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‘It Girls’ Throughout The Decades

By Andrea Mew··  15 min read
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She’s the talk of the tabloids, a party princess, a wealthy woman, a style symbol, and so much more. She’s got “It” because she’s the “It Girl.”

What is it that she’s got? Some may say these women draw people in with a unique allure, and others may envy them for their unmatched wealth. Whatever the reason is, certain women throughout history have exuded self-confidence and glamor in ways that inspire other women to want to emulate them.

We’re throwing it back to the genesis of the “It Girl” and taking a look at all of the media’s dazzling dolls throughout the years, so pour yourself a fresh mug of coffee and get comfy. We're going on a full dive through recent history’s most famed females.

1900s: Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit 1900 public domain

Born Florence Evelyn Nesbit, this original Gibson Girl was one of the first faces of live fashion photography. She was featured on covers like Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, and many more. Evelyn was a key player in New York City’s high society.

She married millionaire Harry K. Thaw but allegedly had a relationship with architect and socialite Stanford White. Thaw actually shot White dead for allegedly “ruining his wife,” spawning a media frenzy over the trial.

1920s: Daisy Fellowes

Singer Sewing Machine heiress and French socialite, Daisy Fellowes reportedly was the muse of Elsa Schiaparelli and rubbed elbows Coco Chanel. Daisy had an iconic jewel collection by Carier, Belperron, Van Cleef & Arpels. Daisy was well-known as one of the best-dressed women of her era, with some even claiming that she wore so many jewels that they “weighed her tiny body down.”

She was also the Paris editor of American Harper’s Bazaar, and she allegedly tried to seduce Winston Churchill himself before giving up and taking his cousin as her second husband.

1920s: Clara Bow

Leading lady of the silent screen, Clara Bow was the inspiration for the “It Girl” label thanks to her role in the film It. She broke into talkies, was featured on numerous fashion magazines, and inspired women worldwide with her voluminous hairstyle and iconic makeup look. When she was at her most famous in 1929, Clara was rumored to have received over 45,000 fan letters in one month. Pretty impressive numbers compared to today’s tally marks for Instagram followers.

1930s: Barbara Hutton

“Poor little rich girl” Barbara Hutton shot into the public eye during her notoriously extravagant debutante ball during the worst of the Great Depression. She was once considered one of the wealthiest women in the world, had seven husbands, and was the heiress to a portion of the Woolworth estate. Barbara married a count, princes, a baron, and even cinema star Cary Grant. Among her collection of jewelry was the 40-carat Pasha Diamond, and she displayed her luxury possessions and leisurely lifestyle much to the public’s envy.

1930s: Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow Public domain 1930s

If Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe’s idol, isn’t an “It Girl,” then I don’t know who is. Jean’s platinum blonde bob, high arched eyebrows, rosebud lips, and sensual energy earned her nicknames like “Blonde Bombshell” and “Laughing Vamp.” She’s well-known as one of classic Hollywood’s greatest female screen legends, was courted by many Hollywood actors, and even has a cocktail named after her made with light rum and sweet vermouth.

1930s: Wallis Simpson

Fashion maverick Wallis Simpson was apparently so alluring that King Edward VIII of England abdicated his throne to be with her (she was a twice-divorced American). A socialite, Wallis was the life of the elite party scene and charmed many eligible (and not-so eligible) beaus. Wallis was famously photographed by Cecil Beaton for Vogue in the surrealist “lobster gown” by Elsa Schiaparelli, inspired by Salvador Dali.

1940s: Gloria Vanderbilt

Model Gloria Vanderbilt was the sole heiress to the massive Vanderbilt Fortune who also made headlines for being in the middle of a dramatic custody battle. While in her aunt’s custody, she integrated into the East Coast scene. Scouted by Harper’s Bazaar at a young age, Gloria was constantly in the public eye in New York’s and Los Angeles’s socialite scene. She became interested in art, eventually attending the Arts Student League in New York City. Interestingly enough, her son from one of her four marriages is CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper. 

