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Death of the Socialite: Who are our “IT girls” now?

  • Culture

By Kristi Greenwood, BA Japanese

Designer brands, champagne parties and glamorous messy mistakes. Our infatuation with socialites, or ‘IT girls’, has always been down to the escapism they provide us. But do the elite socialites still possess the same chokehold on the media as they once did? With the rise of influencers, who are our modern-day socialites? Has Instagram dropped old-money kids to the bottom of the guest list? 

Historically, socialites originated in the UK – not surprising as they truly encompass the upper class, reaping the benefits of capitalism. A socialite is a person of extreme wealth and aristocratic background who chooses not to participate in traditional employment. However, they were highly valued for their presence at social gatherings, always fashionable and dashingly charismatic. If a socialite was there, that was the place to be.

The 90s and early 2000s socialites changed the scene. They were described as young attractive women with sexual appeal and as partygoers with elite and royal connections. These girls were also known as ‘IT girls’, the term coined with what one could claim were the original IT girls of the time: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Normandie Keith on the front cover of Tatler in 1996. Their impact was immense, and the term ‘IT girl’ still has waves today. I mean look at the rising stardom of Aliyah’s interlude with her song IT Girl. We all aspire to be this idea of ‘her’. 

UK IT girls of the time were Tamara Beckwith, Lady Victoria and Lady Isabella, just to name a few.  All with royal connections, model looks, and wild child labels.

However, Tara was a public favourite. Her father was a wealthy landowner with high-society and royal connections, and her stunning looks were gifted to her by her supermodel mother. The Sunday Times even featured a column detailing her lifestyle of opulent messy parties. The lines of paparazzi queuing for her arrival at these parties were perhaps equal to the lines of cocaine inside of them.

Tara spoke candidly of her struggles, including addiction, and I think this is what bridged the social class gap, adding to her public appeal. She was beautiful, bubbly, and extremely wealthy but… she had flaws.

Where are socialites now?

Socialites don’t seem to have the same hold on society as our former IT girls once did; they’ve been rebranded with the rise of social media. Anyone can be an

influencer and it’s become ever more accessible for people to attract attention without relying on those once-elite connections with the press. To become famous, it always used to help if daddy owned the papers. 

Yet this doesn’t have to be the case anymore. A prime modern-day IT girl fitting this example is Molly Mae. She received her launching stardom on the fifth season of Love Island as runner-up. The only criteria to be on Love Island is to be young and attractive; no one cares about your tax bracket. 

Molly Mae now has an accumulated 7.8 million followers on Instagram and owns a  successful self-care brand. Her impact on trends and her ability to

sell any products she advertises shows the incredible influence she has over the public, as an IT girl should. Who would have thought a state school girl from Hertfordshire, with no real ‘talents,’ would be this successful? 

The trending ‘clean girl’ aesthetic is partly to blame for the loss of our messy IT girls. Along with the flawless appearance of ‘no makeup’ skin, pilates, and gym routines, there’s a whole demeanour and lifestyle on top of that. A softer, humbler life. The emerging ‘quiet luxury’ trend we are seeing with the elite. Think of Sofia Richie’s wedding and the storm that stirred up, even culminating with a feature piece in British Vogue. She was praised for the way she rebranded herself and almost climbed the social hierarchy. She swapped out Instagram boutique wear for a more casual, but expensive, look. From TV personality girlfriend to millionaire’s wife. They are perfect in every sense and so are their lives, almost fairytale-like. Our love for her wedding still shows how obsessed we are with old money and the rich elite, just in a more ‘classy’ way. We no longer glamourise partying as much as we once did… 

However, I know we all still crave messy drama. The fact that Gossip Girl still attracts millions of views each year despite its ending in 2012 reflects our obsession with the chaotic lives we imagine socialites having. Perhaps one day messy girls will return to the scene – I know I hope they do. 

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson picture with Princess Kate Middleton (credit:  Dave M.Benett/ Getty Images)

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