When a boy’s room is messy, it’s like “oh my god, he’s filthy”… but when a girl’s room is messy, it’s Sofia Coppola. So goes one of the latest trending sounds to make the rounds on girl-world TikTok. Often paired with videos of aesthetically cluttered, feminine spaces like bathroom vanities and bedside tables, it perfectly encapsulates what film buffs have known for years: No one builds a world like Sofia Coppola.
Coppola’s sets are immaculate (who could forget the candy-colored fever dream that was Marie Antoinette’s boudoir?), her soundtracks are haunting (see The Virgin Suicides), and her casting is often inspired (um, middle-aged Bill Murray as a romantic lead). And then, there’s the fashion. Never forget the fashion. Costumes are the heart and soul of Coppola’s visual world, and her latest feature, Priscilla, is no exception.
An adaptation of Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me, the film centers on Priscilla, Elvis’s wife, who is often relegated to the background in the countless depictions of the singer’s life. Instead, this movie tells her story, documenting the couple’s relationship from the late ‘50s to the early ‘70s, just as Priscilla saw it. Starring Cailee Spaeny (InStyle’s latest cover star) in the titular role opposite Jacob Elordi as Elvis, the film is equal parts period piece and marriage story, unfurling from early courtship, which began when Priscilla was just 14, to tumultuous breakup on screen.
Coppola tapped frequent collaborator Stacey Battat as the film’s costume lead. “It’s a three-person activity: the actor, myself, and Sofia,” explains Battat of her process, which takes into consideration everything from the film’s color palette (she tells me that every Sofia Coppola project has one) to character arc and historical accuracy.
The challenge for Priscilla, as she tells it, was to “fill in the blanks.” Despite having a wealth of cultural reference points — Elvis and Priscilla were one of the most photographed couples of the ‘60s — the film largely deals with their private lives.
“I think there was something that was really important to me: that he seemed human to her, that he is not an iconic figure in their house,” says Battat of how she approached Elvis’s costumes. “Even though he looms large, they share an intimacy.” That meant dressing Elordi in comfy sweaters (created by Valentino), grounding Elvis in his role as husband and father — how Priscilla would’ve seen him. “The way that someone would look at you if they love you, they see you in your pajamas.”
If costuming Elvis was about intimacy, Priscilla’s clothes are about evolution. “Priscilla goes from 14 to ,” explains Battat. “There is an arc within the costumes, and the silhouettes change.” The movie begins in the late ‘50s when Priscilla was living on an army base in Germany as a high school freshman, and her clothes reflect that innocence. “The first time we see her, she really looks like a kid,” says Battat, citing fuller skirts, flat shoes, and sweaters typical of the era.
Throughout their multi-year courtship, which includes long stretches of loneliness, Priscilla wears a heart necklace, symbolizing her secret inner life as she drifts between classes and diners in a love-induced haze. “That was real,” says Battat. “She actually did wear a little locket on a velvet cord, and it had a picture of her father in it.”
As Priscilla matures and eventually marries Elvis, she starts to dress like an adult woman — or at least, how Elvis thinks adult women should dress. Her hair is dyed black (the same shade as his), her skirts become tighter, and her heels grow higher. “Elvis is dressing her. The skirts actually still have a little bit of volume at the very beginning, but then, as they move on, they have less,” explains Battat of how she transformed Cailee Spayney into, first, an American schoolgirl, and, second, a bona fide fashion icon. White heels (made by Fabrizio Viti), which were ubiquitous in ‘60s high fashion, signify how Priscilla has grown up. “I had looked at all of these Vogues and Bazaars and everything from that time, and in the early ‘60s, the white pump was a thing. Everyone wore a white pump.”
All those details hint at one of the movie’s larger themes: Priscilla’s growing independence as her marriage falls apart. The film’s third act shows Spaeny in bold prints, lighter fabrics, easier cuts, and significantly flatter hair as she comes into her own. An Anna Sui-designed green print dress worn when she arrives in L.A. unannounced and angry is an act of rebellion (Elvis hated prints). A gold leaf floor-length dress witnesses the beginning of the end of their marriage (earlier in the film, Elvis says this silhouette overwhelms her small frame).
Perhaps most vividly, the fashion in a famous family portrait evidences Elvis and Priscilla’s deteriorating relationship. In it, Elvis sports sideburns, heavy makeup, and a gold cane. Priscilla is all air and light in effortless waves, a lavender blouse, and jeans. “I think that, to me, was very telling,” says Battat. “So I used that photo a lot in my mind as a reference because I thought … this is where they end as two people who are just worlds apart. He’s got so much makeup and tons of jewelry. They just were visually very different.”
In addition to Priscilla’s personal fashion evolution, which is largely undocumented, the team had several famous outfits to recreate — most notably, Priscilla’s gown for the couple’s 1967 wedding. The look was immortalized in perhaps the most iconic photographs of the couple, complete with impressive beehive and only slightly taller 6-tier wedding cake. Those glittering wedding images are enshrined in pop culture history (and have served as bridal fashion and Halloween costume fodder in the years since), so the pressure was intense. Battat and her team rose to the occasion with a little help from Chanel and Valentino.
“It was our dream scenario that Chanel would make Priscilla’s wedding dress,” says Battat. “[The original] wasn’t Chanel,” she clarifies (the real Priscilla bought her dress off the rack), “but it does feel like it could have been or should have been.” Coppola put in a few calls to make it happen (the director has graced her share of fashion week front rows), and, as they say, the rest is fashion history. Battat and her team ended up with a perfect white confection made of lace sourced from Virginie Viard’s archive.
To complete the moment, Battat and her team tapped Valentino for Elvis’s expertly tailored late-’60s tux (with a paisley insert, naturally). “Valentino agreed to make that suit, and Chanel made the wedding dress, and it was a beautiful marriage of Chanel and Valentino and also the two actors playing Priscilla and Elvis,” adds Battat.
Battat didn’t upcycle anything from the real Priscilla Presley’s closet and instead relied on custom pieces and creative sourcing (the aforementioned heart necklace is from a Canadian vintage shop). But the Queen Consort of Rock and Roll did provide notes. “Neither one of them ever came downstairs not fully dressed,” says Battat. “There was no such thing as sweatpants in their house. Even when Elvis goes to bed, he goes to bed in full pajamas with his name embroidered on them.” Presley shared other fashion insights, like when she stopped wearing stockings (sometime in the early ’60s) and how she wore her mother’s shoes early in the relationship (presumably to feel more grown-up).
More than simply beautiful designs, Battat’s costume direction is proof of something even bigger than Priscilla. Like many women of the era, she traded the fitted dresses and stilettos of the early sixties for breathable blouses and jeans in the seventies. She also, like many women after the sexual revolution, leaves things behind, including a toxic marriage and expectations to stay at home and not pursue a career. While alien on its face — with the fame, glitz, and Rock and Roll of it all — her story is also deeply familiar, reflecting women’s stories and clothing of a changing, turbulent, but, ultimately, liberating era.