1940s: Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn promo pic public domain 1940s

From an early age, Katharine Hepburn was surrounded by wealth. When she stepped onto Broadway’s stage, she caught Hollywood’s attention and began one of the most celebrated acting careers of all time. Katharine was a stunning beauty, but broke societal expectations in her fashion statements and unconventional lifestyle, even wearing trousers before that became common for women. She rarely appeared in public, but was a total “It Girl” for the rarity of the times she did step out into the social scene or get in front of the camera.

1940s: Babe Paley

Barbara “Babe” Paley was a New York City socialite and fashion editor for Vogue. She had exclusive access to Vogue’s slew of designer goods, and she wore them with style. In fact, Babe was placed on “best dressed” lists 14 times and was eventually named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in the late ‘50s. Babe’s second husband was William S. Paley, founder of CBS, and together they were considered an “It Couple” for their glamour and high-society lifestyle.

1950s: Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe 1954 public domain

Born Norma Jeane Mortenson and immortalized as Marilyn Monroe, this blonde bombshell was an actress, model, and singer who caught the attention of men worldwide. Though she broke onto the scene as a quintessential pin-up model in the mid to late ‘40s, her acting career shot her into global fame during the ‘50s. Monroe had highly publicized marriages to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, and tragically overdosed at the age of 36. Whether remembered for her troubled private life, glamorous on-screen appearances, or role as a beauty icon, Marilyn Monroe is easily one of history’s most notorious It Girls.

1950s: Lee Radziwill

Though many know her as Jackie Onassis’s younger sister, the Bouvier socialite Lee Radziwill made a name for herself through her famous marriages and interior design work for wealthy clients. Her second marriage was to Polish nobleman Stanisław Albrecht "Stash" Radziwill, which earned her the title of princess. She kept his name throughout the rest of her life. Lee wore Courrèges and Givenchy before they were cool and no guest list was complete without her name. Vanity Fair even recognized Lee in their International Best Dressed Hall of Fame.

1950s: Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker Banana 1950s

A flamboyant beauty, Josephine Baker made a name for herself dancing from Philadelphia to France. She dazzled the screens of French cinema and eventually worked as a spy for the French Resistance in WWII. Josephine helped define the Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age in her iconic banana skirt and beaded necklace get-up, earning her the admirable nicknames of “Black Venus” and “Creole Goddess.” 

1950s: Brigitte Bardot

Paris-born actress, singer and model Brigitte Bardot is one of the most symbolically sensual women from the late 1950s. She had a wealthy upbringing in Paris’s luxurious 16th arrondissement, pursued ballet, and then graced the covers of Elle and Le Jardin des Modes. At the height of her career in the ‘50s, Brigitte was the highest paid French actress. Brigitte was thought to have spearheaded many trends and inspired countless women as a muse for Balmain, Dior, and Pierre Cardin.

1960s: Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor shot to fame in the ‘60s for playing Cleopatra after working as a young actress for many years. American Film Institute has named her one of the greatest female screen legends of Classic Hollywood cinema and she is a symbol of the jet-setting lifestyle. Liz collected one of the most prized private jewelry collections worldwide and is well-known for having Hollywood’s most iconic shade of violet eyes. This “It Girl” married eight times and was constantly in the media’s spotlight for her career, lifestyle, and personal drama.

1960s: Sophia Loren

Italian actress Sophia Loren was a rising star in the ‘50s who reached international It Girl fame throughout the ‘60s. Known for her timeless beauty and sensual allure, Loren was a skilled actress whose 1961 performance of Cesira in the film Two Women earned her an Oscar for Best Actress. From beauty pageant queen to model to actress, Loren worked hard to make a name for herself and is an inspiration to women everywhere for taking a natural approach to graceful aging.

1960s: Edie Sedgwick

Warhol Muse Edie Sedgwick starred in 18 of his films and led a New York City party-girl life. Edie was well-known for her micro minidresses paired with tights. Unfortunately, she died at a young age from her rampant drug use and party lifestyle; she was found dead in her bed at the Chelsea Hotel in 1971. During her prime, Vogue called her a “Youthquaker” and she was even called “The Girl of the Year” in 1965.

