis Week, Bernard’s son Hal Lansky, who was a child when Elvis shopped in the store and often delivered clothing to Graceland, will be on hand to meet fans. This year, Lansky Brothers expects more visitors than ever to, as Julie puts it, “shake the hand who shook the hand of the man who shook the world.”


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