It’s been nearly 20 years since Carrie Bradshaw, the protagonist and narrator of the HBO series “Sex and the City,” (SATC) described her penchant for wearing “ghetto gold” to her three equally white girlfriends at brunch as “fun”—not the aesthetic that she envisioned for her engagement ring.
“How can I marry a guy who doesn’t know which ring is me?” she bemoaned after finding a pear-shaped sparkler affixed to a yellow gold band, tucked away in her boyfriend’s belongings.
Though it was a cringe-worthy moment in 2001—and one of many from the show that routinely used gay men as campy comedic props and fetishized Black men, to its overall lack of diversity despite famously being set in New York City, which the show’s actresses often described as the “fifth character”—it didn’t deter millions of rabid fans from tuning into the show the following week to watch Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte on their quest for love, success and Manolos in the Big Apple.
More than 10 million viewers watched the show’s final episode three years later, and the subsequent films, 2008’s “Sex and the City” and “Sex and the City 2” in 2010, went on to rake in a total of more than $713 million.
Audiences in 2021, however, may not be as generous—or uneducated. When the show’s star Sarah Jessica Parker announced on her Instagram account earlier this month that a new chapter in the SATC saga called “And Just Like That…” is going into production this spring, the news was met with cautious optimism.
On one hand, the show, which will follow three of the four original characters—Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte—“as they navigate the journey from the complicated reality of life and friendship in their 30s to the even more complicated reality of life and friendship in their 50s,” may be the kind of nostalgic romp that homebound viewers devour. A respite, perhaps, for restless viewers who are in fact navigating their own complicated realities of life and friendship in a pandemic.
On the other hand, the world is in an entirely different state of mind, especially in regard to one of the show’s biggest legacies: fashion.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020 was the catalyst for an overdue reckoning in the fashion industry, and brought to light the ugly experiences rooted in racism many Black people have encountered while trying to survive in the business. In turn, the movement drove many fashion brands to recalibrate how they address diversity within their companies, promote inclusivity in their campaigns and communicate their messages with sensitivity. BLM also sparked online conversations about intersectional environmentalism and cultural appropriation, educating consumers about the deeper impact of their purchases.
SATC’s cultural exploitation problem didn’t start or stop with “ghetto gold.”
It was on full display in the second film, which took the four friends to Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s conservative capital, in an effort to escape their hectic—or in the case of Carrie, increasingly humdrum—New York City lives. The plot line teed up an endless parade of unfortunate opportunities to flash nonsensical wealth and more tone-deaf fashion choices like headdresses and harem pants, not to mention Carrie’s bewilderment when she finds out that shoes sold at a souk cost just $20. Shocking.
Years later in an interview at a New York Magazine event, Parker said, “I can see where we fell short on that movie, and I’m perfectly happy to say that publicly.” These issues, however, will need to be rectified for the new show to stand a chance because woke fans and influential industry watchdogs, like Diet Prada and Saint Hoax, will be watching, and maybe even salivating at the chance to catch and call out the next big blunder.
“Many of the people I’ve talked to have said ‘I’ll watch it, but…,’” Benjamin Ayer, lead consultant for Benjamin Bellwether, said of the mixed reception to news of the reboot.
“The short of it is that the movies, especially the second one, really marked a point of seemingly no return,” the trend forecaster said. “The second movie has some real pain points for people who saw it as reductive to feminism and diversity; and, that’s on top of complaints that the show, in general, was too white and too materialistic.”
With doubts like these, the reboot runs the risk of becoming another successful “hate-watch” anomaly of the pandemic entertainment landscape, like the Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” which viewers binged last fall only to trade online gripes about the show’s unrealistic portrayal of fashion on an entry-level PR salary. (Though it didn’t stop style-hungry watchers from emulating some of the show’s key style moments, like red berets.) The show, it bears noting, was styled by Patricia Field, the iconic New York City stylist who coined the SATC characters’ signature looks.
“With conversations around inclusivity growing louder, there will be pressure on the SATC reboot to be diverse and woke,” said Kayla Marci, an analyst for retail market intelligence platform Edited. “However, efforts need to be collaborative, well-researched and authentic to avoid coming off as insincere and tokenistic. As some episodes and parts of the movies were problematic, there is an opportunity to learn from these past mistakes.”