1960s: Audrey Hepburn

One of Hollywood’s screen legends and another member of the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame, Audrey Hepburn is a global icon. Though she came from aristocratic beginnings, Audrey worked her way to her stardom by earning key acting roles. Givenchy was her life-long friend, and the haute couture she wore in public defined her as a style icon. Hepburn is thought to have created a new feminine ideal in the era following curvier and more sensual body preferences.

1970s: Farrah Fawcett

All-American icon Farrah Fawcett was the envy of young women once she rose to stardom in the mid ‘70s. Her voluminous blonde hair and tanned skin gave her both sex appeal and wholesome beauty from her time modeling to starring in Charlie’s Angels and beyond. Posthumously named one of Men’s Health magazine's 100 Hottest Women of All-Time, Fawcett was arguably one of television’s most notable It Girls.

1970s: Marisa Berenson

Discovered by Diana Vreeland, Marisa Berenson quickly became a top model for Yves Saint Laurent and Halston. She was the daughter of a diplomat and the granddaughter of Elsa Schiaparelli. Marisa graced the covers of Vogue and Bazaar, eventually becoming an actress whose supporting role in Cabaret earned her two Golden Globe Award nominations.

1970s: Grace Jones

Before becoming a world-renowned singer and actress, Grace Jones got her start as a model. Born in Jamaica and raised in New York, Grace stunned as the face of Yves Saint Laurent and appeared on the covers of Vogue, Elle, and Stern. Her music career gave her recognition as part of the new wave scene and eventually she became a Bond girl in A View to a Kill.

1970s: Lauren Hutton

Model Lauren Hutton has appeared on the cover of Vogue 40 times, easily earning her an “It Girl” title. One of her most iconic features, the gap in between her two front teeth, almost cost her her modeling career, but instead of getting braces, Lauren embraced her distinguishing feature. Had she not, Lauren likely wouldn’t have been in campaigns for Revlon (the biggest modeling contract in 1973), Lord and Taylor, Alexander Wang and many more.

1980s: Iman

Somali-born Iman is arguably one of our world’s first supermodels. She’s adored in the houses of Halston, Saint Laurent, Versace, and Calvin Klein. Oh, and did we mention she married David Bowie? The muse of many designers, Iman’s tall stature, copper-toned skin, slender build, and sharp bone structure has achieved the Fashion Icon lifetime achievement award, and she even has her own cosmetics brand.

1980s: Brooke Shields

From child model to internationally recognized actress, Brooke Shields is an eternal icon of glamor. Considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, Shields was the youngest Vogue cover girl, appeared on film, television, and Broadway, and might be the reason why Calvin Klein Designer Jeans were on countless women’s wish lists. She’s a firm proponent of less-is-more makeup and even launched her own beauty line called True Botanicals in 2020.

1990s: Chloë Sevigny

Model, actress, filmmaker and fashion designer, Chloë Sevigny was one of the ‘90s era-defining “It Girls.” Her rebellious image and street style brought her to the attention of alternative fashion magazines, eventually appearing in The New Yorker as one of the “coolest girls in the world.”

1990s: Naomi Campbell

Though her career spanned many decades, model Naomi Campbell shot into international stardom in the ‘90s. Naomi graced the cover of Vogue, walked the catwalk for Gianni Versace, and despite famously falling on the catwalk for Vivienne Westwood in 1993, Naomi is a fashion icon. Once declared the “reigning megamodel of them all,” Naomi’s bold visage and seemingly eternal beauty has kept her modeling career strong.

1990s: Cindy Crawford

Supermodel Cindy Crawford has been the envy of young women for decades. Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Allure, and countless other magazines sought her face for their cover. Among Cindy’s runway hits are brands like Chanel, Christian Dior, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, and many more. Cindy’s bombshell beauty moment in 1991 while attending the Academy Awards in her red Versace dress created a fashion phenomenon.

