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Sex & the City at 47

20 years later, 8 surprising looks have my heart.

Yes, I watched virtually the entire Sex & Marathon on E. The perfect antidote to a mild weekend pollen headache. And while I’ve pretty much memorized most of the episodes, I’d never seen them all back to back. To back. What would that feel like from the vantage point of someone my age, divorced + remarried. With a teenager downstairs and her cosmo-swilling days behind her? I couldn’t help but wonder: Would the show that saw me through so much of my achy, breaky years be relevant? It’s two decades later, and we’ve grown older. But have we grown up?

Putting on pause the things that have gotten plenty of play already — Carrie’s unrealistic income/shoe/apartment ratio, the whiteness of the cast, the unwoke attitude toward sexual identity — when it comes to fashion, the show is still way ahead of real life. I noticed a few emergent themes:

The aha fashion moments for me then are not my aha fashion moments now.
The decades-old fashion from this show is still resonant and even groundbreaking today.
There is a lack of places to delight in new ideas in fashion since this show went off the air.

What follows is my rundown of the most salient fashion moments from the perspective of a midlife, still trying, working woman.

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1. The unbuttoned button-up. Carrie navigating her city with confidence in a pretty floral shirt, killer utility-ish pants and her registered-for (YES!) rhinestone Manolos. This would be just as chic on the street today as decades ago. In fact 20-somethings are talking about experimenting with buttons unbuttoned differently today. And for me that’s the story, even though the dress shoe/utility pants was an idea in and of itself. As a 40-something, I’d button another button, but I like the way this feels free and pretty without trying too hard.

2. The nightie by day. This looks gives me instant nostalgia — I go back to days at my all girls’ high school where, running late, we’d tuck a Lanz nightgown into a pair of sweats, maybe add a hoodie, and voila! This is the look Carrie deems not her perfect outfit for her first date with Berger, but she bravely forges ahead anyway. It resonates as a way of telling yourself — it’s now about being my comfortable, chic me. I don’t have to try and be sexy. As Cher said in Clueless “All my party clothes are so — binding!” That’s an idea that really resonates with me now, how fun it is to play with clothes, free of whatever need I once felt to try and cater to the opposite sex versus pleasing myself. And also, that there’s something visually conceptual about this look, whether or not you like it, playing with unexpected textures and proportions. It’s not boring denim and sweater stuff. Too much is.

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3. The mix master: This felt so freaking out there when it aired. And you know what, outside of a magazine, it still feels fresh, but doable (sans exposed belly). It inspired me to buy a light postcard-print coat (vintage Prada, from Castanet)and pair it with a floral midi. And now it’s a trick that I use whenever I want to feel a little “fashion-y.” When you wear a print skirt and pull a color from the print to pick a top and shoes that go with it, it can be pretty but there’s no idea there. It’s just clothes. Mixing prints but keeping the shapes classic is an ageless way to inject something a little … more. I look at this image and see something I can do tomorrow and get a lift.

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4. Hat trick. This is so good I kinda gasp every time I see it. Another look that completely holds up. The hat, the crossbody, but for me, it’s the denim. Straight leg, one cuff denim. Stiff, no holes. This is jean holy grail. Remember when Carrie ends her Big affair and says — “we’re so over we need a new word for over?” Me too, for skinny jeans. I am so over the sausage calf look. Everything about this is so easy, effortless, cool, pulled together. Even those loose wisps of hair. Her hands are free, and she seems free. Goals.

5. Sexy preg chic. SJP was pregnant while filming this episode, and I love how sexy but not at all obvious she looks. She’s wearing jean shorts that go TO THE KNEE! And this totally loose peasant top you could eat like 20 sandwiches in. I will never get away with a headscarf or leave the house in this amount of exposed bra, but I could and would like to try something like this. This look was revolutionary in showing that sex appeal didn’t have to mean putting it all out there, didn’t have to mean tight, or short. It could be subtler than that. It still feels interesting and relevant today, and I still like this message.

6. The Greatest of Ease: Carrie’s going to take trapeze lessons for a story, and she still layers this tank over her athletic wear. Another example of Patricia Field being ahead of the game on a trend (athleisure). But more than that for me the message is that you can imbue every moment with a little shot of something. I have trouble making my workput outfits style-y, but I feel invincible when I do. See also below, re. nighties. I do sometimes put a vintage fur vest over my PJs. And play with all kinds of layers. Haven’t tried pearls. Yet.

7. Let’s dance. This is what Carrie wears to say goodbye to Big when he leaves NY, and she then takes the sweater off and they dance to Moon River. It’s so simple, even more so when she takes the sweater off, another look that’s still perfectly understatedly chic today. This is just pretty, effortless, ageless. Every piece fits to a tee. It’s a look I never even noticed then, but covet now. The perfect thing to wear on the kind of date I now prefer — dinner someplace fairly low key, even dive-y, possibly in another city, maybe a dance in the kitchen to follow.

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8. Cocoon of realness. And, finally … The non-finale finale. Sure, everyone loves those Paris looks. The big ball skirts. The hats. They’re fashion with a capital F. But I kind of can’t stand them this time around. Those are posing looks. Carrie dressed for an imagined life, while the things she loved, like her good old nameplate necklace, fell away. After all the prancing about in Paris cold, alone, pretending to be happy until she couldn’t, what a relief it is for her to come home. To come home to New York, yes. To Big, of course. But more than that, to come home to her friends. And to herself. And I love what she wears for this homecoming. On the way to Paris, she’s so interested in looking perfect and rested and chic upon arrival. But coming home, she just looks perfectly cozy, like we’ve never seen her, and as all-American as can be, in a pink hoodie and denim, her name plate necklace, and, to make it fashion, the most amazing coat. I love the idea of throwing a major coat over cozy casual pieces like these, and I love the idea of clothes to feel at home and yourself in.

After two decades, I miss the banter and the truths of this show. I miss the friendships (and to this day, I long for three great friends who all know and love one another and live in the same city). But what I miss most are these ideas in fashion. Today blogs, with the exception of Man Repeller all look so similar. Matching, formulaic, pretty. More than a feast for the eyes, the ideas Patricia Fields and these powerful actors put forth in Sex & The City were provocative, they made you think, they were art, they made you want to experiment, and they made you feel hopeful. They still do.

Rachel Solomon