There are two kinds of socialites, as Dr. Andrew Solomon, a psychologist and the author of “Far From the Tree,” suggests: “Socialites who are to the manner born, whose function is to have connections made with them. And there are those who earn their place, by constantly bringing together people, and then bask in the reflected glory of those introductions.” Ghislaine Maxwell, he said, was in an “ironic position.” She was to the manner born, Dr. Solomon said, but “she had to shift gears and become that other kind of socialite,” after her family lost its money.
In both cases, though, “socialite” is a term reserved for women. While some men may operate similarly, they would never be labeled socialites because men are presumed to have individual identities beyond their social interactions. And because a socialite’s success depends upon an array of attributes still largely considered feminine: charm, poise, grace, beauty, cultivation and polish.
Ghislaine Maxwell had all of these. Born to great wealth, she was raised mainly in England in an Italianate mansion and educated at Oxford University. Her father, the newspaper mogul Robert Maxwell, named his yacht after her (the “Lady Ghislaine”). She holds French, British and United States passports and is reputed to speak four languages. (She has been overheard in court speaking fluent French with her brother.) She is believed to hold licenses to pilot both helicopters and submarines. She has dabbled in environmental philanthropy. After her family lost everything (in the wake of her father’s death and posthumous embezzlement scandal), Ms. Maxwell moved to the United States and for a time sold high-end real estate — a potentially lucrative choice for a woman with her upper-class manners, plummy accent and good looks.
As countless photos of her demonstrate, Ms. Maxwell has always been dressed and coifed with elegant, Parisian understatement. For decades, she has worn her dark hair in a tousled, gamine crop and favored finely tailored clothes in neutral tones: tweed jackets, silk and cashmere sweaters, collared shirts. She wears little visible makeup and only minimal jewelry (earrings, a good watch). Standing beside more elaborately adorned women, she looks unfussy and confident.
That kind of unstudied elegance attracts people still figuring out how to style themselves or aspiring to learn the cues of a more elevated social world. Mr. Epstein may have been wealthy, but he was a Brooklyn-born arriviste seeking legitimacy and mobility among the moneyed upper classes. Ms. Maxwell would have seemed the perfect guide. And she came through, inducting him into the very highest circles of British society, introducing him most notably to Prince Andrew. A photograph produced at trial even shows Mr. Epstein and Ms. Maxwell relaxing at Balmoral Castle, Queen Elizabeth II’s holiday estate in Scotland — with Ms. Maxwell clad in an appropriately aristo-shabby plaid flannel.