To try to figure out what exactly that story is and why we still have it, we have to separate out the folk tale that is Cinderella, though, from the turn of phrase that is “Cinderella story.” Americans will call almost anything a Cinderella story that involves a good thing happening to someone nice. We slap that title on movies and books, but also on basketball games won by tiny schools full of scrawny nerds, small businesses that thrive and even political ascendancies that upend established powers.
The actual Cinderella tale, while a nebulous thing that can be hard to pin down with precision, is more than that. There’s very little that’s common to every variant of the story, but in general, you have a mistreated young woman, forced to do menial work, either cast out or unloved by her family. She has an opportunity to marry well and escape her situation, but she gets that chance only after being mistaken for a higher-status person, so she has to get the man who may marry her to recognize her in her low-status form, which often happens either via a shoe that fits or some kind of food that she prepares.
—Linda Holmes, writing for NPR about the “endlessly evolving” story of Cinderella.