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Dressing Up Elvis

Elvis costume maker in high demand

Charlestown couple popular with impersonators

By Ruth Wright
Contributing Writer

CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (November 2003) – It’s not hard to recognize an Elvis Presley impersonator or “tribute artist” to those in the know. Jet black, perfectly coiffed hair, sideburns, wide-framed sunglasses, and satiny scarves are a few obvious signs. But it’s the jumpsuits – the rhinestone-encrusted and elaborately embroidered jumpsuits – that require little more than a “thank you, thank you very much,” to complete the personification. And no one knows Elvis jumpsuits better than Butch and Kim Polston of Charlestown, Ind.

Elvis suits

Photos provided

Samples of Polston's handiwork.

The Polstons have been producing Elvis jumpsuits and accessories for nearly 20 years. Their company, B&K Enterprises, is recognized for its authentic reproductions, which, in addition to jumpsuits, include Elvis-style belts, jackets, shirts, suits and capes. It is the only company authorized by Elvis’ original costumers to recreate designs worn by “The King.” The couple was featured in the February 2003 issue of “American Profile” newspaper tab that is distributed nationwide.
Outfitting tribute artists and celebrities alike, B&K Enterprises’ creations have been sold throughout the United States, and most foreign countries, and have appeared numerous times on the silver screen. In the 2001 film, “3,000 Miles to Graceland,” actors Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Christian Slater, David Arquette and BoKeem Woodbine sported Elvis costumes. Other Hollywood film credits include “Finding Graceland” (1998), “Honeymoon In Vegas” (1992), and “Into the Night” (1985).
When it comes to Elvis costumes, everyone from Tinseltown’s head costumers to local impersonators can count on B&K Enterprises to help them bring the image of the King to life.
So how did a small-town guy from southern Indiana and his wife become the world’s premier Elvis costumers? It all started in 1980, when Kim Polston asked her husband, an Elvis fan since childhood, what he would choose if he could have any Elvis memorabilia he wanted. His reply was simple and automatic. Butch Polston said it would have to be one of Elvis’ costumes. “They were pieces of art, and I loved the artistic end of it,” he said.

Polstons
Butch and Kim Polston (right)
with the late Bill Belew, their mentor.

At the time, original Elvis costumes were selling for $85,000 to $100,000, an exorbitant price by most standards. Since they couldn’t afford to buy a jumpsuit, Kim Polston suggested they try to make one. Butch Polston contacted a lady from an Elvis fan club in Louisville who had sewn jumpsuits for her son. She agreed to make Polston four plain jumpsuits for about $25 each.
The jumpsuits were a great start, but they lacked Elvis’ trademark gleam and glitter. To make them more authentic, Polston bought studs from Baer Fabrics in Louisville. He applied them by hand, using pictures of a costumed Elvis as his guide.
The jumpsuits were finished in time for the annual Elvis fans’ pilgrimage to Graceland, a trip the Polstons had planned to make that year. “I decided to take my costumes as conversation pieces,” Butch Polston said.
While in Memphis, Tenn., the Polstons stayed at the Days Inn, a popular fan retreat, Polston explained. Fans would display Elvis merchandise and memorabilia in their rooms and would buy, sell and trade from one another. But Polston, who had displayed his costumes just for show, was a little surprised when a man who introduced himself as an “Elvis illusionist” offered to buy his jumpsuits for $500 each.
During the trip, the water pump had gone out on the Polstons’ car, leaving them with little money for the trip home. “If we hadn’t sold those suits, we would have had about 68 cents to get home on,” Polston said.
That night, minus four Elvis suits but with more than enough money to get home, the couple enjoyed a steak dinner and “a business was born,” Polston said.
B&K Enterprises, “B” for Butch and “K” for Kim, started part-time out of the couple’s home. Polston kept his day job but worked on costumes every evening. The business grew by word-of-mouth, and by 1985 Butch had become friends with Bill Belew, who designed all of Elvis’ costumes and personal wardrobe from 1968 until his death in 1977. Belew became a mentor, sharing his knowledge with the Polstons.
Despite Belew’s blessing, Butch Polston said he began to fear legal ramifications from the Presley estate for copying the designs without permission. To avoid potential lawsuits, Polston took a trip to Los Angeles, where he met with Romano, Elvis’ former tailor. Romano gave Polston the names of everyone who he knew had been involved in making Elvis’ clothes. One of those individuals was Gene Doucette, who had started designing embroidery for Elvis in the early 1970s. “Mr. Bill Belew had designed the basic Elvis jumpsuit, and it was my job to create the embroidery patterns,” Doucette explained recently in an interview via email. Some of Doucette’s designs included the “peacock,” “dragon,” and “phoenix.”
In 1988, Polston contacted Doucette. “He had been researching the work involved with the costumes, and he had finally tracked me down through his investigation,” Doucette said. The Polstons and Doucette quickly became friends, and Doucette agreed to help them find the embroidery equipment they needed and teach Kim how to do the work.
The Polstons were thrilled to work with Doucette, who in addition to Elvis had worked with such celebrities as Cher, Wayne Newton, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton, Liberace and Elton John. Doucette helped the couple recreate his embroidery designs and gave them official permission to use them.
Doucette, who lives in Los Angeles, remains active as a designer and advisor to B&K Enterprises. “We work hand-in-hand to create the closest possible recreations,” he said. “I’m able to remember endless details and have re-sketched the patterns as closely as I can. Where I have a ‘gray area,’ if only due to the amount of time that has passed, the blanks are filled in by research, which is Butch’s department. He can remember when I did it. I remember what I did.”
Thanks to Belew and Doucette, B&K Enterprises now owns about 80 jumpsuit patterns and another 80 stage, wardrobe and streetware patterns. Labor intensive, each costume typically takes 12-14 weeks to complete. The whole Polston family, Butch, Kim and their son, Michael, work closely with the business, located in Charlestown.
Despite their success with replicating Elvis costumes, life hasn’t been all gleam and glitter for the Polstons. In 1999, Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer. But now four years in remission, Kim is doing well and the couple are looking forward to many future projects.
While continuing to promote their Elvis costume and accessory line, the Polstons would like to branch out to other areas. In the past, they have made period garments, custom-cut denim jackets and outfits for stage entertainers, and would like to do more in the future. But as long as they get to keep making costumes, they’ll be happy. “For Kim and I, it’s about fulfillment, doing something we love to do,” Polston said.

For more information about the Polstons’ Elvis costuming, visit: www.b-k-enterprises.com.

 

 

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