Ever since the rise of red carpet reporting, everything has been about being or having an “It.” For men, it was sporting a deflated bowtie (the It accessory!) or owning some form of tapered denim (the It pant!). For women, the It list was an endless vortex of interchangeable items and looks: the slouchy tote, Warholian nail art, a French fry phone case—all of it was dictated by some unidentified being who said ‘It’ was the shit. But in an interview earlier this week, actress Brie Larson made headlines by refusing to be referred to as anything close.
A common It girl fallacy is that the title started 10 to 15 years ago, a time when street style began to bubble up into the mainstream. However, we started calling grown women It girls back in 1927. Silent film actress Clara Bow was the first one to get the thorny crown as she led a legion of ladies into a type of special fame chosen exclusively for the young, beautiful and gifted set. In the 2000s, there was less of a graceful approach to the It label, and an onslaught of creepy infantilizing issues came with it. It girls kept getting younger, more conventionally attractive, less talented and less interesting. A whole Hollywood machine began to build the myth of the It, and soon it became as dizzying as Tinder on a Saturday night—talents got swiped right at Formula 1 speeds.
“There is a large segment of the population that enjoys the It girl trope,” says Anita Clarke, the Canadian blogger behind the popular site, I want, I got. “The trope is still around for a reason—because it sells product.” Clarke isn’t kidding. It is typically during an actress’s first big break that she gets called an It girl or ingénue, and when she signs her first big fashion or beauty contract. “Rarely is the It girl only lauded for accomplishments outside of choosing the right outfit,” says Clarke. “Which is usually more smoke and mirrors as the reality of the It girl’s beauty and fashion team is never talked about.”
Fortunately, a whole new generation of women—specifically actresses such as Larson—are having none of “It.” While doing an interview for CBS News Sunday Morning to help promote her Oscar-baiting breakout film, Room, Larson was asked a about being an ‘It’ girl on air. Larson’s face was more telling than her words (“What is It? When do I lose It? When I get It?” she asked the interviewer). “It was as if someone were speaking to her in another language,” says writer and cultural critic Rachel Giese, who has spent more than two decades profiling talented women like Larson.
Giese says that the title is downright shady. “It’s a way of complimenting a woman and simultaneously disempowering her. It’s a way to call a woman out for being emblematic of a particular moment, but it’s a designation that assumes that it’s fleeting. It assumes that it’s about trendiness rather than something enduring.” The title speaks to the old-fashioned ideas connected to what begets a leading lady. “It is presented as a Pageant crown that is stuck on a head that is meant to be taken away after a certain time has passed,” says Giese. “In an era when we are talking increasingly about diversity and diverse communities of people, to decide that one person to represent us all doesn’t fit with the reality of young people.”
Clarke also believes the ‘It’ title seems outdated and pointless. “I grow tired of labels like It girl, and I’m surprised it has lasted as long as it has,” she says. “It’s as inexplicable to me as like thinking Sex in the City is still relevant today. I use the term as a joke nowadays.”
One of Canada’s leading casting directors, Sharon Forrest, says, that the It title has nothing to do with whether someone gets a job or not. When tasked with casting Orphan Black, Forrest had five other actresses go up against the series star, a then-unknown named Tatiana Maslany. One of her competitors was considered an ‘It’ girl but Forrest didn’t pay it any mind. “I’m always looking for the right person for the job, hype doesn’t come into play at all,” she says.
“People that use the term are forgetting the reason why there’s an ‘It’ associated with the person they are talking about,” Forrest explains. “Actresses don’t come out of the wilderness ready to play a role. A lot of time is devoted to actually crafting their craft.”