It all started with a bottle of sav blanc and a Sex and the City box set. My best friend Peta and I were holed up on a midweek binge of the beloved TV rom-com, revelling in the fun and fearless fashion and marvelling at the script’s timeless relatability. But a few episodes in, somewhere between the tinkly opening credits and Samantha’s first sex-capade, I had a revelation that nearly toppled my wine: we were 32, the same age as Carrie when the series debuted. “How did we get here?” I wondered, recalculating my age in disbelief. “Wait a minute,” Peta gasped. “You are Carrie!”
The girl had a point: I’m a single woman in the city (albeit Sydney, not New York), I write by day, drink cocktails by night and have a shoe collection to rival, erm, Carrie Bradshaw. The character was a poster girl for our generation and this month marks 20 years since she sashayed onto our screens in a puff of tulle. Sex and the City was revolutionary in its portrayal of sex and dating from a female perspective, charting the lives, loves and friendships of four single women in the Big Apple – not to mention its show-stopping wardrobe.
Did I ever expect I’d grow up to become Carrie Bradshaw? Not really. But of all my teen TV idols (neurotic Ally McBeal, neurotic Felicity), Carrie certainly wasn’t a bad one to turn into. Yet here’s the thing: on a standard Wednesday night you wouldn’t and Carrie parked on the couch watching nostalgic reruns over a takeaway poke bowl. She’d be out seizing the joys of singledom at some hot restaurant opening. She wouldn’t be scrolling through Instagram, yearning for somebody else’s white- picket-fenced life. Which is how, a few episodes (and a few wines) later, I wound up here: sitting on the floor engulfed in a frothy white tutu, casting away my mobile and vowing to be more like Carrie. For one week, I would dress like her, date like her and embrace all of life’s possibility with gusto – and see if Carrie’s way still holds up today.
The next morning, I wake to my piercing alarm but slam it off and roll over; Carrie wouldn’t skimp on shut-eye for a boot camp before sunrise. I emerge an hour later, wandering to my wardrobe to get into character. But first, I set some ground rules: while I aim to emulate Ms Bradshaw’s lifestyle, I’ll draw the line at some of her less savoury habits – smoking like a Frenchman and self-obsessing like a Kardashian.
She lived in a pre-Zuckerberg world, so I’ll have to cut back on-screen time and swap texts for calls and dating apps for, well, good old-fashioned dating. I look around my apartment, not unlike Carrie’s Upper East Side bachelorette pad, but spot a stack of fashion magazines accumulating by the front door for recycling. I shove them in the oven – cooking will not be on the week’s agenda. A men’s white shirt and vintage Hermès belt later and I’m ready to go.
In a case of fortuitous timing, I’m flying to Melbourne for a fashion party. I totter into the airport lounge in my six-inch Aquazzuras, making an effort to lock eyes with one particularly dapper businessman; Carrie, after all, met lovers on park benches, in psychologists’ offices, at furniture stores ... But while I’m living like it’s 1998, my fellow travellers are all so engrossed in their phones they don’t even stir as I breeze past.
I meet my friend Nik, a fashion publicist, at the hotel in Melbourne and do a quick costume change. Given it’s a twilight garden party and Carrie had a major penchant for theme-dressing, I make like a forest nymph in a gold-flecked slip and hair jewels. I think I spot some of the scrawny style set looking me up and down as we arrive, but it feels good to be unashamedly bold.
I tell Nik about my challenge and she attempts to wing woman me – until we realise that our target is batting for the other team. That’s fashion for you. I dismiss my looming deadline (because Carrie would never let work get in the way of a good time) and guzzle espresso martinis. We later land ourselves dancing to the Spice Girls in a gay bar before winding up in a dingy downtown McDonald’s. “I’ll have a cheeseburger, large fries and a cosmopolitan,” I chortle to the gawky teenage waiter. Not surprisingly, my classic Carrie quote falls on deaf ears.
The dreaded morning after. I’m shuffling o the plane in obnoxiously oversized sunglasses (desperate times call for desperate measures) when a suitcase comes flying from the overhead locker and nearly knocks me out. I turn to glare at its owner, then do a double-take. The culprit is Alexander Skarsgard’s better-looking twin. “Sorry,” he says with a crooked smile. He has husky-blue eyes. Disconcerting, but undeniably sexy. I’m about to meekly shrug it off when I remember my curly-haired heroine. “Well, look,” I reply with a side of sass, pushing back my glasses. “I’m anticipating some serious whiplash and I may have to initiate a lawsuit. Here’s my phone number.” I grab a business card from my purse. “You’ll need that for your attorney.”
My stunt works a treat. Two nights later, following a couple of texts (him) and a call (me), The Skarsgard and I are having drinks in a slick city bar. It turns out he’s a high- flying German banker (not Swedish like his doppelganger). There’s definitely chemistry, though he has some alarmingly conservative world views and his humour is, to put it politely, lacking. But after a couple of bottles of Penfolds Shiraz (the 1998 vintage, no joke) he’s suggesting we go back to his. In the name of journalism – and those eyes – I say yes.
