The writers of Man Repeller have written about Sex and the City enough times to recognize that its cultural relevancy isn’t fading anytime soon, which is why it’s no surprise that new tributes to the show keep emerging. Dan Clay’s Instagram account is one such homage, featuring recreations of Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic outfits on his appropriately named drag persona, Carrie Dragshaw. Not only does Dan’s Instagram capture the much-beloved style and spirit of SATC, but it also weaves it into the unique climate of 2017, offering levity and reaffirming what made the show so groundbreaking in the first place: its emphasis on being your full self, without apology. Below, his story.
I was a little bit late to the Sex and the City party. When it was first on the air, I was still in the closet, and was trying to behave in a way that didn’t completely give myself away. I was in college at the time, and really into The Sopranos (a prerequisite for straight dudes in fraternities, ha). I had an HBO subscription because of that show, and a bunch of girls would come over every week to watch SATC. I pretended to hate it. I would be like, “Yo, you girls have to leave. It’s time for us to do whatever it is straight dudes do.”
I came out a year after college, and as time went on, it was really meaningful to allow myself to openly love SATC, because it used to be too “girly” for me. Loving, watching and enjoying SATC became a mini act of self-expression. It’s helped me learn to embrace all sides of my personality — the feminine as much as the masculine.
All the relationship stuff in each episode, the dynamics between the women and the men they date, the complications Samantha goes through — trying to be sexually liberated but also professionally respected — are still so current. Sure, we don’t have to hail cabs anymore, and the entire plot of Carrie’s 35th birthday episode where she gets stood up by everyone would never happen in 2017, because she would just get a text message. Anachronisms aside, it’s such a testament to the show that it was able to anchor itself in timeless truths about relationships, friendships and gender dynamics — truths that are still relevant more than a decade later.
And you give the show a break for certain things. You recognize that it was a different time. Like, when Carrie dated the bisexual guy — if that plot line happened today, it would have to be a lot more nuanced. Society has gained a broader understanding of sexuality and different lifestyle choices since SATC first aired, which is lovely. Even back then, sometimes Carrie was pretty close-minded, and her friends would call her out for it. There’s one episode in season 2 when Samantha says to her, “For a sex columnist, you have a limited view of sexuality.” Every brunch scene is like an episode of Crossfire. They’re having conversations and debating topics that are still being debated today.
I’ve always connected to Carrie Bradshaw’s character on so many different levels. We have a bunch of superficial things in common, like spending way too much money on shoes and over-analyzing relationships. My drag character, Carrie Dragshaw, unfolded in stages. It started as a run-of-the-mill Halloween costume. I recreated Carrie’s iconic outfit from the show’s opening sequence — the tutu and leotard. I posted a photo on my personal Instagram before going out that night, but I didn’t have a bag that matched my tutu, so I left my phone at home. I was just out having fun on Halloween. I came home and my phone had exploded. It was crazy! I don’t know how Instagram decides what it’s going to scoop up into its algorithm, but a fan page had re-posted it, and that’s how Sarah Jessica Parker saw it and commented.
All of this was happening right around the presidential election, which didn’t go the way so many of us expected. To me, it felt like an opportunity to put a little love out there, and also, selfishly, to give myself a bit of an escape. I don’t know, it was a time when there was a lot of anxiety, and people were concerned America was taking a step backward in terms of expression and acceptance. I thought to myself, you know what, if the world is really headed in this direction, I’m just going to charge as far forward as I can, and even challenge my own insecurities around masculinity and being fully myself.
In the back of my head, I thought people would stop caring at some point. I wasn’t too worried about it. I have a very traditional, corporate day job (laughs). I went to business school at Wharton, and I’m a strategy and innovation consultant. Basically I help big companies find new businesses or new experiences. My job is pretty creative, but it’s not creative work with a capital “C” like attempting to be a drag queen!
My Instagram account kept growing in followers, though, and I started to get more and more enamored with writing the captions and having fun with it. I think the tipping point was when I recreated one of Carrie’s most absurd outfits — when she was in the Hamptons wearing a cowboy hat and a sarong and basically nothing else. That was when the comments on the post were just as much about the caption as they were about the photo. It was like Carrie Dragshaw’s character was emerging, and she was becoming more than just a little Halloween costume thing. Then the Instagram account Every Outfit on SATC posted my recreation of Carrie’s outfit when she’s waiting outside the Plaza during Big’s engagement party, and that’s when people began to reach out wanting to interview me.
I keep a list of outfits I want to do. I have to take into consideration that Carrie Bradshaw and Carrie Dragshaw have very different body types. A lot of Carrie’s classic, simple silhouettes are wearable for a guy. I’m not great at makeup, but I’m getting better. A lot of the time a very kind girlfriend, or very aware guy friend, will help me do my makeup.
After taking the outfit photo, I’ll get in my Carrie Zone. I’ve studied how she talks and writes. The writers of the show made her monologues so participatory. You know? She asks so many questions, which makes the audience lean in. She never gives advice or preaches, she always couches it in a “maybe.” “Maybe our friends are like, our soul mates?” It compels the audience to engage with her monologue. I try to have that tone and encourage people to participate in the caption.
When I first started taking these photos I would get pretty anxious, because it’s a big deal to be a man out in the world dressed as a woman. But people have been so sweet. There was this one interaction I’ll never forget. I was wearing a recreation of Carrie’s newspaper dress, and was taking a photo by a wall. A woman passed by and said hi, and I said hi. She came back 10 minutes later and was like, “I just wanted to apologize. I was walking with my kids before, and you said hi in such a sweet and loving way, and I feel like I didn’t speak kindly enough to you, so I wanted to come back and say that you’re beautiful, and I love what you’re doing, now more than ever.” This was right after the election. I think she just wanted to thank me for being a man on the street in a dress!
To be honest, that’s the only type of energy I’ve received from people. The comments on my Instagram account blow me away. It feels like every time I post it’s like my birthday or something. I get so many messages where people are like, “you keep doing you, you live your best life!” So many lovely comments and direct messages about people’s lives and why they connected to a caption. I’m not changing the world (laughs), but I often get messages from gay boys who tell me how they were finally able to express themselves. Honestly, I’ve only ever had to delete one comment from my page. Just one.
My overarching mantra is, do not take yourself too seriously. There have been times when I’ve had opinions about events in the world and I’m like, oh, I have a platform that reaches a lot of people, but I’ve decided that the only thing I want this account to put out there is love. And I’ve been delighted that love is the only thing coming back at me in return. I’m obsessed with being a part of this miniscule corner of the internet, where even in these intense times, this corner is all love. And it happened so randomly and serendipitously.
When I started Carrie Dragshaw, I wanted to make sure it felt like a respectful homage and not some sort of silly takedown of SATC, because it’s not that at all. SATC is such an important show that helped so many people express themselves, and that’s what I hope Carrie Dragshaw does, in a tiny way. It’s very important to me to maintain the purity of it — to maintain what it’s about, which is just me having fun and putting a message of love out there, connecting with people on a very small scale and making them smile. If that’s all it ends up being, it would already be way more than I ever expected.
Photos by Edith Young.