On the surface it may be obvious who undergoes the biggest character transformation in Rocky (the clue is in the title). Though really the subtlest arc occurs for that painfully shy girl from the pet store played with such empathy by Talia Shire. She may start out wearing chunky cardigans and your Nan’s glasses, but by the end of the story “Yo, Adrian” could not look more feminine.
Put together by costumer Robert Cambel (who only has one further credit on his CV), Shire’s outfits reflect a convincing shift in deep character from Adrian’s opening scene when she is too afraid to talk, progressing to confident yet homely rock for the most pounded protagonist in cinema history.
We first meet Adrian Pennino at the pet store where she works; disappearing into her own shoulders while Sylvester Stallone’s affable Rocky Balboa regales her with awful jokes and his cheeky smile. Her outfit is repeated in similar guises throughout the first half of the movie:
Hip-length, wide-rib shawl neck cardigan in mid-grey. Black/white gingham shirt with stand collar. ‘Cat’s eye’ spectacles with diamante arms. Watch fob with leather strap.
Wide ribbed or cable knitwear is a common sight in Rocky (1976). Probably to provide some association with the nearby ports, both Adrian and Rocky’s traditional attire can look a little like it belongs on a fisherman. Adrian’s spectacles are 1950s in style and would be considered geeky for the seventies. However this decade was a revival for 1920s/30’s, with longer line skirts and fur trimmed coats leading the way.
Adrian’s gingham shirt was more widely seen in the 1940s. Claire McCardell first introduced this pattern to the masses, along with denim dresses and chambray halter tops. One of the most influential designers of all time, McCardell took over the U.S. fashion mantle from France during World War 2 and is widely accepted as having inventing relaxed and preppy American style.
For Rocky’s first impromptu date with Adrian she is dressed almost comically old-fashioned in a fleecy teal pull-on hat, long skirt and sixties cut double-breasted tweed herringbone coat. The short lapels on the coat ensure it looks even more dated; one gets the inkling it may have belonged to her mother, maybe several of her garments do, while others look to be home-made. Although those leather wedge boots are surprisingly ‘on trend’ for the time.
As she and Rocky continue to court and then speedily fall in love, Adrian’s style of dress loosens slightly. There are telltale signs, such as her cardigan not being wrapped around her body like a bandage or that cool ‘Karen O’ hairstyle deconstructing from ‘bob’ to ‘choppy bob’. That said, however, her most memorable outfit is still a shock.
At this stage in the film, Rocky has been training for several weeks and perhaps to a younger audience is beginning to dress like a member of the Kaiser Chiefs in his skinny jeans and Converse. When he jogs around the corner and sees Adrian in this particular get up, he has to stop and stare. “You look terrific,” he gasps:
Red princess line, double-breasted wool coat; two-button fastening (two decorative), ventless, fitted through bodice to flared skirt, empire seam with thick natural fur trim to collar and cuffs. White fur beret. Small brown leather handbag with dark fur trim. Calf length brown leather boots. Brown leather gloves.
Having finally stood up to her tyrannical brother Paulie (who judging by a photo on the mantelpiece used to be in the Navy, so maybe not always so pathetic, eh?), Adrian has at last gained some assurance and is finally spending time and money on her herself. Thanks to Rocky, really, she has self respect for the first time. Her overall confidence is still lacking however. When Rocky remarks at her fashionable attire she immediately questions his sincerity: “Really?” Genuine compliments about her appearance are alien to Adrian.
This knee length coat is a 1930s throwback. It was a common style throughout the seventies, indeed in the upcoming ‘meat chiller’ scene in the film, a female television reporter interviewing Rocky wears a more wintery edge-to-edge example in natural suede (see HERE).
French house Lanvin (founded by Jeanne Lanvin) was associated with exotically trimmed, luxurious outerwear in the thirties, typically in velvet with one-button fastening and a gigantic fox fur collar. In the 1970s, Gucci heralded a high fashion revival for the fur-trim coat. Also raincoat versions appeared by Aquascutum in weather-proofed cotton.
As if we need further reminding of how modish and ‘French’ Adrian has become, she is also wearing a fluffy white beret. It is a classy look, even on the less than enchanting streets of low-income Philadelphia. Again referring to how taken aback Rocky is, he does not even notice Bupkis the dog sitting there with a big bow around his neck. Love may not be blind for these two, but it sure has tunnel vision.
For Adrian’s final outfit we have to wait until fight night. Almost as jolting a reveal as the fur coat, though mainly because the close up camera work affirms just how flawless Talia Shire is, this is Adrian’s full on Parisian elegance look. All she needs is a cigarette and the film may as well have subtitles:
Single breasted velvet suit jacket and matching flared trousers. White spread collar shirt with ruffle front. Red bouclé ‘beanie’ hat.
An uncomplicated outfit which is maybe why it looks so French, another being that her beanie could almost passes for a beret. The ruffle shirt might be silk, so either Adrian has pet store savings or Rocky is actually breaking a few arms debt collecting for once. In a way this ensemble could to slightly overboard on the classiness, it seems such a jump for Adrian. Or perhaps this is who she was all along: a maiden trapped in a cardigan.
The trouser suit subconsciously infers a determined air. In the 1970s, women’s trouser suits were taking off in a major way, although for many abstainers were still thought of as either too formal or not formal enough. That they did not yet fit into either category made them ideal choice for those with an independent spirit.
Although Adrian’s character transformation is essentially put-upon sister to doting lover, what is important to note is that this is her choice; the former was by circumstance. She led a miserable life, but is now happy and in charge of her own destiny; which, as the story unfolds over the next sixteen-odd sequels, happens to be wife and mother. “Yo, Adrian”, she did it.
© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.