One thing leads to another and before long we’re in the throes of passion in his plush Bondi penthouse. Well, not quite. The sex is decent, if a little mechanical, but even with The Skarsgard’s ripped torso pressed against mine – about as physically close as you can get to another human – he seems distant. His 6’3” frame belies what’s going on downstairs – not that that in itself is a problem, but the whole thing is far from mind-blowing. It’s as if he’s working to a German schedule, finishing right on time in 7.3 minutes.
As I lie there post-coitus he leaves the room, returning minutes later in striped flannel pyjamas. And socks. I’m miffed ... is it a German thing? Sensing my confusion, he slides into bed next to me and delivers the clanger: “Just so you know, I don’t like to cuddle after sex.” (Now read that again and imagine the Terminator saying it; Arnie had more expression.)
I don’t know what brings on my response - perhaps it’s my rising inner Carrie, or maybe it’s the recent uprising of women around the world - but I grab my things, awkwardly wriggling back into my black sheath while trying to maintain an air of nonchalance. “Yeah, well, I don’t like small penises,” I deadpan, flicking my tousled waves and hotfooting it out the door.
I go home feeling empowered; I’m so sick of everything always being about what the man likes, what the man wants – often it’s so ingrained, we don’t even stop and question it. But there’s something else at play. The early seasons of Sex and the City centred on the idea of women having sex like men – without emotion. Did my reaction just now prove I’m incapable? Regardless, the concept seems a little dated. In 2018, women no longer simply want to be the same as men. We’re tirelessly fighting for equality, but that doesn’t make the male state some superior prototype we should be striving for.
"He said what?!” Peta whoops, nearly sputtering out her haloumi fritters. We’re brunching with girlfriends in Watsons Bay, me in my full-skirted Erdem, them in their active wear. The rest of our gang seems less fazed by my tale, recounting their own dating dramas: one’s boyfriend keeps angling for a threesome when he’s drunk; another’s been ghosted, so she did a social media deep- dive. Turns out the guy has a wife and baby.
I wonder how complicated Carrie’s life would have been if she'd been able to keep digital tabs on Mr Big. Then again, a quick Insta-dig on The Skarsgard may have unearthed important clues about his aversion to spooning. But, I resolve, there’s something refreshing about getting to know a man without preconceived ideas – no bad profile pics or poor grammar to discount someone before anything has even begun.
We continue to chatter about orgasms and ovaries, our conversations eerily similar to those of Carrie and co, until talk turns to the Oval Office. Carrie once proudly proclaimed she’d never voted, and in the series’ first-ever episode Big was described as “the next Donald Trump, except he’s younger and much better looking”. A compliment. But despite the altered political landscape, some things are universal: girlfriends are the best.
I decide to spend the rest of the day on a date with my city; for those playing at home, Carrie went steady with New York in season five. I jump on a ferry with the wind in my hair, gazing out at the impossibly blue harbour, before strolling up to the art gallery for a culture hit. And then, somewhere in the distance, I see my hallowed turf: Dior.
If shopping was Carrie’s cardio I’d better get moving. I browse through the sumptuous city boutiques; it’s like Net-a-Porter IRL. And there, lit up like a beacon amongst the frills and frippery, is the world’s most fabulous shoe: a strappy Sophia Webster sandal topped with glittering flowers. “What would Carrie do?” I wonder, knowing it’s not even a question.
By the end of the weekend, I’m exhausted. The late nights, groggy mornings and haphazard diet of negronis and Chinese takeaway are catching up with me. And it looks like my accountant will be, too. While I’m far from opposed to a sartorial splurge, mine are usually executed with laser-like precision and a neat Excel spreadsheet. I take a peek at my shiny new stilettos, the $1552 price tag snickering back at me. Sigh. I’ll have to return them.
But I keep calm and Carrie on. Over the next four days I go on a record three dates: there’s Jack, a 25-year-old who’s cute and funny until I tell him I won’t be going home with him; there’s Matteo the Italian, who, in an insult to his provenance, has the charisma of a teaspoon; and there’s Gavin, a surfie- slash-stockbroker. There’s no reason we shouldn’t work, but there’s just no spark – or, in Carrie’s words, “zsa zsa zhou”. As she pondered, “Some people are settling down, some people are settling and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”
Sometimes I wonder if I should cast aside the great expectations and lock down a plus- one. Anything to numb the spells of loneliness, dissolve deep-seated fears and board the modern-day Noah’s Ark. But then I look to Carrie, who never gave up hope; who always believed in love. And I do love. I love my friends, and I have a pretty healthy rapport with yours truly, too. “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself,” Ms Bradshaw once mused. “And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”
I pledge to keep a little bit of Carrie with me wherever I go. Parts of her lifestyle may be dated and unrealistic, but her overall ethos is kind of like her wardrobe: ageless. If she slips in her Manolos, she picks herself up, laughs it off and struts with extra swagger. Hope always triumphs over heartache; a sense of humour over humiliation. Life’s too short to be encumbered by rules, regrets and boring footwear.
And that means? I’m keeping the shoes.