Dan Clay never planned to be a viral sensation, but when he squeezed himself into a pink tutu and pulled on a $24.99 “fashionista” blonde wig last Halloween, something incredible happened. His Instagram went nuts - and Carrie Dragshaw was born.
One year later and Dan’s self-confessed “silly photoshoot” on the sidewalks of West Village has now amassed 58,800 followers - including Sarah Jessica Parker herself - who can’t get enough of his finely-tuned Sex & the City recreations and tongue-in-cheek “I couldn’t help but wonder” captions. In the words of SJP, Carrie Dragshaw is “a triumph.” Just don’t ask him how he got here. “I’m an accidental drag queen,” Dan jokes from his home in New York - a block away from the fictional Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone apartment on the Upper East Side.
How does someone become an accidental drag queen?
Well, it was a Halloween costume. Just before I was going out to a party a friend came over and we just did a silly photoshoot throughout the West Village. I posted it online and it just went viral – a bunch of Sex & the City blogs reposted it, Sarah Jessica Parker ended up seeing it and after that I posted a few more trying to mimic her classic narration style. I kept on getting a ton of positive energy back and Sarah Jessica Parker kept seeing it and saying super nice things. It really flipped my switch to see her comments.
Have you always been a Sex & the City fan?
When it was on the air I was living in a fraternity house [he laughs] so it wasn’t exactly a prime SATC viewing time for me! When I moved to New York I really immersed myself in it. Literally from the first episode I was completely obsessed. I just love how they start with these really simple archetypes, almost stereotypes – the career woman, the prude – but they become so much more than what their stereotype would lead you to believe.
She [Carrie] obviously has a certain way of talking that is a little ridiculous at times, and an affinity for puns that I don’t really possess, but there is something relatable about the way she analyses relationships and thinks through things.
And yet there are certain SATC episodes that are less relatable – and arguably haven’t dated well. Season 3’s ‘Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl’ is a prime example. The whole episode hinges on Carrie’s bisexual boyfriend – and her inability to deal with it. In one coffee shop exchange Miranda even says: “It’s not hot. It’s greedy. He’s double-dipping.” I mean, you just couldn’t get away with a line like that now, could you?
And you shouldn’t. I’m so glad that the world has evolved in such a way that at least it makes it unacceptable to publically express those things. They were surprisingly closed-minded about anything outside the normal, hetero relationships; the gay characters were certainly not as nuanced as some of the other relationships; and they all hailed cabs! There are a lot of outdated things about the show but I think the fundamental core of the pursuit of love, and the friendships that they had – that’s still relatable. So, I give them a little pass. They were definitely not “woke” as we would say now.
Your attention-to-detail when it comes to Carrie’s wardrobe is faultless. Why do you think we’re still so obsessed with her outfits 19 years after SATC first hit our screens?
It’s just really, really good. Patricia Field [the show’s costume designer] is just amazing. But also, this was a woman who was wearing what she wanted to wear. The risk-taking elements – that cowboy hat, leopard print thing that she was wearing in the Hamptons? [He chuckles] If you actually saw someone wearing that you’d just be like, what? Where are you going? But, I think people really latched onto that.
Is there a particular Carrie outfit that you know you could never pull off?
My ultimate outfit of the entire show – and whenever I do it, it has to be perfect because I love it so much – is in the last episode in Paris when Petrovsky [Carrie’s on-screen boyfriend, played by the ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov] stands her up and she’s in that dress [in the season 6 finale Carrie wore a Versace ballgown that was quickly crowned “the dress of a thousand layers.] I mean, it’s just so beautiful.
Carrie Bradshaw wore a lot of expensive labels on the show. How do you recreate them on a shoestring?
I’m a weird ad for Amazon. In the beginning I thought it would be really good to bop around vintage shops but it’s just so hard to find what I’m looking for. It’s really nice being in New York because there are so many fabric and trimming stores. The joy for me is looking at a picture of an outfit and going: that’s impossible. I mean, I can’t sew. I have so much respect for drag queens who actually have their act together. Most of my stuff is glued and it only looks good from one angle.
You recently said: “Being yourself does not apply to Instagram.” In a world where everybody seems to be projecting a better version of themselves on social media, does it feel liberating to be somebody else completely?
It does actually. There’s something liberating about not having to document my own life. I don’t have the day-to-day pressure of social media anymore. And even though I’m visibly more tucked away, I’ve never felt more myself in terms of expressing myself in writing. The Carrie writing style gives me this liberation to be able to say something in a way that I would never do if it wasn’t for this character.
Your Instagram really took off during the Presidential election last year. At the time you called it “a bit of an escape.” How important do you feel it is to assert your individuality in Trump’s America right now?
At the time you were hearing so much about how the world was only going to be okay for the people who fit a very specific, outdated perception of what is normal. For me, it was an apolitical way to say: absolutely not. It was definitely a personal escape. My main reaction to the unexpected political shift was: I’m just going to put out so much love into this world.
Carrie Dragshaw is giving out all this love, but does she always get it back? Social media can be a toxic place. Have you had to deal with any trolls – or has everyone been positive?
It was a little bit of an experiment. If my rule is only love, is this even possible online? I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop - I mean, I am a man in women’s clothes - but it’s been all love. I’ve deleted maybe one or two comments, but the amount of positivity that gets sent back? I’m still in awe. Every time I post it feels like my birthday.