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The "it" in "It Girl" might be impossible to define, but that hasn't stopped journalists from writing millions of words on the subject. It Girls aren't just pretty, and they aren't just stylish—they have something more, some ineffable quality that speaks to their exact moment in pop-culture history. That mysterious appeal is like a dare to writers, challenging them to figure out exactly what makes one doe-eyed 20-year-old more important than all the others.
In other words, It Girls are basically made for magazine profiles, which is why digging into a really good It Girl story is one of the most fun things you can do when you're trapped in an airplane or a house full of relatives. Below, we've pulled together ten of our favorites from the past 30 years, starring everyone from a young Chloë Sevigny to an even younger Tavi Gevinson.
Jaime King, James Is a Girl
Written by Pulitzer-prize–winning novelist Jennifer Egan, this is ostensibly a story about Fashion Week through the eyes of a 16-year-old model. But it's also an in-depth look at the fashion world of the '90s, where drugs were rampant and so were the supermodels. [The New York Times Magazine, February 1996.]
Tinsley Mortimer and Olivia Palermo, The Number One Girl
More than just a profile, this is the unbelievable true story of the battle for control of the New York City social circuit of the mid-aughts—a three-way skirmish between Queen Bee Tinsley Mortimer, sweet but clueless New Girl Olivia Palermo, and the anonymous team who chronicled their every move on the blog Socialite Rank. The third-act twist (a new site appears, and you'll never guess who's running it!) makes this story by Isaiah Wilner better than Gossip Girl. [New York, October 2007.]
Cory Kennedy, The secret life of Cory Kennedy
Of course, not all It Girls live in New York. In Sean Hubler's morality tale, shockingly young LA schoolgirl Cory Kennedy becomes the intern, muse, and eventually girlfriend of mid-aughts hipster photographer The Cobra Snake. It's a sad and complicated story, like Edith Wharton in American Apparel hot pants. [Los Angeles Times, February 2007.]
Chloë Sevigny, Chloë's Scene
This New Yorker profile of a teenaged Sevigny includes so many 90's touchstones—Marc Jacobs! X-Girl! Details! Sonic Youth! Sassy! Evan Dando!—that it almost feels like era-specific Mad Libs. Writer Jay McInerney, himself a former It Boy of sorts, makes it clear that Chloë was cooler at 17 than anyone else on the planet, then or now. [The New Yorker, November 1994.]
Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Tiffani-Amber: Something Does Not Compute
The polar opposite of McInerney on Sevigny, this Sassy profile on Tiffani-Amber Thiessen has gone down in journalism history (no, seriously) for being perhaps the most searing article ever written on the subject of a teen queen. At one point, the Saved by the Bell star tells author Mary-Ann Marshall that she likes "a lot of Shakespeare's lesser-known works," like Hamlet. Quips Marshall, "Oh, I hadn't heard of that one." Thiessen's PR was reportedly furious. [Sassy, 1992.]
Lisa Edelstein, Lisa In Wonderland
The best It Girl profiles tend to pair serious writers with downtown party girls. Such is the formula for this Maureen Dowd article about "Lisa E., New York's reigning Queen of the Night, Girl of the Moment, new Edie Sedgwick and top 'celebutante' of 1986." Lisa eventually re-embraced her last name and became moderately famous for playing Dr. Cuddy on House. [The New York Times Magazine, November 1986.]
Genevieve Jones, How 'It Girl' Scaled the World of Fashion
As the dry-as-bones headline indicates, this Wall Street Journal story on socialite Genevieve Jones isn't exactly poetic. But veteran celeb reporter Teri Agins does a great job of breaking down the It Girl economy, delving into all the ways Jones monetizes her good looks. This is especially impressive given that Jones had no interest in talking about how she makes a living: "I have my own money," she told Agins, then added "my parents love me." [The Wall Street Journal, November 2006.]
Lena Dunham, It's Different For 'Girls'
Emily Nussbaum's Lena Dunham profile—published before Girls debuted—is notable for its unabashed enthusiasm for its subject. "When a TV critic reports on a new show, it's okay to say the series is promising, even the next big thing," Nussbaum writes, "but ideally, one shouldn't go native. One should probably also talk in the third person. In this case, however, I'll have to make an exception. Because from the moment I saw the pilot of Girls (which airs on April 15), I was a goner, a convert." [New York, March 2012.]
Tavi Gevinson, Tavi Says
Pre-Rookie mag Tavi Gevinson was fourteen when Lizzie Widdicombe profiled her for the New Yorker, making her the youngest It Girl on this list—though also perhaps the most self-aware. At one point, an eight-year-old fan suggests that Barbie should make a fashion-blogger doll in Tavi's image. "Tavi hesitated. 'I don't know how many people would want that instead of a real job,' she said." [The New Yorker, September 2010.]
Lindsay Lohan, Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie
Lohan had It and then lost It, and in this epic two-year-old story, she struggles to get It back by starring in The Canyons, a doomed thriller written by Bret Easton Ellis and featuring young porn star James Deen. The film was directed by Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver, whose career was also in free-fall—making this a long, slow, sad look at what happens when the "It" goes away. [The New York Times Magazine, January 2013.]