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One of the original icons of the 20th century, Priscilla Presley’s style during the Fifties and Sixties continues to fascinate today. Jodie Kharas reports on a vintage style icon.

Every fashion icon has their golden period. Priscilla Presley may have spent her golden period twinkling in her husband’s shadow, but as we reflect upon the most explosive era of her life, it is clear that her style was not only fit for the King. Flamboyant, individual and always glamorous, the Queen of Rock n’ Roll’s dress sense remains instantly recognizable today and is often emulated by current icons, including Amy Winehouse.

When Priscilla Beaulieu’s stepfather was transferred to Wiesbaden, West Germany in 1959, the fourteen-year-olds fate was sealed when a handsome stranger approached her and asked if she’d like to meet Elvis Presley, who was also in Germany at the time. Thrilled when her strict parents gave her permission to go and meet him regularly, an ecstatic Priscilla would tear through her wardrobe- and sometimes her mother’s- in relentless attempts to appear mature enough to catch the famous soldier’s gaze through the constant congregation of full-figured, glamorous women who hung on his every word.

youngThe first image of Priscilla taken by the press captured a humbly dressed young girl, wearing a dowdy checked-dress and headscarf, as she waved off the Rock n’ Roll star on his return to America. Even at such a tender age, Priscilla fulfilled Presley’s idea of the perfect woman, as a soft-spoken brunette with blue eyes. As the lovesick teenager blossomed into a woman, the fairytale relationship grew under Presley’s strong influence. On a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas, Priscilla eagerly followed Elvis’ lead, permitting a complete style overhaul, even changing her eye-make-up in order to ‘enhance’ her eyes.

Her hair was piled on top of her head apart from a single long curl that fell across her left shoulder. In her account of her life with the singer, Elvis and Me, Priscilla describes her Cinderella makeover; “When I put on my brand-new brocade gown, my transformation from an innocent sixteen-year-old to a sophisticated siren was complete. I looked like one of the lead dancers in the Folies-Bergère.” After copious amounts of negotiating, Priscilla’s parents agreed to her permanent move to Memphis. Consequently, the teenager’s wardrobe had become completely governed by the singer.

bhiveFollowing long shopping sprees to boutiques in Memphis, Priscilla knew exactly what was expected of her appearance. Elvis influenced her to wear clothes in the same colours that he himself wore. Priscilla was steered towards a striking palette of red, blue, turquoise, emerald green and black and white, and simultaneously steered away from large prints. The Sixties was an era to turn the previous ‘less is more’ rule right on its head, though Priscilla’s style took this to the ultimate extreme with even more eyeliner and higher hemlines. It was during this period that her hair was dyed to that trademark Presley shade of ebony.

weddingShortly before Christmas 1966, Elvis proposed to Priscilla. After a tedious hunt for the right wedding gown, Priscilla found the dress in a small boutique in L.A.- “it wasn’t extravagant, it wasn’t extreme- it was simple and to me beautiful.” The pure white gown was of a simple A-line silhouette that spilled out into a small train, with lace full-length sleeves and neckline. On May 1st, 1967 the couple were married in Las Vegas.

After the pair were married, Priscilla fell pregnant with Lisa Marie. As a new bride, Priscilla describes her frustration towards falling pregnant so soon, “I wanted to be beautiful for him; instead, my debut as Elvis’s bride was going to be spoiled by a fat stomach, puffy face, and swollen feet.”

After her initial spite wore off, Priscilla lost weight in order to remain as close to her normal weight as possible, so she would never have to buy a maternity outfit and still fit into her existing clothes. Even on the night of the birth, Priscilla describes calmly applying her ever-so-black mascara, and later on at the hospital she specially requested to keep her double lashes on throughout the birth in a bid to keep her carefully constructed appearance intact.

lisaFollowing the birth of Lisa Marie, photographs show a much more relaxed Priscilla. The beehive hairstyle is replaced with loose, long locks no longer ebony in colour, but a more natural brown. She is pictured in an array of lower-maintenance outfits, often found wandering around Graceland in slacks and loose-fitting blouses. The designated colour palette was also stretched to accommodate many other colours, most frequently including violet and brown- previously unpermitted by a still Army-scarred Elvis.

laterAs the marriage approached it’s final days, a more independent Priscilla peers into the camera lens, having shed her excessive eye-make-up, her stare was no longer that signature mix of black and blue. The couple was finally divorced on October 9th, 1973. Pictured leaving the Santa Monica Superior Court together moments after, Priscilla wears a calf-length coat covered in a large print, finally her own person.

6 Responses

  1. Dusty S.

    Good job on this piece – Priscilla Presley. I have been a fan of her 60s – look for many years. Great to see someone else have picked up on this hidden fashion gem!