1990s: Tinsley Mortimer

Manhattan socialite Tinsley Mortimer married Topper Mortimer, the heir to the Standard Oil fortune at age 18, but later divorced. She had a Gossip Girl cameo (and was a muse for the costuming for Blake Lively), collaborated with Samantha Thavasa for a bag line, was Dior’s beauty ambassador, appeared in Vogue, Marie Claire, and Harper’s Bazaar, and eventually joined the Bravo reality show The Real Housewives of New York City.

2000s: Olivia Palermo

From socialite to model to blogger and now designer, Olivia Palermo has made her high fashion lifestyle the envy of modern women. Olivia has been on the cover of Elle, InStyle, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Brides, L’Officiel and more. This regular at every Fashion Week made a name for herself through her modeling but boosted her brand by creating her own beauty line. 

2000s: Paris Hilton

Confessions of an Heiress socialite Paris Hilton is arguably one of the 2000s most notorious “It Girls,” to the extent that Forbes crowned her the Most Overexposed Celebrity. Her fame came from wealth (her grandfather founded Hilton Hotels), a jet-setting lifestyle, modeling, and a variety of film and television ventures, even leading her to a DJ stint. Queen of the social scene, Paris has been setting trends, appearing in magazines, and leading the life of the pop culture party scene.

2010s: Gigi Hadid

When your mom is a former model and Real Housewife, you’re bound to become an “It Girl.” Gigi Hadid has carved out her own identity, starting young as the face of Baby Guess and now gracing the covers of Vogue, Glamour, and much more. In fact, Gigi has been on the cover of 35 international Vogue magazines! Gigi’s public persona is an inspiration to young women as a girl who can balance a modeling career while remaining down to earth.

2010s: Sofia Richie

Daughter of singer Lionel Richie and sister of Paris Hilton BFF Nicole Richie, Sofia Richie has lived a star-studded life since birth. Now modeling for Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, and more, Sofia boasts 7.6M followers on Instagram and has walked the runways since 2016. Sofia has a laundry list of famous friends and made media headlines for dating Scott Disick, Kourtney Kardashian’s ex-boyfriend. Sofia’s effortless taste in fashion has now led her to start up a career in swimwear and clothing design. 

2010s: Alexa Chung

British-born model, fashion designer, writer and more, Alexa Chung got her start in the mid-2000s but hit full “It Girl” status in the 2010s. After all, she penned a book titled It in 2013 all about her personal inspiration and style. Walking for London Fashion Week with Stella McCartney, being the first celeb face for Lacoste, regularly appearing in Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, and even having a handbag named after her, Chung was certainly at the forefront of high fashion.

2020s: Zendaya

One of the top 2020s “It Girls” is Zendaya Coleman without a doubt. From her beginnings on the Disney Channel to now starring in Euphoria and Dune, the young starlet makes her presence known with bold fashion statements on every red carpet. Zendaya has been the face of Beats Electronics and Covergirl, eventually becoming a brand ambassador and spokesmodel for Tommy Hilfiger, Bulgari, Valentino, and Lancôme.

2020s: Princess Maria-Olympia of Greece

Socialite from Greek royalty, Princess Maria-Olympia of Greece and Denmark got into high fashion early on when she interned in Dior’s couture department as a 17 year old. Since then, Olympia has amassed hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers that she takes along with her through the lens of a posh influencer. Olympia is a photographer in her own right but has also been photographed for Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair, Town & Country, Michael Kors, and more and walked the runway for Dolce & Gabbana.

Closing Thoughts

Oftentimes, “It Girls” are criticized for their fame and fortune appearing disproportionate to the achievements they have actually made. If we’re being completely honest, while some socialites truly are and were “famous for being famous,” many “It Girls” worked hard for their notoriety. However it may be, these women led their respective decades as beacons for beauty, inspiring women worldwide to embrace their femininity and personal flair.

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