Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
In the first scene of Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, the new documentary chronicling the actress, dancer, and singer’s 70-year career in film and onstage, Moreno tries on a t-shirt she intends to wear to an awards ceremony. The black tee is studded by iridescent rhinestones that spell out the film’s title across her chest; she chooses a sparkling necklace and tracksuit to complete the look. In the past 20 years, Moreno has defaulted to this kind of casual look—but while coming up in the industry during Hollywood’s Golden Age, the actress was known for her classically feminine style, which was influenced by her Puerto Rican roots. Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, which released on June 18, contains a wealth of archival imagery that proves Moreno’s status as a fashion icon, especially during her MGM years. Not only that, it delves into the earliest period of the now 89-year-old’s work—when Moreno starred in movies like Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story. In the documentary, Moreno discusses disliking having her skin color darkened in the films from that time, and being typecast as a “typical Latina.” (Moreno also recently came under fire after making comments on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in regards to Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It producer Lin Manuel Miranda’s film In the Heights, which featured dark-skinned Afro-Latinos in background and dance scenes but not main roles. She has since apologized.) Take a trip back in time to Moreno’s younger years, when she used her fashion to tell a story—and became a style icon in the process—below.