'And Just Like That' Fashion Review
Spoilers through episode three ahead.
Sex and the City reincarnate And Just Like That just released its third episode. Viewers were probably ready to move on from the Peloton of it all and focus on things like shoes, but then Chris Noth denied allegations of sexual assault published Thursday by the Hollywood Reporter and Peloton pulled his And Just Like That response ad. I’ll be watching that story unfold as I try to enjoy this now blessedly Chris Noth-free show.
Before that story broke, I admired how Big’s death — painful to watch for even a dead-inside cynic like me — lent Carrie such an intriguing and real character arc. I have experienced firsthand that men do drop dead from heart attacks around that age, leaving their wives to pick up the pieces and move on. And this isn’t something that just casually happens on television, a resilient middle-aged woman, doing the things you just have to do in that situation (plan the funeral, try to sleep, simply withstand a shock so great that it actually prevents you from crying). And the writers managed to find levity for us in this darkest of times, such as when Miranda delivers a eulogy and then sits down and quips, “Carrie wrote it.”
Previously on Back Row: 'Sex and the City' Reboot Clothes: Same Waist Belt, Different Era
That said, the show has failings. Here’s one apt assessment from James Poniewozik’s review in the New York Times: “There’s a bit of an Unfrozen 1990s Caveperson vibe to it all.” Such is the case with the fashion, which, much like the story, both delights and stumbles.
To understand how to judge the show and its styling in 2021, we have to understand the popularity and impact of Sex and the City around the period of its debut. So allow us to go back to that ancient time more than two years before the birth of Addison Rae, June of 1998. The premise was why are there so many great single women but not equally great and available single men? It’s not a question we think about much today because being a single cis-gender heterosexual woman in a sea of inadequate cis-gender straight men is much more normalized in the era of @Betches.
The women lived, worked, and partied in Manhattan, and found themselves in situations people in other parts of the country were unaccustomed to but were not unusual here, like when they went to parties and actual fashion models happened to just be there. The show was seen as the perfect blend of aspirational and relatable, the styling choices of the main characters making it more the former. A month after the show premiered, the New York Times ran a story about trendy women wearing children’s clothes (women: what????) and singled out Sarah Jessica Parker and her character Carrie as fashion savants:
Look carefully and all over town you'll see women in their 20's, 30's and 40's wearing boys' button-down shirts from Gap Kids under their Helmut Lang jackets, and Old Navy windbreakers from the children's department over their Daryl K low-riders.
When Sarah Jessica Parker helped choose much of the wardrobe for her character in the HBO series ''Sex and the City,'' she counted among her staples a cardigan by Baby Tse and pastel Petit Bateau tank tops. The elevator of the Conde Nast building, long known as a fashion ground zero, often holds several women in diminutive yet dapper suits from the boys' department at Brooks Brothers.
The next year, still more than a year off from Addison Rae’s birth, the Times ran another story about how SATC resonated with women in Middle America, reporting on the ground at a promotional viewing event in suburban Atlanta:
''I feel like they really are saying the things we're all thinking,'' said Alana Peters, 29, a software consultant, who wore a short black Ann Taylor dress and a look of adoration as she gazed up at the screen on which the latest episode of the show was being shown. ''And I totally relate to the way they have real fun with the clothes. I'm all about fashion, and they are saying that anything goes.''
The success of ''Sex and the City,'' now midway through its second season, has taken even some of HBO's executives by surprise. Last year, when the pilot was being edited, some at the pay channel wondered if the racy, profane, decidedly insidery look at the dating scene in New York would fly in other markets.
Patricia Field was styling the show, and making it as New York as possible:
''We had to say to the guys, 'Look, the girls in this show just aren't going to wear miniskirts with high heels,'' [Field] said. ''No one in New York dresses like that. Period. That really was a blow to a lot of people.''
Among the other items barred from the set are scrunchies, butterfly hair clips and stockings. ''No one I know wears them, even in the winter,'' said Ms. Parker, who is even working on getting the makeup team to abandon foundation.
(Parker’s deep involvement with the styling helps explain why she often seems to dress so much like her character.) The show, being a breakout comedy, was often compared to another sitcom that, by the conventional wisdom of the time that shows about Manhattan don’t have wide appeal, should have failed but also had spectacular success: Seinfeld. It seems insane now that NYC-based shows were seen as turnoffs, but that’s just one aspect of culture that Sex and the City dramatically impacted.
Fans loved the show partly because they wanted to see what the characters wore. Whether or not it was realistic, it was fabulous. The clothes didn’t always look good or make sense, but they were urgent.
How could you have slept the Sunday night the above outfit aired if you missed the episode? You didn’t, and not just because you may have been the parents whom an infant Addison Rae may have been keeping up at night.
Of course, the show went on to make a cultural artifacts of a slew of fashion items: John Galliano’s newspaper dress, the Roger belt, tutus on grown women, and most important of all, Manolo Blahniks.
