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Elvis Presley wasn’t always associated with the white jumpsuits that became integral to his stage shows. However, one costume from the 1970s changed his stage style forever, allowing the King of Rock and Roll to become synonymous with one particular look.

Elvis Presley’s stage costumes in his Vegas era were inspired by one unforgettable look

Filming for the concert documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is began in 1970. The footage was shot at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

The concerts captured on film were Presley’s first live performances in over a decade. His last was in March of 1961.

Presley performed a benefit to help fund the building of the USS Arizona Memorial. His show raised around $62,000 for the memorial, which was completed a year later.

Therefore, the entertainer wanted a dynamic look when he returned to the concert stage. He turned to his costume designer, Bill Belew, who designed a body-accentuating white jumpsuit with the style name Concho.

The jumpsuit was named for the silver-tone metal concho rings that embellished it. It was such a dynamic look for Presley that Bellew used it as a blueprint for costumes throughout the remainder of Presley’s career.

What was so special about the Concho jumpsuit?

The Concho jumpsuit opened up a new era of stage clothing for Elvis Presley. It would begin almost a decade of work between Presley and Belew, who designed hundreds of stage wear for the King of Rock and Roll.

Using white as Presley’s costuming came about after designer Bill Belew realized lighting the entertainer on stage wouldn’t be as easy with darker colors. Thus, he designed the Concho jumpsuit, which featured a zipper running down the front of the suit and vents at the wrist cuff. The silver conchos were stamped with a star and ran down the back of both arms, the sides of the legs, and around the collar. 

Belew said in an interview with Elvis Australia that Joe Esposito contacted him, saying Colonel Parker wanted him to do Presley’s Vegas wardrobe. He admitted it was his first time to work in Vegas.

“The lighting there was still in its early stages. And we found that the color that worked the best was white,” Belew revealed.

“It allowed them to change his colors, whereas black would absorb all the color. And it was hard to highlight him.”

Belew concluded, “We experimented with Blue, one of his favorite colors. Red. But it just ended up that white was the best thing and, of course, you know, you want the star to be the person, you know, and not the wardrobe.”

The Concho Jumpsuit was eventually auctioned off for $200K

Elvis Presley during the filming of 'That's The Way it Is'
Elvis Presley during the filming of ‘That’s The Way it Is’ | United Archives via Getty Images

Elvis Presley Planned to Wear the Most ‘Spectacular’ Jumpsuit Before His Death, Says Designer

Elvis Presley’s Concho Jumpsuit was auctioned off by Julien’s Auctions in 1991. It was purchased for $200K.

The jumpsuit was accompanied by two letters of authenticity, the first from Bill Belew, who stated it was one of two jumpsuits he had made in this style. The second letter was from Shelia Ryan Caan, Presley’s former girlfriend to whom he gifted the jumpsuit.

Caan dated Presley in the mid-1970s. She later married actor James Caan.

Caan told Elvis Australia their relationship was “passionate.” She revealed, “There was myself and then Linda Thompson, and we were sort of, you know, running the race. At first, you know, he was seeing her, and then I came along, and then it was sort of like a horserace.”

Caan continued, “We were neck and neck, and then I fell behind, and then she, you know. We did a lot of talking, staying up and reading, and we had a very active, passionate romantic life.”

Elvis Presley wore jumpsuits throughout the remainder of his stage career until death in 1977.