In the 1980s a new phenomenon emerged from Essex: the Essex Girl. It was a term used to describe working class teenagers and young women from Essex said to be sexually promiscuous, loud, vulgar, scantily-dressed and of low intelligence. The term and the reputation it brought with it has waned over the years, but let's look back at what it was.
It is not clear how the term Essex Girl came to be. However it is likely that a comedian visiting an Essex venue told some derogatory jokes about local girls and discovered that Essex girls had a sense of humour, and could laugh at themselves, and it snowballed from there. Not all Essex girls embraced the title - many were offended by it, which is quite reasonable as statistically Essex girls were no more sexually promiscuous, nor were they of lower intelligence than their counterparts any other part of the UK.
Recognising an Essex Girl
The stereotypical dress code of an Essex girl involved a tight-fitting, low-cut top and short skirt, (for those with money or rich boyfriends the skirt would be made of leather) complemented with white stilettos. Instead of tights or stockings, she would wear an ankle chain. She had bleached blonde hair and typically drank strong white cider or cheap wine.
A social creature, the Essex girl was rarely on her own. She would often be part of a group dancing round her handbag at a disco or in one of the cheap tacky wine bars which sprang up in the 1980s and have since closed down or been converted into something else. When they weren't in the discos or bars they could be found strutting along the streets together, loudly discussing who they fancied, or their latest sexual conquest. Another place to find an Essex girl would be in her boyfriend's car (typically a Ford Capri, Cortina or Escort) and not necessarily travelling in it.
Essex girls were not credited for their personalities or conversation skills, and were said to rely instead on their bodies and looks to attract the opposite sex. They would enjoy being the centre of attention and would loudly tell jokes (or make comments, which included crude sexual innuendos) when they had an audience of men.
From Essex Girl to Essex Celebrity
Many ladies from Essex have made themselves household names around the country and overseas - these include:
Martina Cole, crime novelist, was born in Aveley. Dangerous Lady, her debut, was a bestseller, and was dramatised on TV, as was Jump, another of her many novels.
Jodie Marsh, glamour model, was born in Brentwood. Jodie was first seen on the 2002 television series Essex Wives, which portrayed the more mature Essex Girl. She has modelled for The Sun's Page Three and various 'men's magazines'; some UK tabloids have nicknamed her 'Human Viagra'.
Alison Moyet, singer/songwriter, was born in Billericay and began her singing career with Vince Clarke as part of 1980s synth duo Yazoo, before starting a solo career with hits such as Is This Love and Love Resurrection. In 1994 she recorded the album Essex. More recently she's appeared in the musical Chicago.
Denise Van Outen, born Denise Outen, was born in Basildon. The 'Van' was added later to make her name more interesting and memorable, and also to acknowledge her Dutch ancestry. Denise is a television presenter and actress, who has also appeared scantily-dressed in men's style magazines.
Popular TV sitcom, Birds of a Feather from the 1980s, starring Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph, (none of whom are from Essex) was based in Chigwell, a more affluent part of Essex. Its most memorable scene is of sex-obsessed Dorien, played by Lesley Joseph, exaggerated erotic karaoke performance to Madonna's Like a Virgin.
Essex Girl Jokes
The Essex Girl was the butt of many jokes; there have even been books of Essex Girl jokes. The following in an example of a few of them.
What do you call an intelligent woman in Essex?
Why do Essex girls only get a 30-minute lunch break?
Because if it was any longer, you'd have to retrain them.
How can you tell if an Essex girl's been using the computer?
There's Tipp-Ex on the screen.
How may Essex girls does it take to make chocolate chip cookies?
Five. One to make the mixture and four to peel the Smarties.
What makes an Essex girl's eyes light up?
A torch shone in her ear.
Why do Essex girls wash their hair in the kitchen sink ?
Because that's where you're supposed to wash vegetables!
What's an Essex girl's form of sex protection?
A bus shelter.
From Southend's pier, the longest in the UK, to the cobbled pavements of Colchester, the oldest town in the UK, the Essex girl would strut. The bars and clubs would shake with laughter at Essex girl jokes, and the one laughing the loudest would often be the Essex Girl herself.