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the girl next door

What does the girl next door mean?

The girl next door is a term used to describe a female archetype and fashion aesthetic which can range in terms of personal definition, but usually denotes a girl or woman who appeals to traditional or “all-American” gender norms with the allure of purity, simplicity, and charm, with a natural, modest, or effortless beauty.

image of the girl next door

Where does the girl next door come from?

The girl next door dates to the 1920s or earlier, when it was used to describe the type of friendly, pleasant woman who would make an excellent girlfriend or wife.

It is not clear if one specific person coined the phrase, but Doris Day is one woman who brought widespread attention to what it represents now, referred to by some as the original girl next door. Day, who was active in the film and entertainment industries largely from 1939 to 1973, has remarked that she “was called ‘the girl next door’ by people in this industry” despite the fact that she believed her actual personality resembled anything but the mythic girl next door. The classic Hollywood actress is still often among the first women referred to in relation to the feminine archetype, even today. In an interview, David Kaufman, author of Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, suggests that Day’s immortal girl next door image and the archetype itself hold a permanent place in the cultural myth of America out of a need to maintain the notion that normalcy can coexist with fantasy.

The term the girl next door, when used in reference to actresses like Day or characters she and others might play, often connotes a certain ordinary quality that usually transforms from unremarkable to idealistic. The girl next door is a major character in the classic male fantasy, which plays out in any number of film or literary narratives. The girl next door character is usually one who is neither glamorous nor plain and possibly a past or present close friend of the male protagonist.

A distinct lack of flashiness is key to identifying girls next door in contemporary culture, as well as honesty and a sense of humor. An element of realness is implied in the girl next door character, distinguishing her from other girls who might be seen as fake or trying too hard.

There is some confusion over the distinction between a good girl and the girl next door, as both tend to have a virginal connotation among other similar qualities. However, the girl next door is generally known for her sweetness and modesty and, while these traits are not exclusive to the girl next door, the good girl is more likely to be known as one who does her homework and stays out of trouble.

Someone’s sense of style might be described as very girl next door if she wears natural-looking makeup and dresses in clothes that make her appear wholesome or conservative. The girl next door look is often defined as cute and not necessarily sexy.

A few things to note…

The term girl next door as a noun refers to a type of person, but girl next door is also often used as an adjective to describe a particular female aesthetic or aura.

For example…

“So just when everyone was used to her bangs and polka dots and hand hearts, Tay-Tay traded in her good-girl image to be the girl next door.”

Denett Wilford, “Taylor Swift looks almost unrecognizable, and it’s amazing,” The Loop (November 12, 2014)

“Ah, yes, the elusive, iconic and beautiful girl next door: a rare but well-known breed… you know, like a monarch butterfly or a jungle bird.”

Jamie LeeLo, “Men Define What Makes A ‘Girl Next Door’ And Their Answers Are Hilariously Typical,” Elite Daily (March 21, 2017)

“Dad's interview advice: 'it doesn't seem like it's gonna be that formal so go dressed as 'the girl next door''”

Gen Wilson genwilson95 Twitter (March 12, 2017)

This is not a formal definition of the girl next door like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of the girl next door that will help you expand your word mastery.