Elvis Presley was someone who took great pride in his appearance and had a clear vision of his now-iconic looks from very early on in his career. But perhaps not everything was as it appeared. Because an Elvis insider who spent years in Graceland recently spilled the tea on exactly what it took to create The King’s hairstyle. And some of the singer’s methods were pretty unconventional, to say the least.
Elvis Presley. The name conjures up iconic images of one of pop culture’s most recognizable 20th century figures. Just a silhouette of his tippy-toes dance move or iconic hair is instantly identifiable as Elvis.
Even for those who were born long after The King’s reign ended, it’s likely they’ll be familiar with his looks. After all, their impact is still felt in men’s fashion today.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll see anyone outside of the Elvis impersonator circuit sporting a bejeweled jumpsuit from The King’s Vegas days. Still, his impact on style was huge and is still emulated by celebrities and fashion designers today. And it’s been that way for a long time.
As soon as he first shook a leg on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show in the mid-1950s, the nation was gripped by Elvis fever.
One viewer’s account recalled the night of that Dorsey Brothers Stage Show in vivid detail. According to David Troedson on the fan website Elvis Australia, “It was raining and the then-unknown Elvis Presley did not draw a large studio audience.”
Troedson hadn’t been in attendance that night, so it wasn’t a first-hand story. But he did speak to someone who’d been present and shared their experiences.
Troedson continued, “One serviceman stationed in New Jersey in attendance that evening said, ‘I often went on Saturday nights to The Dorsey Brothers [Stage] Show and I was there when Elvis Presley made his national television debut on that show.'"
"'I had never heard of him and was startled when he appeared on stage and hundreds of girls began screaming.’” It was an early sign of the hysteria that was to come.
Elvis was already starting to make an impact in the Southern states by the mid-1950s. It was on the live circuit in Tennessee, Texas, and everywhere in between that the future King Of Rock And Roll perfected his gyrations and leg shakes.
Even at this early stage, he seemed very aware of the importance of his appearance. And eventually his hard work paid off.
It was around the time of The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show performance that Presley released his famous single “Heartbreak Hotel.” Though it’d take several months, in the end the track climbed to number one on the Billboard pop charts. Teenagers went wild for him.
Adults, on the other hand, were shocked — and sometimes disgusted — by the rising star’s now world-famous dancing. But did you know that his signature moves were created by accident?
That’s right. Legend has it that Elvis was overcome by nerves during his first ever performance in front of a paying crowd. Apparently he was so anxious that he couldn’t control his shaking legs.
But instead of letting his jitters get the better of him, he exaggerated the twitching and convulsing, as if he’d become possessed by the music flowing from him. Kids loved it; their parents, perhaps not so much.
Yes, what seems pretty tame today sent teenagers, America’s media, and God-fearing adults of the 1950s into a tizzy, often for entirely different reasons. And it seemingly wasn’t contrived. But it wasn’t just his dancing that separated Elvis from every other performer of the era.
While they’re as synonymous with The King today as his lip curl or bright suits, other aspects of his image weren’t so accidental.
Despite his later wealth, Elvis came from an impoverished background. His parents raised him as best they could in a shack in Tupelo, Mississippi, before relocating to Memphis, Tennessee, during the late 1940s.
His music career began in earnest not long after he graduated high school. And just two years later, aged 21, Elvis was well on the road to global fame.
As his popularity grew, Elvis’ style became ever more ostentatious. In his early days, he rocked an understated prep-boy look, with basic penny loafers and Cuban collars. When he started appearing regularly on TV, though, that was given an upgrade as The King began wearing tailored suit jackets.
One particularly eye-catching ensemble featured a pastel pink blazer, a color men of the era usually deemed too effeminate. But Elvis carried it off with confidence.
Elvis’ switch to the big screen further cemented his iconic looks. There was the double-denim and black and white striped shirt of Jailhouse Rock, and then the floral button-ups of Blue Hawaii.
On his return to music, Elvis would claim his crown as The King Of Rock And Roll in clothes befitting of his now legendary status. These included full-length biker outfits in matte black and the bling jumpsuits made famous toward the end of his career.
As eye-catching as each of Elvis’ evolving looks were, there was another aspect of his appearance that was equally iconic: his hair. Yep, his jet-black mane was as much part of The King’s signature style as his wardrobe was.
But not everything was as it appeared when it came to Elvis’ locks. And in 2015 a Graceland insider revealed some secrets on this very subject.
Larry Geller served as Elvis’ personal hair stylist through the 1960s and 1970s. And he’s opened up to Yahoo! Beauty 50 years later about what it took to maintain The King’s distinctive jet-black mane.
From style to upkeep, Geller was responsible for a hairstyle that’s still instantly recognizable to this day. And that goes all the way down to how often Elvis dyed his hair.
Yes, you read that right. It may come as a shock to those not fully clued up on Elvis and his personal details. But those in the know have cottoned on to the fact that Elvis’ distinctive hair color wasn’t a gift of nature.
In truth, his hair was dyed to create a complete contrast to his natural shade. You see, he was actually born blond.
Someone who’d spotted Elvis’ secret is Kim Adelman. She’s been a fan for many years and has even written a book on the man titled, The Girls’ Guide To Elvis. As she explained to Yahoo!
