Welcome to On The List (With Melissa Rich), NYLON’S column with comedian Melissa Rich, here to illuminate the state of nightlife, one party at a time.
The definition of an It Girl is subjective and, in my opinion, thrown around a bit generously. A true It Girl is a somewhat shocking, creatively-driven performance artist, whose art is simply their life. I maintain a classic definition, one of Cory Kennedy or Chloë Sevigny, which is to say I don’t think an It Girl can easily fit into the corporate world, maintain a traditional 9-to-5 job, or explain why you should open a Roth IRA. Cat Marnell said it best when leaving her job as beauty and health editor at xoJane: “I couldn’t spend another summer meeting deadlines behind a computer at night when I could be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends.”
Of course, there are many It Girls with clear paths to money: heiresses, actresses, models, photographers, all with an edge and a following of copycats that shift the culture and earn them the “It” title. And for every moody actress or messy model with last night’s dark eyeliner, there’s an It Girl with a less discernible income stream. For those not born into extreme familial wealth, the hustle is not only real but inescapable. With the high expectations we bestow on our It Girls — an inspired sense of style, the physical maintenance, mandatory party attendance (plus cab fare) — how does an It Girl make it work? Is every It Girl in massive credit card debt?
First things first: No one should ever refer to themselves as an It Girl, as there is nothing more cringe, so that’s not what you’re getting here. I can, however, speak to maintaining a non-traditional monetary lifestyle filled with random hustles and side gigs, some of them so precarious that I can’t list them because I’ve signed an NDA, which sounds more sinister than the reality. I don’t love a job where an authority is in my physical presence and I hesitate to commit to something that requires me to be in a specific place at a specific time. There’s a high-low quality that comes with this way of life. I travel to Europe at least annually but am often not quite sure I have health insurance. Ultimately, I always figure it out; it’s a mix of Lucky Girl Syndrome and being optimistically bad at math, echoing and embodying the apotheosis of fictional It Girl Carrie Bradshaw: “I spent $40,000 on shoes and I have nowhere to live?!”
While many It Girls inhabit spacious apartments in buildings with doormen, if that’s not in the budget, an expensive home is a natural corner to cut. It may be New York-specific to sacrifice domestic comforts for more resources spent on appearances and experiences, but no true It Girl is spending much time at home anyway — and she’s probably been to housing court at least once. I subscribe to the theory discussed on the Sex and the City-focused podcast Every Outfit that, “Real New York City It Girls live in some degree of squalor,” in reference to Bradshaw’s apartment in the series pilot. Before the set turned into a tidy studio with a walk-through closet in the second episode, there was Chinese takeout on the futon, a half-drunk bottle of champagne, piles of clothes everywhere, and a neon light reflecting inside. This is an It Girl home! At the end of the day (or more likely, night), an It Girl’s apartment simply needs to be a good place to host the afters.
It Girls and nightlife are a match made in heaven. If part of your “job” is to be out, you might as well get paid for it. In the early aughts, Paris Hilton pioneered a way for future It Girls to secure the nightlife bag. Before Hilton invented the concept of hosting, there were free drinks and incentives, but not a system for regularly getting paid to party. It’s now rare to see a party flyer without listed hosts who are paid hundreds to thousands of dollars simply for some light promotion and their presence at a table. Hilton has continued to move the It Girl monetizing needle by taking on arguably the most important job at the party: DJ’ing. From regularly scheduled gigs to throwing their own parties to DJ’ing as a stunt, It Girls are gaining further control of the party and taking it straight to the bank.
To the modern It Girl, social media is for more than mindless scrolling; it’s her most essential tool. It also changed the It Girl landscape irrevocably. On one hand, it launched Cory Kennedy; on the other, it turned everyone else at the party into unofficial paparazzi. In what I consider social media’s greatest tragedy, when socials and smartphones emerged, It Girls lost a bit of freedom to create an absolute mess — dancing on tables, flashing their crotch while falling off of said table — the moments that really make a night. In a seemingly Faustian bargain, It Girls get to make money… like, money that could be taken away if she’s photographed being a bit too messy.
Even before the contracts come, there’s a windfall of free stuff. In exchange for a glimmer of an It Girl’s shine, a company will inundate her with bags, skincare, clothes, and random products. (I recently was sent a new brand of morning-after pill that I can’t wait to try. Thank you, Julie!) Having the hookup for products and necessary services like lymphatic massages to maintain a snatched It Girl figure is virtually making money, regardless of whether or not it actually pays your rent. Beyond this, there’s influencing: brand deals, paid promotions, platform monetization, and the opportunity for major entrepreneurship. Ultimately, social media can connect It Girls with the public and the individuals who will make the lifestyle a reality.
Benefactors are both a blessing and often a necessity in the It Girl realm. These are the people who pay to enjoy the show: Daddies who cover the entire apartment in exchange for a weekly dinner, loyal OnlyFans subscribers, TikTok Live gifters, Amazon wish-list purchasers. I had many regular customers when I worked at a cocktail bar, both men and women, who would tip absurdly in order to live vicariously through my stories of partying and working in entertainment. A gig like coat check at a bougie club or hosting at a chic restaurant can turn into a high-net situation. One of the many blessings of Julia Fox’s reign is lessening the stigma against sex work. She’s let us in on her dominatrix years in her memoir Down the Drain, as well as stories of the billionaire she dated for five years. All is fair in consensual transactions.
The scale may vary, but the gig is generally the same; whether you’re Amanda Lepore at Le Bain or Paris Hilton in the early days of Butter, keep the people talking, keep the party going, and never, ever follow the crowd.