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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Paris Hilton

A socialite is a person (male or female, but more often used for a woman) of social prominence who spends significant resources entertaining and being entertained but is not (at least in the early 20th century heyday of socialites) a professional entertainer. A socialite is usually a member of the upper class or aristocracy. In the United States, socialites may be listed in the Social Register. Young women may be debutantes prior to being socialites.

The socialite as a distinct class in American cities arose in the late 19th century Gilded Age. Newspapers expanded greatly, and reported the balls, parties and other entertainments among the also expanding class of rich people and social climbers. Many newspapers published these reports in a regular "Society" page or section, and the persons who were regularly reported there came to be called "socialites."

The impact of socialites derived not so much from their artistic realisations (then they would be known primarily as author or performer, etc.) or from their official social stature (then they would be called politician, industrialist, etc.), or wealth, as from their less-tangible ability to dominate the social scene and use personal charisma to achieve prominence. The term "socialite" may be used in a string of descriptive nouns, as "author, entrepreneur and socialite," but was perhaps most often used of a prominent person who did not easily fit into any other category.

Perle Mesta was perhaps the last great American socialite. Socialites and celebrities were briefly united in the jet set around 1960 but in later years the former group were absorbed or displaced by the latter. Television news gave little attention to high society, and in the 1970s newspapers curtailed or discontinued their daily "Society" page, instituted a Sunday "Style" section, and neglected socialites unless they were also celebrities.

The stock market boom of the 1980s and other developments in the regilded age of the late 20th century produced a plentiful nouveau riche class, but their interest in the customary rituals of the old monied elite ranged from tepid distaste to mild curiosity and did not bring new life to the moribund institution.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Socialite" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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