Socials vs. Socialites


Last year I acted for the first time- in a movie, a musical actually, called Fashion Party, written and directed by Alec Coiro.  I play Topsy Van Aston, a 20-something year old Upper East Side WASP.  While shooting one of my first scenes I interrupted saying I think there’s a typo in my script…

So I’m just another pathetic social doing her [handbag] vanity project!

“Shouldn’t it say “socialite?” I asked.  Alec said “No, they call themselves socials.”  What?  It just sounded wrong to me but Alec knew all about this world- he used to work for Quest and New York Social Diary.

Months later, long after I had accepted and become used to the term social I was watching The City (season 1, episode 4) on MTV and was delighted by the following exchange:

Olivia Palermo: Just to give you a heads up, like who’s coming, mixture of editors, socials, celebs, Vogues… Rsvp-ed for socials we have-
Whitney Port: What are socials?  Like as in socialites?
Olivia Palermo: Yeah, (embarrassed smile) it’s just like, an abbreviation.

Olivia Palermo photo via Olivia Palermo Fansite

A friend of mine posits that the word social was originally used by upper class philanthropists to refer to themselves and that socialite is a derogatory bastardization of that word, implying the subject is a poser.  Therefore a true social would know better than to refer to themselves or their peers as socialites.  This friend also claims to have schooled Olivia to the usage of the word social not long before The City began filming.

But meanwhile, another friend of mine said she started hearing the term social about two years ago from a friend who worked at a PR firm and that it is a PR industry term.  She says that the real, old school, upper class philanthropists never refer to themselves as socialites or socials, and they don’t like these social(ite)s, i.e. girls seen on Patrick McMullan, because they just borrow dresses and don’t help out with causes.  She also says socialite was not always a derogatory term.

Wikipedia currently only has an entry for socialite with no reference to an implied tone of mocking or the word social. And in online dictionary’s the only definition for social as a noun is a social gathering.

The origin remains a mystery to me for now.