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A Tribute to Sex and the City‘s Fashion Influence

SafetyCarrie Bradshaw is the epitome of fashion. From her iconic tulle skirt to her “cloud” wedding dress, Carrie became a fashion idol. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of SEX AND THE CITY AND US, shares “Sex and the City’s” fashion influence and how Carrie’s giant fabric flower became a trend.

Fashion helped define the characters [of Sex and the City], from the tulle skirt in the opening sequence to Carrie’s crop tops, Samantha’s siren dresses, Charlotte’s classy chic, and Miranda’s power-bitch suits. The time spent on the stars’ looks was not to be questioned. “There was a lot of hair and makeup time and wardrobe changes,” director Michael Spiller says, “and no one was saying, ‘Make these things happen faster.’ ”

Parker became a fashion-world idol, her own style inseparable from her character’s distinctive mix of vintage and designer clothes. “I think the chic aesthetic that we see in New York is what separates women in this city from another city,” said Parker, who had a say in the overall look of the series as a producer.

Of the many complaints lodged against the series over its run, one of the most enduring is that Carrie Bradshaw, freelance newspaper columnist, could not afford the designer wardrobe she wears on-screen. Costume designer Patricia Field reasoned that Carrie could hit up sample sales, borrow designer clothes, or get discounts. And this seemed plausible since much of the wardrobe, at least in earlier seasons, came from Field’s thrift shop scrounging. Besides, Carrie does reveal in season 4 that she has only $957 in savings, no assets, and credit card debt (she mentions hitting her limit); she’s also shocked when she does the math and realizes she’s spent about $40,000 on shoes in her adulthood. In short, the show strongly implies that there are hidden depths to her financial liabilities. Like many New Yorkers, she’s living on borrowed credit and faith. Her rationale seems to be that she deserves to look good—she earned it emotionally, if not financially: “It’s really hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes,” she opines at one point. “That’s why we need really special ones now and then, to make the walk a little more fun.”

But by the third season or so, many designers were doing everything they could to make their creations accessible to Sex and the City’s costume department—unlike other shows, this one did not have to purchase much of its clothing. The show often used designer samples, like a runway show would. Sex and the City’s cachet, along with Parker and Field’s relationships with designers, got them clothes no other show could have. This stretched Sex and the City’s budgets much, much further than Carrie’s ever could.

Of course, some designers, like Christian Louboutin of the famous red-soled shoes, did make the show pay for their goods. The Frenchman never saw the show and later said, “Nothing is great publicity when it doesn’t pay.” That said, Field did persuade Louboutin to make custom mules just for Carrie. Still a pretty big deal, even if the show had to pay (base price: around $3,500).

Writer Amy B. Harris became obsessed with getting onto the exclusive waiting list for a Hermès Birkin bag, a list one could end up sitting on for years. She pitched it as a plot line. But her inquiries into the list for research purposes bumped her to the front of the line; as soon as the company heard she was a writer from Sex and the City, she won the privilege of paying $5,000 for a new purse. In the show, Samantha ends up using client Lucy Liu’s name to move herself up on the list.

At this point any of the four main characters, but especially resident clotheshorse Carrie, could spawn the most unlikely of trends. Carrie’s barely-there slip dresses proved one of the easiest to adopt on a real-life budget. She also made crop tops, previously the purview of teen Britney Spears acolytes, safe for women over thirty. At Parker’s suggestion, Carrie began wearing a giant fabric flower with nearly every outfit. Viewers were smitten. Field said she was “totally shocked” the flowers became a trend; but like cupcakes, the flowers allowed for a simple, affordable entrée into Sex and the City life.

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Do you know Sex and the City’s writer battled cancer? Read about how her battle inspired a storyline. 

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Excerpted from Sex and the City and Us by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer Armstrong. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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