That’s not to say that “And Just Like That…” is doomed before its first fitting.
Rather, experts say the show’s creators and costume department have a chance to sway fashion in a positive new direction. SATC, after all, debuted 12 years before the first ’gram was ever posted. It influenced fashion through the original small screen, television, requiring viewers to come back each week at the same time, Sunday at 9 p.m. EST, for 94 episodes over the course of six years—an ask that seems unreasonable in the instant-gratification age of streaming.
Integral to this change, according to Caroline Vazzana, stylist, influencer and author of Making It in Manhattan: The Beginner’s Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the World of Fashion, will be more diversity behind-the-scenes—from the writing room to the wardrobe truck. More diverse view points on the set will help ensure that the show puts its best foot forward, she said.
The reboot also presents an opportunity to tap into a more mature millennial mindset and, perhaps, reinvigorate how viewers look at their own closets after months of wearing sweats. It may even inspire new loungewear or face-mask trends, Vazzana noted, if the show is set during coronavirus times.
Ayer lauds SATC for how it wielded fashion as a means to express the characters’ personalities and emotions. Field’s ability to build characters through silhouette, color, pattern and accessory choices—many of which went on to become global trends like Carrie’s tulle skirt from the opening credits, the horseshoe necklace she wore throughout season four or her silk corsages in season three—gave consumers the green light to playfully experiment with their own look.
“I’ve talked to so many women and gay men alike who felt they could be [bolder] in their fashion statements, especially in New York City,” because of the show, Ayer said.
Whether it was pairing two different colors of the same shoe style, like Carrie did when the ladies ventured to Los Angeles in season 3, or making strong shoulders sexy again à la Samantha, Field showed viewers how to mix and match and take risks. This adventurous approach to fashion filtered into street style, which became just as important as runway styling, Ayer added, and made designers who were once only on the tips of the tongues of in-the-know fashionistas, new household names.
Brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Fendi, Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Tiffany are just some of the labels still synonymous with the franchise, Marci said, as well as specific products like Fendi’s baguette bags and Manolo Blahnik’s Hangisi pump, which Big—a character that was likened to Donald Trump in a positive way early on in the series—used in lieu of an engagement ring to propose to Carrie in the first film. (Editor’s note: shoes, apparently, are a more acceptable symbol of love than “ghetto gold” jewelry.)
Since the show ended, Marci said many fashion houses have been reshaped by new creative directors at the helm of Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Givenchy and Bottega Veneta. “These legacy brands’ redefined looks are very much in line with Carrie’s feminine and eccentric aesthetic, Miranda’s clean and minimal, and Charlotte’s polished and preppy one,” she said.
The next show, however, has an opportunity to elevate lesser known designers and brands into the spotlight. In addition to the big names that everyone is expecting to see, Marci noted that cult darlings coveted by today’s consumer, like Ganni, Marine Serre or The Vampire’s Wife, would be a welcome addition.
“I’d love to see airtime given to designers spearheading environmental change like Gabriela Hearst and Stella McCartney, or labels that champion inclusivity like Fenty, Prabal Gurung or Christian Siriano, as well as see SATC use its enormous and powerful platform to showcase emerging BIPOC designers,” she said.
Ayer shared that sentiment, adding that the show’s stylists should “reward” high-fashion brands that are embracing diversity on their runways and in look books, like Erdem, Balmain, Carolina Herrera, Collina Strada and Ferragamo, with placement on the show.
“The show has the power to elevate designers, and [it] should take that power seriously,” Ayer said. “It would be great to see the same fashion independence that Field brought to the cast of SATC to represent the new fashion industry. The one where sustainability matters, ethics matter, behavior matters.”
His top picks for the characters include “modern” and “powerful” looks by Fear of God for Miranda, classic and modern pieces by Wales Bonner and Andrew Gn for Charlotte and No Sesso and Threeasfour for Carrie’s fearless style. As the show’s main trendsetter, Carrie, he added, should be “mixing her vintage fashion with new pieces from local, Black-owned, queer-owned, minority-owned and future-minded brands.”
