Becoming Elvis: The Iconic Sunglasses That Transformed Austin Butler into The King in the Movie Biopic

Elvis, directed by Baz Luhrmann, hit the big screen last year and saw Austin Butler take on the role of the undisputed King of Rock and Roll. The movie biopic covers Presley’s life from childhood through to his ascent to superstardom, seen from the perspective of his long-time manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks. For the part, Butler had to inhabit Elvis’ personal style: no small feat.

Movie Sign

Eyeconic Styling

Elvis Presley had his own highly distinctive style – and a key element of the King of Rock and Roll’s image was his oversized Aviator shades with gold or silver frames. Although he had an enviable collection of sunglasses of all shapes and styles, it was these pairs that he returned to again and again from the 1950s onwards.

These sunglasses were recreated in painstaking detail for the recent movie. Foster Grant, the Rhode Island-based luxury eyeglasses brand, was brought on board to undertake this task. The design house’s mission was to create sunglasses that perfectly matched the style and attitude of the originals worn by Presley while ensuring that, in wearing them, Butler didn’t look as if he was simply wearing an Elvis fancy dress costume.

To achieve this, the designers crafted Aviator-style sunglasses that featured the standout details of Presley’s beloved shades – down to the ‘EP’ on the bridge – while also making several minor subtle adjustments to take into account Butler’s face shape, physiognomy, and the requirements of filming.

Appearances in the Film

Some of the biopic’s most striking scenes feature a couple of the sunglasses Foster Grant crafted for the movie. One of these scenes sees Butler, as Presley, sitting by the famous Hollywood sign talking with friends about the 1968 comeback and the rebooting of his career. Here, he’s wearing a pair of black-framed, rectangular-shaped tinted glasses – the film’s costume and production designer Catherine Martin (who’s also married to the movie’s director, Baz Luhrmann,) has since spoken about how these particular shades were much in demand with the crew, suggesting that Luhrmann himself earmarked a pair to take home!

Amateur actors shooting video

Making the Iconic Shades Screen Ready

Designers faced a number of challenges when creating the King’s most iconic sunglasses. Firstly, thick, black-framed dark glasses, like the pair mentioned above, can make it tricky for the audience to see the actor’s range of facial expressions. To get around this, the designers made a huge range of different colored lenses, featuring the minutest variations in tint gradations, to find the pair that would both be as historically accurate as possible and allow movie viewers to take in the subtlety of Butler’s performance.

And then there were the custom-made, super-chunky embellished gold Aviators that Presley wore from the late 1960s onwards. As well as the ‘EP’ on the armbars, this pair featured the letters ‘TCB’ on the armbars- an acronym for Elvis’ personal motto, ‘taking care of business.’ The original sunglasses had a high-shine finish, but designers for the biopic found that recreating this meant that these details weren’t picked up well on camera. To get around this problem, Presley’s signature gold Aviators were given a matte finish so that their distinctive embellishments stood out.

The King’s Personal Sunglasses Collection

In real life, Elvis Presley is thought to have owned around four-hundred pairs of custom-made sunglasses from iconic luxury eyewear brands, including Neostyle, Ray-Ban, and Foster Grant. The sheer amount of shades owned by the star means that, now and again, they do appear for auction – although you can expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars (at least) for a pair.

Some of the most distinctive pairs of sunglasses in Elvis’ collection were in what’s called the Neo-Nautic design. They featured oversized lenses with thin metal frames and chunky armbars. A version that featured the ‘TCB’ lettering and lightning bolt motif sold at auction for nearly $12,000 in 2011, while a variation on the style (incorporating three holes of descending sizes on the armbars), specifically made for the singer to wear at his series of Madison Square Garden concerts, sold for $15,000 in 2015.

The most money paid, to date, for a pair of the late star’s sunglasses is $159,900. Presley was photographed wearing these particular shades on several occasions, including during his last holiday in Hawaii in 1977.

Where Can I Get a Pair of Elvis Presley Sunglasses?

If you haven’t got $15,000 or so to put down for a real pair of Presley shades, there are options. Aviators have never gone out of style, and there is a huge range on the market, including chunky styles that are a nod to the vintage Elvis aesthetic. Alternatively, you could opt for some officially-licensed shades from Graceland, which feature authentic design elements and details.

Channeling the Style of an Icon

The sunglasses lovingly recreated for the recent Elvis movie perfectly capture the star’s iconic style – without parodying it. The fact that, since the release of the movie, so many viewers have headed online to discover where they can find shades similar to the ones seen in the film shows that Presley’s distinctive eyewear style lives on.

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