But the era was different. Women and teens watched the show to enter a world they could access no other way. There was no Instagram or TikTok. If you wanted a whiff of what it was like to be a fancy-dressing, West Village-roaming, cupcake-eating writer with an excessive amount of leisure time and confusing amount of disposable income in Manhattan, SATC was it. The world was a different place in the late nineties and early aughts, and coveting upward mobility and this kind of life wasn’t really questioned because there wasn’t mass agreement that upward mobility is, in our current socioeconomic system, actually kind of a lie.
Now, thanks to the internet, we can experience any kind of world and the planet’s least woke people can access writing to help them understand things like why certain television depictions are deeply problematic. So today, there is mass agreement that both ye olde SATC was plagued by a blatant lack of diversity and that upward mobility is largely a mirage. It is into this world that a theoretically wisened Carrie and her friends must step.
And they do so with the same double-take quality their clothes had the first time around. (And Just Like That is styled by Molly Rogers, who worked for Field on SATC, and Danny Santiago.) Take Carrie’s piano recital look, including those famous blue Manolos with the embellished toe, some of the most celebrated footwear in television history — only to then become the very shoes on her feet when Big dies and therefore shoes she may never be able to wear again.
Her dramatic funeral outfit with the fascinator and tutu was perhaps too flawless for someone in such flawed circumstances, but altogether lovely on screen.
Carrie may be a grieving widow but her clothes wouldn’t suggest anything of the sort. Her hair enviably voluminous, she roams the city on endless walks because she can’t sleep, but she wears absurdly high heels the whole time, as if the blithely acknowledged, miraculously vanished pandemic had no effect on her footwear. For one of these walks in episode three, she wears chunky blue platform glitter heels with a bohemian tank dress and chambray shirt underneath, the layers awkward but somehow working in a way they just do for Carrie. (She tells Miranda the heels are her “sneakers.”) She then encounters Big’s ex Natasha, wearing an elegant and, for this show, remarkably simple professional outfit, wielding a white Bottega Veneta bag that could fit a whole case of wine.
Natasha tells her she doesn’t want the million dollars Big left for her in his will and that it can go to charity. Carrie isn’t worried about the money either, she just wants to know why Big left it to Natasha.
Charlotte is also basically, by today’s casual dressing standard, in formalwear the entire show.
She’s a mom who just casually picks up dresses for her two daughters at Oscar de la Renta and pays random daytime visits to her friends dressed like this:
Miranda is back at grad school, studying human rights law, and has a slightly more realistic wardrobe. She has decided to keep her gray pandemic hair, and doesn’t confine herself to stiff corporate suiting. She attends class in easier, more broken-in fabrics:
But her old corporate side comes out, such as when she attends Big’s funeral in a black blazer, or when the women go to see Carrie’s podcast cohost Che (played by Sara Ramirez) tape a Netflix standup special. She wears a glamorous burgundy day-to-night sort of jumpsuit, therefore standing out awkwardly in the anti-Charlotte sea of T-shirts at the after party she attends alone. She is so energized by Che’s set that she just can’t bear to sacrifice her VIP bracelet and leave with Carrie and Charlotte.
The unrealistic, dressed-up fashion would feel less caveperson-y if there were mere glimmers of realism. Another incredible HBO show Insecure, styled by Shiona Turini, does this so well. Issa, Molly, and their friends look fabulously fashionable all the time, their clothes a distinct highlight of each episode, but we also see protagonist Issa do things like wear full loungewear at home by herself and return clothes to stores after she’s worn them with the tags.
On And Just Like That, those moments are missing, which makes sense given these women shop for their kids at Oscar de la Renta, give up corporate law salaries to pay tuition to go back to school for the social good, and don’t care if a million bucks ends up in one of their bank accounts or a charity’s. And therein lies the problem with the show coming back, as I previously wrote, in this imaginary land where athliesure doesn’t seem to exist. How do viewers square that coiffed Upper East Side fairytale land with Miranda profoundly altering her life in the post-Trump How to Be an Antiracist era?
The show, especially its fashion, was always an escape, and that’s something viewers need now more than ever. But, as with Carrie’s widow storyline, viewers seek more comfort through the show mirroring life’s daily struggles in 2021 than they ever did in the years preceding Addison Rae’s existence. Instead, we have a show that was willing to kill Mr. Big, but still has Carrie traipsing around the city in the kinds of shoes that many of us have tucked away in the back of our closets, because we’re unsure if we’ll ever wear them again. Viewers are of course here for Carrie’s shoe closet, but she could still have that while experimenting more with something like Alo Yoga and perhaps even — yes — actual sneakers.
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I worked retail when SATC aired. Monday the phones would ring and women would come in, looking for whatever Carrie wore the night before. GIANT FLOWER PINS, sure, why not? Fendi baguette bag or knockoff? Of course. I still can't look at a scrunchie without wincing. A girlfriend bought the Gucci fanny pack Carrie had, and I was glad to see it reappear last night, and texted it to my friend. I just don't know if this version of the show can provide the trend sparking that the first version did, both in fashion and in conversation. Of course I will watch and discuss, but it no longer holds a certain place.