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    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

    Photo by Chris Witzke

    Butch Polston was driving home from a construction job in Sellersburg, Indiana, when the news came over his ’67 Camaro’s radio: We’re paying tribute to Elvis. He died today. It was Aug. 16, 1977, and soon Polston’s wife Kim was asking him, “Hun, if you had anything Elvis had, what would it be?” Polston, who grew up in Southern Indiana, had “adored” Elvis since he’d heard his parents’ record collection.

    “Now, Elvis had a whole passel of sports cars, motorcycles. He had this Stutz Bearcat — still, to this day, could have been a Ferrari to me,” Polston says. “But I said, ‘I’d love to have one of those jumpsuits.’ To me, they were walking pieces of art — the peacock, the tiger, the ‘aloha eagle.’” 

    In 1979, at an Elvis fan club meeting at a Louisville hotel, Polston met a woman who’d made a jumpsuit for her son. “I told her, ‘I just want to see if I can design them like the ones Elvis wore,’” Polston says. She made him four suits, which Polston decorated with supplies he’d purchased at Baer Fabrics. The next August, three years after Elvis’ death, he and his wife and their infant son Michael traveled in their ’68 Oldsmobile clunker to Memphis, Tennessee, to meet other fans. “We had no money,” Polston says. “I funded our first vacation to Memphis by scrapping junk.” Fans left their hotel doors open, buying and trading pictures and albums. Polston spread his jumpsuits on the bed — not to sell but as conversation starters. 

    “This guy with that Elvis blue-black hair walked in, said he was doing a show in Vegas. He said, ‘How much you want for ’em?’”

    Huh?

    Well, what are you selling ’em for?

    The man offered $500 apiece. “He pulled out a wad of bills big enough to choke a mule,” Polston says.

    B&K Enterprises has been making Elvis costumes ever since, more than 200 in a busy year. “We’ve sent ’em all over: Japan, China, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Third World countries — name a place on the map,” Polston says. “We even did one for an Afghan. It was like, ‘You know who Elvis is?’” The Polstons worked out of their Southern Indiana home until they tired of “getting calls about Elvis at 3 a.m.” For the past 22 years, the two of them and a handful of employees (son included) have worked in a cluster of fluorescently lit basement rooms in what used to be an administration building for the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant in Charlestown, Indiana. Polston and his wife know how to do each step of the process, but now he spends most of his time at a workbench detailing belts while listening to military books on tape. “My stuff don’t come from China,” he says. Polston eventually befriended the men who designed Elvis’ costumes, and now a large safe behind him contains the original design patents. 

    The sewing and studding departments are down the hall. A complete Elvis costume — say, an embroidered jumpsuit and a belt and cape emblazoned with glass rhinestones and polished brass studs — can cost as much as $6,000 and take several months to finish. One stud at a time, some 260 hours on embroidery alone. For "3000 Miles to Graceland", Polston and his team made 29 costumes — including three for Kevin Costner and two for his stunt double — in eight weeks. “Hollywood is a bunch of procrastinators,” he says. The job paid $60,000. (A 2008 documentary called "Fit for a King" is all about B&K Enterprises.)

    Polston says competitors who use cheap materials have hurt business in recent years. And it’s hard to find employees. “We don’t need people who know how to sew,” Polston says. “What we need are people with extensive tailoring skills.” Because the 58-year-old still sees demand. “Some of the original tribute artists, now their kids are doing it and their grandkids are doing it,” he says. “I’ve actually done suits for three generations of people who’ve done tribute shows.

    “Elvis was — and is — a big part of my life, and I never even met the guy. He died at such a young age that he’s like an invisible big brother to me,” Polston says. “I don’t pray to him or anything, but I can feel his presence sometimes. I’m not one of those people who believe in hokey stuff like that either. But at times, I know he’s around.” 

    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

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