“I’ve got so many hickies people will think I’m a leper”
She’s way too cool for school, thinks she’s rebellious and views life with a jaded cynicism. Rizzo (Stockard Channing) might not be the most likeable Grease character but she’s certainly the most complex and the most interesting. Her tough, abrasive and no-nonsense exterior hides an inner vulnerability – she does care what her peers think of her, and perversely she needs the Pink Ladies to cement her identity.
Although she wears her pink satin jacket with pride, from the get-go Rizzo is set apart from the rest of the Pink Ladies. In the opening scene, as the Ladies (minus Frenchy) exit the bubblegum pink Studebaker Commander, Rizzo is the only one not wearing the trademark jacket – and when she does it’s slung casually over her shoulders, confirming but not defining her identity. She’s dressed in black, accessorizing her fitted shirt and calf-length pencil skirt with a waist-cinching belt and black sunglasses. Even though it’s the Fifties – the decade of sugar and spice and all things nice – she clings to her stark black attire, exuding an air of sophistication detachment (most notably in the lunch scene). Costume designer Albert Wolsky must surely have had the biggest challenge costuming Rizzo, as her character doesn’t lend itself easily to fun and flirty.
At Frenchy’s sleepover Rizzo exudes self-possession and confidence. Unlike the other ladies, she doesn’t need lacy lingerie to express her personality – an oversize purple shirt with rolled up sleeves and lemon yellow briefs are worn with an insouciant swagger. It’s a practical choice too – when she shimmies down the drain-pipe to Kenickie’s (Jeff Conway) car she only need to throw some skin-tight jeans and flat pumps on, and she’s good to go. Girl Power of the highest order.
At the prom, Rizzo makes a calculated date and outfit choice, the latter only outshone by ChaCha di Gregorio (Anette Charles, ‘the best dancer at Saint Bernadette’s’). A scarlet figure-hugging cocktail dress, complete with black polka dots, a fishtail hem and a black (what else) corsage is accessorised with strappy red sandals. In just another example of her rebellious nature, she is removed from the dance floor – but not before showing Kenickie exactly what he is missing.
In one of her softer moments (singing ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’), Rizzo wears a soft knitted sweater, tucked into a trademark pencil skirt. Clutching her schoolbooks she is vulnerable and unsure, and for the first time, anxious not to give up her youth too soon. These emotions play out in the final scene, which is perhaps the only time she allows herself to be the teenager she really is. Supporting Sandy and back on the arm of Kenickie she wears pale pink hot pants (her first and only pastel hue?), teamed with a red shirt embroidered with her initials. Reunited with her beau (who she can hardly keep her hands off), she’s fun, natural and carefree. The viewer assumes that perhaps, after all her posturing, she really will miss Rydell High.