Bernard Lansky dies at 85; Memphis clothier to Elvis Presley


Bernard Lansky, the Memphis retailer who helped a young Elvis Presley establish his signature clothing style of pegged pants, two-toned shoes and other flashy duds in the 1950s, has died. He was 85.

Julie Lansky, the clothier’s granddaughter, said he died Thursday at his Memphis home. He had Alzheimer’s disease.

Bernard Lansky and his brother Guy started a retail business in Memphis in 1946, with help from a $125 loan from their father, Samuel. After World War II, the store started selling Army surplus goods on Beale Street. When the supply dried up, they opened a high-fashion men’s store, where Bernard Lansky established his reputation as a natural salesman and storyteller.


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By the early 1950s, Lansky’s shop was known as a place where a man with a taste for flash could find the styles Lansky referred to as “real sharp.”

At the time, Beale Street was a hot spot for blues, rhythm and blues and jazz, and drew a colorful parade of musicians, gamblers and hustlers from the Mississippi Delta.

One of Lansky’s favorite Elvis stories was how he first met the future king of rock ‘n’ roll. Presley was a teenager working as an usher at a nearby theater and liked to window-shop at Lansky’s.

“He said, ‘When I get rich, I’m going to buy you out,’ ” Lansky said in a standard version of the story. “I said, ‘Don’t buy me out. Just buy from me.’ And he never forgot me.”

Presley made his first record, “That’s All Right,” at the old Sun Studio in 1954. Before long, Presley’s star was rising, and he began shopping at Lansky Bros. in earnest.


The brothers often opened the store at night so Presley could avoid drawing crowds, and they took outfits to Graceland for him to check out.

Lansky dressed the singer for the “Louisiana Hayride” and his first TV spots on the Tommy Dorsey and Ed Sullivan shows.

Even though his style of dress changed over the years — including sparkling jumpsuits — Presley shopped at Lansky Bros. the rest of his life. Presley died at his Memphis residence, Graceland, in 1977.

Lansky picked out the white suit and blue tie that Presley wore when he was buried.

“I put his first suit on him and his last suit on him,” Lansky was fond of saying.

Lansky Bros. became a destination for other iconic musicians, including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Isaac Hayes.

The store was also a favorite of the Elvis faithful who flocked to Memphis, even after it moved in 1981 from the Beale Street entertainment district to the Peabody Hotel, a downtown landmark a few blocks away.

Lansky, who was born in 1927 and grew up in Memphis, served in the Army during World War II.


His survivors included his wife of 64 years, Joyce; a son, Hal; a daughter, Anise Belz; and four siblings, Mildred Krasner, Frank Lansky, Bernice Banes and Alvin Lansky. His brother Guy died in 2005.