When it first aired on HBO back in 1998, Sex and the City was a revolutionary show given its content (a whole lot of sex), the way said content was explored (openly, without the use of any beeping) and whom it was explored by (four thirty-something, mostly single women). Like all things revolutionary, it contended with a whole lot of criticism throughout its six year run.
Arguments ranged from oppositions to the supposed glorification of sex, the women’s too-carnal lifestyle and an on-the-surface, skin-deep exploration of fashion. Re-watching all 94 episodes after experiencing the Black Lives Matter movement and cancel culture brings these sorts of issues to light once more, especially given the fact that showrunners have just announced an upcoming reboot of the series, over 15 years after the original run wrapped up. And yet, one of the core aspects of the series seems to resonate more than ever when visualized through the prism of a 2020 defined by sadness, anxiety, panic and an almost complete disregard for our mental health. Although Sex and the City’s devotion to fashion was made fun of while on air—real New Yorkers don’t wear heels to lunch! No writer has enough money to pay for endless pairs of Jimmy Choos! These women don’t even look good!—the show’s disposition and overall attitude towards style is what mostly stands out upon re-watching it years later. Specifically, the characters’ love for fashion is exactly what we have been missing throughout the pandemic and what we now realize we haven’t given enough value to in pre-COVID-19 times.
Put aside your opinions about Carrie’s, Charlotte’s, Samantha’s and Miranda’s style. Instead, focus on the fact that whatever it is that they wore wasn’t haphazardly thrown together but actually thought-out, which is more than we can say about ourselves during a year spent at home virtually alone in our pajamas. In fact, it is an almost universal truth that humans have started completely disregarding the way they look during lockdown because, well, nobody else is looking. Watching Sex and the City in 2021 makes one thing apparent: caring about fashion is a way to care for ourselves.
The idea that our style choices are reflections of who we are, a concept that the fashion industry has banked on for decades now, might be true, but the idea should really run deeper than that. Fashion isn’t solely about selecting clothes that match our personality, but about telling the world that we actually care about the way we look because, well, it makes us feel better to take time to drape our bodies in clothing. It’s not just about the message that specific outfits send out but about what putting time into finding an outfit actually means. We invest in the ideal furniture to decorate our homes, the right foods to store in our fridges… what makes our closets any different?
In its truest form, Sex and the City’s perspective on style makes us realize that we care about the way we look because caring makes us feel better—and a pandemic-fueled year is the proof of that. Just watching the characters talk about fashion feels like a breath of fresh air, in a sense. How often during lockdown have you tried to change your mood by putting on “real clothes” and some makeup? There is clearly something to be said about the way we present ourselves—even as a mere reflection in a mirror.
In the first Sex and the City movie, Carrie and Charlotte go shopping for a new desk as part of the former’s apartment redecoration efforts. “It’s all about the desk,” the character says while browsing. “If I find the desk, the writing will come.”
The idea that a single object—whether a desk, a dress, a bag or shoes—might not bring happiness in and of itself but could become a conduit to a state of being that brings us joy turns out to be the kind of thought process that we were advised to embark on at the start of the pandemic. “Put on something nice and feel good about yourself,” online therapy classes would urge us. The clothes themselves might not bring you happiness, but they will help your overall state of being.
The point of Sex and the City, at least when it comes to fashion, is that the way we dress and, by extension, the accessories we don, can and should affect our moods. And how true to reality does that sound when looked at post-2020? A mere glimpse at the way the fashion industry has dealt with the pandemic makes that obvious. Companies are creating loungewear pieces that people feel comfortable in without feeling (pardon my French) gross in. Although the essence of loungewear has always been comfort, it has now garnered a second scope that encompasses mood-lifting. Sure, we don’t need to wear jeans or a tie while working from home… but who says we can’t look good while being comfortable? Clothing companies have clearly noticed: According to Business Wire, the “sleepwear and loungewear market is poised to grow by $19.5 billion during 2020-2024.” In case you were wondering, that’s a pretty big leap.
Is it wrong to place that much importance on an object? Perhaps. But if there is anything that the pandemic has taught us it’s that we should suck happiness out every single corner of our existences that we could clench our teeth into, because life is too short. If dressing up allows us to go out with a smile—and watching a single episode of Sex and the City will remind you of what that feels like—then more power to dressing up.
Interestingly enough, the news about a reboot came smack-dab in the middle of global lockdown orders. Although the excitement prompted by the announcement clearly has much to do with the millions of fans that the show, considered a pillar of television history for better or worse, has amassed throughout the years, I can’t help but wonder (did you see what I did there?) if part of the joy is about viewers remembering that there was a time in which even wearing sweats was something we put some thought into. That fashion, the way we dress and the clothes and accessories we choose to buy and arrange all over our bodies, are ways to express ourselves to the world but, most importantly, a way to tell ourselves that we matter.
After all, in 2020, we forgot to care about the way we look and, most of the time, caring is the first step towards a betterment of the self. Perhaps, we should consider a Sex and the City marathon to restore faith in ourselves.