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Love It: The Enduring Appeal Of The ‘It’ Girl

Love It: The Enduring Appeal Of The ‘It’ Girl

Twentieth century history is littered with them, on front pages, in videos, and latterly social blogs, captured through the decades in nightclubs, movie premieres and the best celebrity parties; Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy, Bianca Jagger, Alexa Chung and lately, Zendaya.

My latest book follows writer and social firefly Ruby Devereaux in her exploits, and while not a fully-fledged ‘It girl’ of the 1950’s and 60’s, she hovers at the edges of that social whirl, in London and New York, dabbling with the in-crowd of celebrities, pop icons and women of the moment. It led me to ponder: what makes an It girl? Who is she, and what is today’s enduring appeal, when a young woman is able garner thousands of media followers from her own bedroom?

It was, ironically, a male member of the literati who first coined the phrase back in 1904. ‘T’isn’t beauty so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It’s just It,’ Rudyard Kipling defined a certain female type in his short story, ‘Mrs Bathhurst’. Writer Elinor Glyn went onto distil the qualities in her novel, made into a 1927 film ‘It’, starring the actress Clara Bow, who pursued an off-screen lifestyle as the red-head flapper girl of the age.

Good looks do help, of course, along with confidence, a love of the lens, resilience for late-night partying, plus a certain chutzpah. Except you can have all of these qualifications and still not make the final cut. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, it was newspaper and magazine editors who made the selections, leaving the paparazzi to do the snapping of smiling, dancing, drunk or coy women – a moth to which all flashbulbs were hopelessly drawn. Consumers lapped up the models and would-be singers, then the moneyed 80’s socialites of the late Tara Palmer Tomkinson, and Tamara Beckwith, who were famous for… well, being famous.

In the days before social media, we relied on print and broadcast journalism to tell us who was in and who was out. Then came reality TV, the likes of Big Brother, and suddenly there was a new breed of potential candidates. The question is: were they the real thing? Was Katie Price (AKA Jordan) a true It girl, or a pet oddity of the British tabloids? She certainly exploited the limelight (and who could blame her), but did they exploit her too, in never quite granting true It girl status?

Don’t forget that, along with flawless skin, the It girl must also possess the hide of an elephant; the press is a fickle animal and her reign is bound to be short, some say a season at the most. Those savvy women who bathe, and then utilise the limelight, tend to carve out a career in acting or TV presenting. The rest fall into obscurity.

Flick or scroll through today’s media and it’s evident that we still crave those icons, perhaps to navigate a generally humdrum and/or worrisome world. In the land of social posts, where a decent smartphone can launch a following of millions, influencers are filling that need. But while women are vying for spaces on differing platforms, more than a century on there remains no foolproof recipe for distilling the perfect ‘It’. Seems you either have it, or you don’t.

As for my Ruby Devereaux, she skipped off out of the limelight and wrote about it – smart girl.

The Scandalous Life of Ruby Devereaux, by M. J. Robotham, is published by Aria Fiction on 11 April (UK), in hardback, eBook and audio, online and in all good bookshops.

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