    Reply
  2. Quincy

    I adore her! I’ve been an Elvis fan for many years, so naturally I look up to Cilla. She’s still such a beauty today. Great story!

    Reply
  3. Mary

    Priscilla – is such a doll ! I just love her! Also a Elvis Presley fan too for many many years and many more to come. (You were very strong Cilla).

    Reply
  4. My name is Priscilla too

    I think Priscilla B. ( I refuse to call her Presley still) is still living in a dream world and that their whole relationship was not what she would like people to think it was. Elvis cheated on her the whole time. She hung in there and Elvis just kept on having affairs and even fell in love with one girl (Ann Margaret)
    That manager of Elvis made him think that he had to marry Priscilla because of what could have happened to his career if it got out to the wrong people that he was messing around with an under aged teenage girl. I think Priscilla was a friend for Elvis because he had someone to talk to after his Mother died and she comforted him in a motherly way even though she was only 14 when they met,plus she had dark hair like his Mother and Elvis mad it even darker later on. I think the woman who should be in the lime light now is the woman he was going to marry before he died and that was Ginger. Really I think he wanted to Marry Ann M.
    From what I’ve read his ex girlfriend Sheila seemed to be very sincerely in love with Elvis and I think she was the only one I read about that actually said in tears Quote(:I wish he was still here) and you could really hear the sincerity in her voice. I think it was a sad thing that Ginger didn’t get to ride in the front Lemo with Lisa too. After all Ginger was his bride to be.
    Priscilla had to be with Lisa I agree, But Ginger was treated badly in that way. she was his… not Priscilla. So they might have remained some sort of friends for the sake of Lisa… But com on Fair is fair.I’m happy for Ginger that she has found Love again and is Married now I do believe. Priscilla??
    Will she ever marry? Probably won’t want to give up that Presley name.It brings in to much $… Actually she did give it up once and took back her family name. Wonder why she took back the Presley name again? I wonder?$ She is now 68 going on 69 or maybe 70 by now. Who is going to want to date her seriously now? Maybe if she would quit hanging on to the Presley name and have a name of her own some guy might want to give her a chance on love. But she just wont let go of her fairy tale.
    Oh gosh I feel sorry for her really, She must have lived a very dreary life during those days of infidelity with Elvis. I can imagine how lonely it must have been for her. All those beautiful girls Elvis was around and having affairs with.. Guess she was to young to know what to do. Maybe she’s cashing in now because of what he put her through in those days.. who knows.Sad Just sad.. the whole story of Elvis and Priscilla.. And Elvis and that manager of his how he robed and controlled Elvis, No wonder Elvis was so frustrated, and didn’t know how to stand up for himself. Poor Elvis.
    I loved Elvis and still do. And yes i think Priscilla was very pretty in her younger day. I wish she would have known how to stand up for herself too.
    The Elvis and Priscilla story was really a very short lived one. Because the whole time P lived at Graceland E was away and having affairs with his leading ladies. P and E were not together for 2 yrs after E returned to the states. shortly after they were married Lisa was born and only a short time after that they were divorced. So how much time did they really spend together? If you add it all up not very long. I think the birth of Lisa kept them together for the few yrs they stayed married after she was born. By then both Elvis and Priscilla were probably both bored to tears with each other and wanted out. In my book how can there be any kind of a relationship when there isn’t even any communication or interest anymore? It has been also said that the couple didn’t even have marital relationship with each other for a long time in between the birth of their child and shortly after she was born. Lisa has grown up to look so much like hr Dad especially her eyes. I wonder if she isn’t into drugs too? Just an observation. Priscilla, Please don’t have any more face jobs.. and go back to being your natural hair color, it looks better on you when it’s lighter. It really does make you look much younger and pretty. I did like the hair style in the 70’s with the black teased up do. and the long black lashes and eye liner though.. Because I wore it too, and actually believe it or not.. I was your look alike. Everyone told me that I looked just like you!
    It was a compliment back then. Seems like the look is coming back again for the 20 year old girls anyway. We older girls need to stay lighter and brighter you know looks softer on us. I went from black hair to natural white/plat.. and I get compliments every day.. Me… from a Priscilla look alike to an Emmy Lou Harris Look alike.It’s been fun!
    Good luck Priscilla, I hope you will find someone to love.. You do deserve it you know.

    Reply
    • Madame Ostrich

      So beautifully put, Priscilla. The whole story is just so heartbreaking for all parties involved. It’s so hard to remember that at the end of the day, everyone is human–even if they seem larger than life.

      XxMO
      madame-ostrich.com

      Reply

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