Beauty, “Elvis’ real hair was a sandy blond but he wanted that black, black color. You can see pictures from the army when he couldn’t dye it, he got highlights”
And in 2021 fans were treated to a rare look behind the doors of Graceland. Leading the tour was Angie Marchese, an archivist at Elvis’ world-famous former home.
Positioned at the bottom of the stairway in the main hall was a rare picture of the entertainer with his natural hair color. That’s because there was a time when The King was unable to maintain his look of choice.
Marchese described the origins of the image at the bottom of the main Graceland staircase. She recalled, “This picture was actually done in Texas when Elvis was in the army [in 1958].
They didn’t allow him to dye his hair while he was in the army. That’s why his hair went back to its natural color.” But why did he dye it at all?
Well, a guy named Billy Smith revealed exactly why Elvis dyed his hair the blackest black.
He told the YouTube channel Memphis Mafia Kid in 2017, “The reason being someone told him his eyes were so blue and all that, [so] if he had dark hair it would make his eyes stand out.” Smith just happens to be The King’s cousin, so you’d think a family insider would know the secrets, right?
Someone else who holds intimate details of Elvis is his former girlfriend, Linda Thompson. The pair dated for four years in the 1970s, so she likely knows a thing or two that’ll probably always remain a secret. She told entertainment channel Reel Talker in 2020, “He was more a natural blonde, a dirty blonde.
He dyed his hair black for drama.” And it seems the drama didn’t end with Elvis’ looks. No, the scenes in the bathroom were apparently just as striking.
Elvis’ girlfriend in the 1950s was Joanie Shoofey. She eventually married the owner of the hotel where The King played his famous Vegas shows, so she had plenty of insights into his habits. Including the bad ones — particularly those involving black hair dye.
As she recalled to YouTuber Billy Stallings Spa Guy, “He used to mess up his suite so [badly]!” Things were so bad, in fact, that a lick of paint was often in order after Elvis stayed somewhere.
“We had to redo it every time he was there,” Shoofey explained. “They all dyed their hair and [there was] black dye all over the walls.” There were other antics, too, though they were all good-natured according to Elvis’ ex.
But if you really want to know The King’s grooming secrets, the person to speak to is his former stylist, Larry Geller.
In 1964 Geller founded the first salon in West Hollywood dedicated to male grooming. His clientele reads as a who’s who of screen legends today. It included the likes of Rock Hudson, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen. Impressive, right?
But he then ditched the whole venture for the opportunity to work solely with one of the biggest stars on the planet: Elvis Presley, of course.
In recent years, Geller’s launched his own line of organic hair care products. And each one started life as part of Elvis’ grooming routine. As the hair stylist recalled to Yahoo!
Beauty, “I used to go to the health food store and get a benign base shampoo and get some vitamin capsules and pour 99 percent pure aloe vera and other herbs into it, and shake it up. That’s what I used on Elvis’ hair.” So what did Elvis think of Geller’s unconventional methods?
Well, Elvis only had one clear and specific instruction for his stylist.
As Geller explained, “He said to me, right from the get-go, ‘You can do whatever you want with my hair, but one thing — make sure I keep it!’” Yep, with Elvis’ iconic mane came great responsibility. But it was a challenge Geller was more than willing to take on.
Based on Elvis’ instructions, Geller initiated a daily routine. “I shampooed his hair regularly, usually every day,” he recalled. “I would massage his scalp for a few minutes, then brush his hair at least 50 or 60 strokes.
I was focused on [the] long-term health of his hair, which was so important.” The stylist used natural products such as jojoba oil and vitamin E for conditioning and styling.
To set Elvis’ distinctive hairstyle in place, Geller used hairspray instead of gel. But he’d constantly switch brands to avoid The King’s hair becoming too dry. He’d also dye the singer’s mane his chosen hue of black every 14 to 21 days using a formula developed by L’Oreal.
It all came together to create a look that’s had a lasting impact on men’s fashion almost half a century after Elvis’ passing.
It was fashion legend Tommy Hilfiger who described Elvis as the first entertainer of his type “to really bling it up.” The King wore a $10,000 gold suit in the sleeve art of the 1959 album 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong. The same outfit would cost more than 10 times that amount today.
That kind of flashy style, as well as Elvis’ love of ostentatious cars — he had a limo painted with crushed diamonds — can be seen reflected in hip-hop videos and on catwalks today.
It’s a similar story to that point in the 1950s when Elvis turned fashion on its head by wearing a pink suit. It wasn’t typical for men to wear that color at the time — or even to experiment with fashion at all.
As well as using color to break away from gender norms, The King also wore lace, make-up and midriff-baring crop tops. In the process, he paved the way for pop artists such as David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Harry Styles to be more daring with their fashion choices.
So you can see how impactful Elvis’ influence remains to this day. Or, as the groundbreaking fashion designer Joe Casely-Hayford put it before his passing in 2019, “Elvis was at the forefront in defining a new anti-establishment visual language. Aside from good looks, he knew the appeal of being an outsider.
Even today, a distilled version of his look has filtered down into the wardrobes of any self-respecting teenage rebel.” Though Elvis never got to witness it, his impact and legacy live on.