The King’s New Clothes – Elvis Presley and Lansky Brothers

They say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. A young Elvis Presley did just that, with the help of Lansky Brothers Men’s Clothing Store.

Elvis began shopping at this Memphis store when he was still in high school. He wanted to be an entertainer, and he followed many of the city’s local entertainers into Lansky Brothers. It wasn’t long before Elvis was dressing just like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll he always knew he’d be.

Lansky Brothers Men’s Clothing Store began in 1946, when Samuel Lewis Lansky, a Russian immigrant, purchased a store at 126 Beale Street for $125. He bought the store for his sons, Bernard and Guy. The store that had previously inhabited that location sold women’s clothes, so the Lanskys tossed the women’s wear and opted to sell what was readily available – army surplus clothing, thanks to the end of World War II. Once that trend died down, the men found their true calling – selling fashion for men.

A Lansky Brothers ad from the 1950s showcased shirts and jackets with names like "Date Bait," "Super Cool" and "The Hipster."

A Lansky Brothers ad from the 1950s showcased shirts and jackets with names like “Date Bait,” “Super Cool” and “The Hipster.”

Bernard and Guy often traveled to California and New York to check out and buy the latest styles, which caused a stir back home in Memphis – no one had seen such bold colors and patterns. As Bernard said, the store sold clothes in vibrant “Life Savers” colors, like red, orange, yellow, green and purple. The Lansky Brothers display windows were always a sight to see, full of flashy, eye-catching designs. The store became a hit with local entertainers, church groups and bands. The guys focused on selling quality clothes at a fair price – in fact, the store claimed it was “just around the corner from high prices.”

Bernard Lansky first noticed a young Elvis Presley checking out the store’s window displays in the spring of 1952. He invited Elvis to come in and shop, but the young king declined, saying he didn’t have any money. As the story goes, Elvis told him, “When I get rich, I’ll buy you out,” and Bernard replied, “Do me a favor: Don’t buy me out, just buy from me.”

The Lansky Brothers had specially-made tags for their famous clientele. Elvis' tag said, "Styled for Elvis Presley." The Lansky Brothers also had tags for artists like Albert King, Sam the Sham, Bobby Bland and Willie Mitchell.

The Lansky Brothers had specially-made tags for their famous clientele. Elvis’ tag said, “Styled for Elvis Presley.” The Lansky Brothers also had tags for artists like Albert King, Sam the Sham, Bobby Bland and Willie Mitchell.

Elvis made good on that deal. Soon, he returned to the store to buy a shirt for $3.95. When prom season arrived, Elvis asked the tailors at Lansky’s to create a unique suit for him – one with a pink coat, black pants and a pink and black cummerbund. The pink and black combination wasn’t popular at the time. Elvis wanted to stand out, though, and he didn’t care what the trends were. He followed his own unique sense of style – with the help of the Lansky’s.

Elvis and Dewey Phillips, the DJ who was the first to play Elvis' music on the radio, had fun on their shopping excursions in Lansky's.

Elvis and Dewey Phillips, the DJ who was the first to play Elvis’ music on the radio, had fun on their shopping excursions in Lansky’s.

As Elvis’ career took off, Lansky Brothers provided his clothing for appearances on the Louisiana Hayride, the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show, the Ed Sullivan show and much more. In the famous photo of Elvis and Muhammad Ali, Elvis is sporting a lush navy jacket he bought at Lansky Brothers. The plaid jacket he wore on the Ed Sullivan Show, purchased at Lansky’s, made an impression, even if the show was broadcast in black and white. The red jacket he wore in “Jailhouse Rock” promotional photos was also bought at Lansky’s.

Bernard Lansky said of Elvis: "I never saw anyone so crazy over clothes."

Bernard Lansky said of Elvis: “I never saw anyone so crazy over clothes.”

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll remained a loyal customer for the rest of his life.  He visited the store when he was in town, and eventually, Bernard and Guy had to open the store at midnight or at other odd hours so Elvis could safely shop in private. If Elvis was too busy to come by the store, the brothers sent truckloads of clothes to Graceland for Elvis to try on and purchase from home. And if Elvis was in town and shopping with other patrons, he’d often buy clothes for other shoppers, no matter the price. Classic Elvis.

Sadly, Lansky Brothers also dressed Elvis for the final time, too; the king was buried in a white suit purchased at Lansky Brothers.

Lansky's loved celebrating the King of Rock 'n' Roll. In 1961, the brothers had a large card in the shop for fans to sign that wished Elvis a merry Christmas, happy new year and happy birthday.

Lansky’s loved celebrating the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1961, the brothers had a large card in the shop for fans to sign that wished Elvis a merry Christmas, happy new year and happy birthday.

Lansky Brothers didn’t just dress the king – they provided stunning stagewear for many artists, including Johnny Cash, B.B. King, James Brown, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Isaac Hayes, The Beach Boys, Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and David Porter (a recent Elvis Week guest).

Bernard Lansky passed in 2012, but the Lansky’s tradition continues. And you can still shop at Lansky Brothers in Memphis – one at the original location, sharing the space with the Hard Rock Café, and there are Lansky shops inside the Peabody Hotel. The store continues to dress stars like the king’s own daughter, Lisa Marie, as well as Robert Plant, Steven Tyler, Keith Urban, the Alabama Shakes and Carrie Underwood. Bernard’s son, Hal, was an Elvis Week guest in 2016, where he shared stories of Elvis and his dad. Seventy years after the first store opened, Lansky Brothers is still the place to go for “clothes that rock,” and it will always be known as the “clothier to the king” –  just as the store’s mottos say.

