"It Girl" was originally slang for a beautiful, stylish young woman who possessed sex appeal without flaunting her sexuality, when the phrase originated in British upper class society around the turn of the 20th century. An early literary usage of the term "it" in this context may be traced to a 1904 short story by Rudyard Kipling: "It isn't beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It's just 'It'." The expression reached global attention in 1927, with the popularity of the Paramount Studios film It, starring Clara Bow. Elinor Glyn, the notorious English novelist who wrote the book It and the screenplay based on it, lectured: "With 'It,' you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. 'It' can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction." Glyn, who first rose to fame as the author of the scandalous 1907 bestseller Three Weeks, is usually credited with the invention of the "It Girl" concept, although it predates her book and movie. But she is definitely responsible for the impact the term had on the culture of the 1920s.
The fashion component to the It Girl, however, originated with Glyn's elder sister, the celebrated couturier Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, known professionally as "Lucile," the name under which she directed exclusive salons in London, Paris and New York. As Lucile, Lucy Duff Gordon was the first designer to present her collections on a stage complete with the theatrical accoutrements of lights and music, inspiring the modern runway or catwalk show, and she was famous for making sexuality an aspect of fashion through her provocative lingerie and lingerie-inspired clothes. Lucile also specialised in dressing trendsetting stage and film performers, ranging from the stars of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway to silent screen icons like Mary Pickford and Irene Castle. As early as 1917 Lucile herself used the term "it" in relation to style in her fashion column for Harper's Bazaar: "... I saw a very ladylike and well-bred friend of mine in her newest Parisian frock ... she felt she was 'it' and perfectly happy."
The Paramount Studios movie was planned as a special showcase for its popular star Clara Bow, and her spectacular performance introduced the term "It" to the cultural lexicon. Bow later said she wasn't sure what "It" meant, although she identified Lana Turner, and later Marilyn Monroe, as It Girls, and Robert Mitchum as an It Man.
The movie plays with the notion that "It" is a quality which eschews definitions and categories; consequently the girl portrayed by Bow is an amalgam of an ingenue and a femme fatale, with a touch of Madonna's latter day "Material Girl" incarnation. By contrast, Bow's rival is equally young and comely (and rich and well-bred to boot), yet she doesn't have "It".
Modern "It Girls"
Since the 1990s, It Girl or It-Girl is used slightly differently, referring to a wealthy, normally unemployed, young woman who is pictured in the tabloids going to many parties often in the company of other celebrities, receiving media coverage in spite of no real personal achievements or TV hosting/presenting. In the UK Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was considered to be the foremost of the 90s It girls. The prominence of an "It girl" is often temporary; some of the rising It girls will either become fully-fledged celebrities, commonly initially via engineering appearances on reality TV shows or series; or, absent such an accelerant, their popularity will normally fade. The celebrity-focused nature of newspapers, particularly tabloids, is helpful in this respect. The term "It boy", almost never heard, is in theory the male equivalent. This term is unrelated to the abbreviation IT.
The writer William Donaldson observed that, having initially been coined in the 1920s, the term was applied in the 1990s to describe "a young woman of noticeable 'sex appeal' who occupied herself by shoe shopping and party-going."
- Etherington-Smith, Meredith and Pilcher, Jeremy, The 'It' Girls (1986), 241.
- Wilson, Alastair; Wilson, Commander Alastair (19 October 2010). "Mrs Bathurst". KiplingSociety.co.uk. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
... she had that indefinable quality which Kipling was the first to call 'It' – sex-appeal without flaunting her sexuality.
- Introduction script from the movie It (USA, 1927)
- Evans, Caroline, The Mechanical Smile (2013), 34-36, 39-41; Bigham, Randy Bryan, Lucile - Her Life by Design (2012), 23-31.
- Duff Gordon, Lady (Lucile), "The Last Word in Fashions," Harper's Bazaar, October 1917, 63; Bigham, Randy Bryan, Lucile - Her Life by Design (2012), 31, 275.
- January 1(private showing), 1927, Variety
- Waterloo Daily Courier, September 21, 1950
- September 21, 1950, Waterloo Daily Courier
- Stenn, David (1988). Clara Bow:Runnin' Wild. Doubleday. p. 272. ISBN 0-385-24125-9.
- Mills, Laura; Vasilyeva, Nataliya (14 June 2012). "Ksenia Sobchak: Russian It Girl's path from parties to protests". Toronto Star. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Ellen Barry (March 17, 2012). "Russia's Scandalous 'It Girl' Remakes Herself as an Unlikely Face of Protest". The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
- Jackson, Marie; Harris, Dominic (2017-02-09). "Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and co: Whatever happened to the 'It girl'?". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-02-09.
- It Girl Musical
- LiveJournal: Discover global communities of friends who share your unique passions and interests
- Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics, 2002
- "It-Girl Sara Schätzl aus München Öffentlich bis zum Zusammenbruch". Süddeutsche Zeitung. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
- Schneider, Martin. "Sara Schätzl: Warnung vor dem Roten Teppich". Retrieved 2 July 2013.