Fit Checks and the City

Murray Clark
·6-min read
Photo credit: HBO, Getty Images
Photo credit: HBO, Getty Images

From Esquire

Towards the close of Sex and the City's third season, Carrie Bradshaw apparently fancies herself a Roy Chubby Brown with a Birkin, mocking and impersonating the accents of local Black women to much champagne-whetted laughter. My former flatmate's head fell into her hands. "God, it's actually unbearable," she muttered before then proceeding to watch another nine hours. Because, almost 17 years after its close, Sex and the City has aged like a fine bottle of Malibu: sweet, comforting, nostalgic, but always kept at the back of the cabinet, and still more than capable of making one heave.

Yesterday, the lionised HBO classic announced its return in Just Like That via the cast member’s Instagram accounts, clips of Ms Bradshaw's paint-by-numbers journalism interspersed with scenes of a pre-Covid New York – a city so baked into the show that it was arguably just as important a cast member as its leading four ladies. It's a far different place in 2021. And hopefully, a far less problematic one in Parker's reimagining as Just Like That is almost guaranteed to answer the calls for diversity that long beleaguered the six season show from the off. But at its core, Sex and the City carved itself into TV's canon by telling the new stories of a new sort of woman. That had never really happened before. She wanted a good career, good sex, good friends and good clothes – clothes, again, so central to the show that they spawned a million throwback Instagram fan accounts (one particular feed, @everyoutfitonsatc, has earned a remarkable 674,000 followers and a hallowed blue tick, and it has proven to be an excellent research platform throughout this article, so thank you, @everyoutfitonsatc).

Sometimes disjointed but always designer, Carrie and co became a fashion A-Z guide of sorts – but so did their guys. While the boyfriends, dates and sociopaths of Sex and the City played second fiddle to Parker, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Kim Cattrall (and rightly so: this show was never really for anyone other than the women and gay men who revered it), their own style nous has been missed. The fire fits were legion. Men had a lot to learn from these men. For in this quasi-mythological take on New York, guys in great Prada shirts are just as commonplace as the women in Chrysler-tall Manolo Blahniks.

So important are they that a Prada shirt serves as an essential plot point. Jack Berger, a modestly successful writer and a fleeting boyfriend of Bradshaw, is convinced in-store to pick up his very own: oxblood, boxy and "what a real shirt looks like". Berger reacts like a lot of men would. Equal parts impressed and incredulous, he deems it the 'I never say fabulous' fabulous shirt, but is quick to question the price tag: "Does it also somehow open into a small studio apartment?" He buys it, he looks good, and it soon becomes a designer-shaped bollard between his own career and that of an ascendant Carrie. Even the men who wear Prada suffer imposter syndrome.

In recent years, menswear has warmed up to the idea of Noughties fashion once more. Thus, it'd be easy to explain away these clothes as just another victor of the cyclical trend wheel. But Sex in the City wasn't just a place of slightly billowy, big cuffed shirts. Bartender Steve Brady was an unlikely match for the career-driven cynic in Miranda Hobbes, but he was a natural clothes horse for good old proper American workwear. There's one emerald green worker jacket, an 'Atlanta' patch to the front. He wears oversized shirts in heavy twills. Checks are essential. It all still stands up.

Elsewhere, another romantic interest of Miranda's in Dr Robert Leeds opts for one memorable look including a magnolia knitted polo with twin pleat trousers in a similar shade. Samantha's one-time boyfriend, music producer boyfriend Chivon Williams, did Burberry monotone suits before Burberry did Burberry monotone suits. A hapless, halitosis-stricken banker nicknamed 'The Turtle' is transformed by a Helmut Lang coat menswearheads would cripple an overdraft for. Elsewhere Mulholland Drive’s Justin Theroux turns up twice as two separate characters (???), the more notable being Vaughn Wysel: a veritable big baby tormented by issues of premature ejaculation, but cushioned in polo shirts, wide-leg trousers and Balenciagean coder specs.

We don't see many of these guys beyond a couple of episodes max. It makes sense: Sex and the City is a show about romance, and the course of true love is paved with countless Hinge woes. They all fail for different reasons. But, almost every man – and there are many – is uniformed in really good stuff. We get more of it with series regulars. As a character very much in the friend zone, we perhaps see more of Carrie's talent manager buddy Stanford Blatch than any other man. Each time, he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Bradshaw in outfits of pure volume, and variation. One episode: Mad Men plaid. Another: a retina-scorch yellow suit similar to the one Jim Carrey wore in The Mask. Even by the pool, Blatch pre-empts the slopingly-shouldered influencer in Hoxton Square with a teeny tiny hat, striped baby blue shirt and shades from an Anastacia album cover.

Lastly: Mr Big. Perhaps the most toxic weather vane of all the loves and loathes in Sex and the City, Bradshaw describes the high flyer as "the next Donald Trump", which means she could well be seen in Just Like That pretending to care about the child migrant crisis in a coat that proudly says otherwise. His uniform was a suit, the Nineties power broker sort, all wide shoulders and obnoxious indoor cigars and Giorgio Armani wool. During the post-Reagan, pre-crash era, Wall Street became a menswear mecca in itself, thanks, in no small part, to men like Mr Big. He's a terrible, terrible person with brilliant, brilliant overcoats.

There's reason to grow cynical at the prospect of a Sex in the City revival. No matter how groundbreaking the first time round, Parker and showrunners Darren Star and Michael Patrick King made some painful missteps in their vision of New York: a privileged white enclave in which much of the drama was built upon a bedrock of stereotype and ignorance. Though perhaps this could be an opportunity for course correction. The show's original costume designer, Patricia Field, became a household name (and industry temperature setter) by virtue of Sex and the City's landmark wardrobe. "Costume design isn’t about selling clothes, it’s about telling a story," she told online fashion and lifestyle site Man Repeller in 2018. This stuff, like New York, was a silent costar – and one above the fray of unpalatable Nineties 'humour'. Carrie's jokes are out of fashion indefinitely. But the clothes can be revered, guilt-free, by all women – and all men.

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