Brooklyn-based and vice president-approved designer Christopher John Rogers is high on Vazzana’s list of designers whose work should make a cameo. “Christopher John Rogers would be epic and so beautiful for Carrie to be wearing around New York City,” she said.
The reboot could bring good fortune to local talent. With the show celebrating the city, Marci said it would be great to see New York talent spotlighted. Fendi baguette bags could be traded for a ‘Bushwick Birkin,’ the nickname of Telfar’s in-demand unisex tote, or Carrie could swap her infamous Dior newspaper-print dress for Duckie Confetti’s money robe, she suggested.
A reflection of the times
Another common inducer of eye rolls was SATC’s unrealistic portrayal of wealth. The same lavish fashion that lured people to their TV sets each week also alienated some—particularly New Yorkers who knew the improbability of a local newspaper sex columnist being able to afford Carrie’s Upper East Side abode, endless closet and buzzing social life.
“This fantastical approach to luxury is what made the fashion in the show so iconic because it was very aspirational, yet unbelievable, that these ‘everyday women’ could afford to be head-to-toe in high-end designers every day,” Marci said. Following an economic crisis like the one brought on by the global pandemic, it will be important for the reboot to balance the fantasy element with reality, she added.
While longtime fans of the show will expect to see a high caliber of designers, SATC must offer a measure of relatability in order to resonate with a new audience, Marci said. “A great way to show luxury in 2021 is to blend designer pieces with more contemporary and affordable brands,” she said. “Given the status of some of the items worn in the show and with sustainability becoming such an urgent and complex issue for the fashion industry, I’d love to see classic outfits re-worn or vintage archival pieces curated.”
The writers bringing the show to life “will have to make sure they reflect the times, and capture the essence of what they started out as: a show that helped normalize the timely female dynamic in mainstream culture,” Ayer added.
But that’s not to say that the ladies can’t catch up on their relationship follies while shopping in The RealReal or in small boutiques that champion diverse designers. Or why not have the characters share pieces, he added, highlighting the ever-growing sharing and rental economy.
“The show is known for the fashion, so represent the times,” Ayer said.
But be authentic
SATC is not the first show from the late ’90s and early aughts to make a recent comeback, but whereas series like “Will & Grace” and “90210” struggled to recreate the magic of their originals, “And Just Like That…” already has social media doing some of the leg work.
It also has Gen Z’s fondness for throwback fashion on its side. “A combination of social media and the revival of ’90s and ’00s fashion has helped keep SATC relevant as well as gain a cult following with a younger generation obsessed with nostalgia for an era they haven’t experienced,” Marci said.
Vazzana pointed out that SATC-themed content performs exceptionally well on TikTok. “Gen Z definitely knows about ‘Sex in the City’… young women and men are still very into that ‘moving to New York City’ mindset,” she said. Do they love the characters and appreciate their style the way older cohorts do? Vazzana isn’t sure. “Gen Z style is very different, but it is not super-eclectic and over-the-top like Carrie is known for,” she said. “Maybe it will inspire a whole new generation to dress outside the lines.”
But if everyone wanted to “be a Carrie” back in 2004—fans even snapped up “I’m a Carrie” merchandise prior to the show’s finale—Type A Miranda has emerged as the fan-favorite today. “Reopening the SATC series time capsule in the 2020s has led to an internet consensus that Miranda is the coveted character, with attributes and style resonating with young women today,” Marci said, adding that her character is defined as a career-driven, proud feminist with a minimal wardrobe.
Additionally, Charlotte, the most traditional character on the show, has become the poster character for political correctness, inspiring the #WokeCharlotte meme, a viral sensation that paired images of prim and proper Charlotte with progressive captions. The evolution of these characters in today’s world will add to the show’s longevity and its impact on the Gen Z audience, Marci said.
While Ayer said the SATC reboot is really for “millennials and above who loved it the first time around,” as consumers, we are all moved by nostalgic pop-culture phenoms, no matter how we may think we’ve evolved, he added.
“Consumers will always be influenced by entertainment,” Ayer said. “As much as we may fight against it, we are creatures that crave persuasion.”