You can see some of Elvis’ Lansky Brothers outfits here at Graceland inside our Fashion King exhibit, which celebrates Elvis’ personal style. If you see what you like, you can purchase replicas at the Fashion King gift shop, too.


18 Comments

  1. Linda Weinman Beuerle

    Great article!! Love the store in the Peabody!!!

  2. Love the story & the store. shopped there in person & online many times. one thing has changed though. it’s not longer ‘just around the corner from high prices’. it’s gone around that corner a while ago.

  3. kathy wells

    i loved reading about THE Lansky Brothers and Elvis. I will be visiting Memphis in Oct.of this year. I plan on making a visit to their store. Have a great day. Thanks.

  4. Robert Gibson Corder

    Too cool for school ! :)

  5. Joyce Cerami

    On one of my many trips to Graceland, while staying at the beautiful Peabody Hotel, I went into Lansky’s and bought the most beautiful black sweater jacket some years ago. It is very classy and I get so many compliments on it!!

  6. marge herring

    lOVE TO VISIT LANSKY BROTHERS WHENEVER I COME TO MEMPHIS, GRANDSONS ARE GETTING NOVELTY SOCKS FROM THERE ALONG WITH THEIR CHRISTMAS GIFTS.
    I BROUGHT MY DAUGHTER TO LANSKYS WITH ME IN MAY, STAYED AT THE GUESTHOUSE AT GRACELAND, TALKED TO BIG JIM AND GK IN THE STUDIO, HAD BAR-B-QUE ON BEALE STREET AND LISTENED TO LOTS OF GOOD MUSIC. i JUST WANTED TO SHARE WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MEMPHIS WITH HER.

  7. Jean Hampson

    Loved his pink and Black stuff in the “50”‘s, as I was a teenager at the time. My husband of “50”yrs favorite hymn was,HOW GREAT THOU ART, I used it for his Service in 11-05-08!!!! Love ALL ELVIS MUSIC, since1954,still do!!!!

  8. Serrau Bruno Filippo

    Elvis era grande anche da piccolo !

  9. Les Markowitz

    I know it’s 13 YEARS since my story about this article,but I have to tell it, just to show how things happen.
    My wife and I were in Memphis in November 2004 on a trip to Graceland and stayed at the Heartbreak Hotel.
    We were told about the Lansky Brothers Peabody Centre store, so we went to visit.I have been an Elvis fan since my very first record received of Jailhouse Rock in 1957, so I knew about what the Lanskys had done for Elvis, never dreaming that one day I’d actually meet Bernard Lansky himself.
    Anyway, while we were looking in the store window, an elderly gent came out to greet us and took us inside to show us around.THIS was the Legend himself, Bernard.
    I think his son Hal was also there and we met him too.
    We bought a few items and then Bernard said, ” Come back tomorra, and we’ll take some pictures.” Wowie, amazing I’d get some pix with this legendary icon.
    HOWEVER, “TOMORRA” happened to be Thanksgiving, and no public transport or even taxis seemed to be running. NEEDLESS to say, I never got my pix with Mr.Lansky. AND we were leaving that day for New Orleans so didn’t have much time to wait until the afternoon when everything got back to normal.
    You can imagine how many thousands of E fans have gone through that store over the years, EACH with their own story, memory or tale to tell about their love for THE KING.
    Just thought this was an interesting little aside to MY memory of that day at Lansky Bros.
    Opportunity lost but never forgotten.
    R.I.P. Mr. Lansky. You did good Sir. REAL good.

  10. john hughes

    I did not know about Bernard passing, met him a few times lovely man, they still produce great styled clothes but are now rather expensive for the man in the street, luckily have bought some nice shirts from them, so sorry to hear about Bernard

  11. Reino Parenko

    The story is very nice and interesting.

  12. Carole Drexler

    I started visiting Bernard Lansky in the original Lansky Brothers store on Beale (before it was Elvis Presley’s Memphis) & I continued to visit Mr. Lansky every single Elvis Week & also when I’ve been in Memphis for Elvis’ Birthday. Now I visit with Hal Lansky & his daughter Julie every time I’m in Memphis. The Lanskys are a wonderful & warm family, & they love seeing the Elvis fans. My trips to Memphis would not be the same without visiting the Lanskys. Thank you for doing a blog on Lansky’s, it is truly an important part of the Elvis story, & the Lansky family is part of our Elvis Family.

  13. Roy Smith

    Having been in Memphis twice, last time 2007 we visited your shop in Peabodys and your Dad kindly helped me choose a shirt, which is still worn with pride.

  14. Letitia Ryan

    I was fortunate enough to visit Lansky’s when l visited Memphis in 2012. I even got to stand behind the counter. I was very impressed with Lansky’s and can understand why Elvis loved to shop there – super cool. Xxx

  15. Great article felt i was in the Lansky store

  16. Great article After watching all of those great performers Felt ive been to that store

  17. I appreciate reading memorabilia about Elvis. He was a great entertainer, a beautiful man.

  18. Bought last August a Hollywood Jacket at the Peabody’s shop.
    I wear it quite often.
    This jacket was bought in 12/56 he wears it during Nathalie Wood stay with him in Memphis, Jailhouse Rock picture and EP cover , Germany and probably gave it to Red West when in Germany according to many photos.

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