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A socialite is a person (usually from a privileged, wealthy or aristocratic background), who has a largely known reputation and a high social position in upper class society. A socialite spends a significant amount of time participating in popular social activities and continually attends various social gatherings such as charity events, private parties, fashion shows, fine arts fundraisers, luncheons, festivals and other exclusive events; as well as engaging in conversations with guests or entertaining members who are socially connected or share a similar upper-class social standing.[1][2]

United States[edit]

American members of the Establishment, or an American "Society" based on birth, breeding, education, and economic standing, were originally listed in the Social Register, a directory of the names and addresses of the "preferred social contacts" of the prominent families in the 19th century. In 1886, Louis Keller started to consolidate these lists and package them for sale.[3]

18th and 19th centuries[edit]

The concept of socialites dates to the 18th and 19th century. Most of the earliest socialites were wives or mistresses of royalty or nobility, but being a socialite was more a duty and a means of survival than a form of pleasure. Bashful queens were often forced to play gracious and wealthy hostess to people who despised them. Mistresses had to pay for their social reputation and had to use their social skills to obtain favor in the court and retain the interest of their lovers.[4]

With the increase of wealth in America in the 19th century, being a socialite developed into a role that brought power and influence.[4] Men and women became social climbers, which was made easy due to their abundance in money and means of attaining it (usually from inheritance).

21st century[edit]

In the 21st century, the term "socialite" is still attached to being wealthy and socially recognized. The lines between being a socialite and celebrity with an exuberant partying lifestyle have since become blurred due to the influence of both popular culture and the media, particularly when the status of being a celebrity is largely due to that lifestyle. Celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are examples of 21st-century socialites due to their ability to attract media attention and fame simply based on their connections and associations. Hilton is the great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels & Resorts and heiress to the Hilton Hotel fortune. Due to her outrageous lifestyle, Hilton was hailed by the media as "New York's leading It Girl" in 2001.[5] Kardashian, herself the daughter of prominent attorney Robert Kardashian, first gained media attention through her friendship with Hilton, a modern-day socialite, and soon became one herself. Also both women reached fame due to a leaked sex tape, that in return skyrocketed their notoriety[6]

Gossip Girl, an American television show from 2007 to 2012, focuses on the lives on New York socialites who live on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The show is a strong influence on how socialites are regarded in the 21st century because of the presence of scandal, wealth (and what it can get you), and fashion in each episode. Pop culture gives the impression that by simply being wealthy and fashionable, an individual has the opportunity to become famous. Consequently, it is an individual's ability to climb the social ladder due to his or her wealth and recognition that makes him or her a socialite.

According to The New York Times, socialites spend between $98,000 and $455,000 per year (young and old, respectively) to maintain their roles as successful socialites.[7] Just the evening wardrobe of an individual regularly attending society functions can cost $100,000 annually.[8] Examples of American socialites include Olivia Palermo, Jill Kelley, Jean Shafiroff, and Tinsley Mortimer. Palermo's fame came after being on the reality television show The City, which focused on the lives of Whitney Port and her friends. She is prominent among the other socialites who live in New York City and is known for her role in the fashion industry.

United Kingdom[edit]

Historically, socialites in the United Kingdom were almost exclusively from the British aristocracy and gentry families.[9] Many socialites also had strong familial or personal relationships to the British Royal Family. Between the 17th and early 19th centuries, society events in London and at country houses were the focus of socialite activity.[10] Notable examples of British socialites include Beau Brummell, Lord Alvanley, the Marchioness of Londonderry, Daisy, Princess of Pless and the Mitford sisters. Since the 1960s, socialites have been drawn from a wider section of society more similar to the American model, with many socialites now coming from families in business or from the world of celebrity. Despite this, the notion of the Sloane Ranger still emphasises many socialites' connections to Britain's ruling class.[11] The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is widely regarded as the current home of socialite activity in the UK. The television show Made in Chelsea has explored the lifestyles of young socialites living in London in the 21st century.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Socialite definition". Reverso Dictionary. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  2. ^ "Socialite". Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  3. ^ "About Us". Social Register Association. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  4. ^ a b "What is a Socialite?". wiseGEEK. Retrieved 2013-12-30
  5. ^ "Paris Hilton Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story". Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  6. ^ "Kim Kardashian Biography". The Biography Channel. A+E Networks. Retrieved 2013-10-24
  7. ^ "The True Cost of Being an NYC Socialite". Business Insider. Retrieved 2013-12-30
  8. ^ Ferla, Ruth La (2013-06-21). "What Price Generosity?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-06-26. 
  9. ^ Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn, Class and Contemporary British Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 23 Apr 2013).
  10. ^ Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn, Class and Contemporary British Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 23 Apr 2013).
  11. ^ "ON THE TRAIL OF LONDON'S SLOANE RANGERS". The New York Times. 25 March 1984. 
  12. ^ "Made in Chelsea documents the affairs of 12 young socialites in West London". The Independent. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2015.