BOWIE VS ELVIS: STYLE OFF
By Matt Glazebrook, 8 January 2017
Two of the greatest musical icons the world has ever known were born on 8 January – Elvis Presley in 1935 and, 12 years later, David Bowie. While it's near-impossible to determine who contributed most musically, we've had a stab at a second, equally enduring question – which of these two sartorially significant singers most shaped the way we dress today?
There are few grooming moves more associated with a single style icon than the quiff and 50s Elvis Presley (though the mutton-chop sideburns of 70s Elvis are a close second). There's good reason – the King's signature greaser 'do was a work of follicular faultlessness, a careful combination of slicked-back machismo and loose-stranded vulnerability that's inspired everyone from Johnny Depp to Zayn Malik to (it turns out) David Bowie.
Unlike Elvis, Bowie experimented with a whole barber's shop worth of styles over the years, including a early-years modish side-parting, late-60s long, wavy locks, the distinctive Ziggy Stardust-era ginger mullet and some 90s frosted spikes. Unsurprisingly, a classic quiff or two crept into the tonsorial rotation – including this near-perfect recreation of the classic Elvis quiff from the late 70s.
Winner: Elvis Presley. The original and best.
If Elvis looks pretty at ease (soldier) in his army surplus garb, styling out his khaki boiler suit with military precision, it's worth noting he had the advantage of actually being in the army at the time.
Bowie, by contrast, never got closer to the action than the occasional long-distance call to Major Tom, which perhaps explains his more free-form approach to uniform. Here, he embellishes his flight suit with a silk scarf, non-Air-Force-issue pompadour haircut and a glass of milk.
Winner: David Bowie. Field marshal of fashion.
It makes sense that the some-time Tennessee truck driver would know his way around a hard-wearing Western shirt. This mid-60s button-down in shades of blue and red, for instance, would look just as at home propping up a Memphis juke joint as it would in an East London dive.
There's a less obvious connection between David Bowie and American workwear staples, but – ever the clothing chameleon – here he is, mooching around late-70s Tokyo, looking cool and casual in green plaid.
Winner: Elvis Presley. Can't argue with those red and blue tones.
Surprisingly, for such an icon of 50s rock'n'roll rebellion, young Elvis didn't really go in for biker jackets. Luckily, old Elvis more than made up for it by turning up for his 1968 Comeback Special in head-to-toe black cow-hide.
Bowie favoured a less punchy approach to getting leathered, throwing a lovely wide-collared bomber jacket with elasticated waist and cuffs on over a sensible, nerd-chic collared jumper for a look that was less Spider from Mars and more cool supply teacher.
Winner: The King gets an A for effort, but David Bowie's jacket is pure goals.
Fashion's recent 50s flavour has had us swapping out our smart shirts and Oxfords for more relaxed, revere-collared cuts that bring a rockabilly cool to our formal gear. Elvis was an OG advocate of this strong smart/casual approach, pairing patterned shirts with checked sport coats and dialling up his print-clashing edginess with a frankly dangerous amount of chest exposure.
Bowie also favoured a louche lack of buttons, but sharpened up his smart/casual steez with a plain grey blazer and added in a flat cap to give his low-necklined look a more timeless menswear air.
Winner: David Bowie. The cap seals it.
Even snarling, swivel-hipped rock'n'roll rebels need to keep warm in the winter. Here's the King keeping cosy while he corrupts the nation's youth in an excellent cable knit.
Even androgynous alien sex gods need to keep warm in the winter. Here's Bowie remaining toasty and put together while checking out fellow pop transgressive Lou Reed's 2006 photography exhibition in New York, wearing a nice chunky roll-neck under a smart black overcoat.
Winner: Elvis Presley. Drake's got nothing on the king of comfy cool.
Today's jumpsuit is a utilitarian affair in boxy cuts and muted colours, mainly the preserve of art-school students and fashion-week attendees, but you basically weren't allowed on a stage in the early 70s without squeezing yourself into a skintight, flame-emblazoned one-piece. Late-period Presley was a riot of flared gabardine, sequins and rhinestones, and a menagerie of animal prints ranging from zebras to dragons.
Bowie's Ziggy Stardust-era jumpsuits were a distinctly skimpier proposition (one fitted Kate Moss perfectly when she accepted the singer's 2014 BRIT award on his behalf) but shared that spirit of sparkly sartorial excess.
Winner: David Bowie. Both probably work better behind a glass case in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than they would in your local on a Friday night, but Ziggy S's stage garb snags a 4-3 overall victory through sheer slinky other-worldliness.