Bill Belew

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William Lewis Belew (May 20, 1931 – January 7, 2008) was an American costume designer who created stage outfits worn, among others, by Elvis Presley,[1][2][3] Ella Fitzgerald, The Band, Gladys Knight,[4] Gloria Estefan,[5] Josephine Baker, Brooke Shields, Joan Rivers, Dionne Warwick,[6] the Osmonds, and the Jacksons.[7] It was Josephine Baker who encouraged Belew to work as a costume designer.[8]

While he made costumes for plays, musicals, operas, ballets, TV specials and TV series,[2] Belew is particularly famous for the stage outfits he made for Elvis. He created the tight-fitting black leather outfit that Elvis wore in the 1968 NBC Comeback Special, and the bell-bottomed jumpsuit outfits with high Napoleonic collars, pointed sleeve cuffs, wide belts and capes, decorated with gems, metal and rhinestone studding, sequins and embroidery.[2][7] Belew also designed the suit Elvis is wearing on the famous photo of President Nixon and him in the Oval Office, a velveteen outfit originally designed for Elvis to use in his Las Vegas shows.[8][9] Of the collars, Belew has explained that they were inspired by Napoleon's wardrobe and that he chose them because they would frame and draw attention to Presley's face.[7][10] [11]

In an interview Belew explained why most of the jumpsuits were white:

The lighting [in Las Vegas] was still in its early stages. And we found that the color that worked the best was white. It allowed them to change the colors on him, where as black would absorb all the color. And it was hard to highlight him. And we experimented with blue which was 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.[12]
During the 1970s Belew designed Elvis' offstage wardrobe, as well.[9]

Among the most famous of Belew's Elvis jumpsuits are the American Eagle (created for the 1973 Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite)[1] and the Peacock (first worn at the Forum in Los Angeles in 1974, and later seen on the cover to the 1975 album Promised Land). In 2008 the Peacock suit was sold at an online auction for $300,000. This made it then the most expensive piece of Elvis clothing sold at auction. Another of his creations, the so called the “Aqua Blue Vine” broke that record selling for US$325,000 at a 2016 Graceland organized auction. [13]

The elaborate embroidery, which was getting a more prominent role on the jumpsuits in 1974–1977, was the work of Gene Doucette.[11][14]

In the 1970's, Bill Belew was in big demand. He was busy doing television shows and movies, so he would give Gene the blank suits and Gene would design them himself. Gene designed most of the suits from 1972 until Elvis' death. He designed the more elaborate suits such as the Aloha, Peacock, Sundial, Tiger, and American Eagle.[15]

Belew died at the age of 76 from diabetes-related complications in Palm Springs, California.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mundy, Julie; Graceland (2003). Elvis Fashion: From Memphis to Vegas. New York: Universe. ISBN 0-7893-0987-4. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dennis McLellan (2008-01-17). "Designer was called 'man who dressed the King'". Los Angeles Times. 
  3. Guralnick, Peter (1999). "The Bluebird of Happiness". Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-33222-4. 
  4. Thomas, Mike (1999-12-18). "Bill Belew, the man who dressed the King". Salon Media Group. 
  5. "Obituaries". The Washington Post. 2008-01-22. 
  6. "Bill Belew". BK Enterprises, Costume Co, Inc.. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Bill Belew: Celebrity costumier who created jewelled jumpsuits for Elvis". The Times (London). 2008-01-27. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Miller, Stephen (2008-02-02). "He Took the Crown of Costume King When Elvis Put on His Jumpsuit". The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company): p. A12. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Keogh, Pamela Clarke (2004). Elvis Presley: the man, the life, the legend. New York: Atria Books. p. 5. ISBN 0-7434-5603-3. 
  10. Guralnick P. 299
  11. 11.0 11.1 Swash, Rosie (2010-01-08). "The King and I: How I designed a jumpsuit fit for Elvis". London: Guardian News and Media Limited. 
  12. Jenkins, Scott. "Interview with Bill Belew". 
  13. Ilnytzky, Ula (2008-01-27). "Elvis' peacock jumpsuit sells for $300K". USA Today. Associated Press. 
  14. "Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access". Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. 
  15. "Gene Doucette". BK Enterprises, Costume Co, Inc..