Hop on the rug with us - and get to know how drag queen and business consultant Dan Clay lives life well.
For years, Dan Clay couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to dress up as Carrie Bradshaw for Halloween. But, as a closeted man trying to make it in the Big Apple, he never really allowed himself to think about it further than his dreams.
Until one Halloween in 2016, when he just decided to go for it.
Replicating the iconic white tulle and pink leotard worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Clay posted the pic of himself on Instagram, racking up thousands of likes and garnering many more new fans. It ended up launching a side career for the business consultant who’d studied philosophy, as a drag artist named Carrie Dragshaw – paying homage to one of this generation’s most defining TV characters.
“When I went viral on Halloween, I was thinking, ‘Do I keep doing this?’” says Clay. “I'm just not the type of person who has ever sought out or even thought about internet fame.” At the time, Donald Trump had been newly-elected as president, and Clay, who’d moved to New York from Michigan, by way of DC, a few years earlier, saw an opportunity to build on the fluke fame he’d stumbled upon.
“I made this rule for myself: There was no drag without writing,” he says. “That was to make sure that it still had something to say, and was doing something more than just snatched recreation – which, like, a million other people are far better at drag than me and could do a fiercer Carrie. It was right after the presidential election when I decided to keep doing it. I was like, do this if you feel like you have something to say and can get to people. Like, maybe I can trick people into reading long emotionally-wrought captions by having cute dresses.” His aim? To “create a little corner of the internet that’s only positivity and love.”
It worked. Clay, who hadn’t seen an episode until he moved to the West Village – the same street in fact where Parker’s fictional Carrie lived and the exterior of her home was filmed – began making his way through the series, jotting down notes as he went.
When he was in college, girl friends would come over to watch the show but he would pretend he hated it. Having moved to New York, and at the behest of a friend, he finally gave the show a go. And from the start he was hooked. “From the first minute, I thought, ‘Is this a documentary of our lives?’ I mean, obviously, it's the flashy side of New York and all of that, and financially a bit grandiose, but it was so on point with dates that I've been on, and thoughts that I’d had. So it was love at second or third sight!”
Come for the outfits, stay for the insights
As Clay continued to make his way through the seasons, he found himself exploring themes brought up by the show, and creating posts that fans were able to engage with, beyond the replicated designer threads. “There are elements of Carrie where she's the fiercely independent, I-don't-define-my-self-worth-based-on-the-ebbs-and-flows-of-a-man's-attention Carrie that I really, really love. And so I thought, ‘Whoa, maybe I could revisit some of my dating strife with that mindset?’ A lot of the earlier stuff was almost like public therapy for me, just working through my thoughts on wearing a dress online, and letting the more weird side of yourself shine through, or coming to grips with being ghosted.” A lot of it was autobiographical, written in the same style Carrie would speak her thoughts out loud in voice-over. “I was really processing, for example, this guy that I really liked who just ghosted me. Instead of just being miserable about that – I'm not the only person in the world to get ghosted – why don't I turn this into a caption and process it all by writing about it?”
With the spinoff series, And Just Like That, Clay has even more material to play with and stretch his own writing capabilities. “Now that we have a whole new show, it's become much more of a little writing project for me because Carrie’s going through things now that I haven't been through, and I have really no context for.” So Clay turns to books and the experiences of those who have dealt with things like spousal loss or re-entering the dating world after death.
Sometimes the words are the easy part; putting together some of the iconic ensembles Carrie is known for wearing can be more of a challenge. “Made even more challenging by my refusal to develop any sartorial skills!” adds Clay. He’s admittedly not very handy with a sewing machine, and has taken to duct-taping clothes together to make them work, but somehow, he finds a way.
“There's so much where I’m thinking, I'm never gonna be able to do that, this is impossible. Even the most recent look, there was a big tulle skirt and flowers coming out of it, and, like, I'm never going to be able to recreate that,” says Clay. “But you just take it bit by bit.” He’s deeply committed to getting the details right, mostly so that his intention to pay loving tribute to Carrie remains true. “There have been so many spoofs of the show, but I am taking this seriously and I come in from a place of love. I’ll even redo an entire little photoshoot if I didn't wear a ring in the right place or something. I love the outfits, but it is frustrating and I am not very good at it, but I stick with it.”
Becoming more Clay
Along the way, as the account has racked up over 100 thousand followers, being Carrie has helped Clay be more himself. In a TED Talk he gave about why you should bring your whole self to work, he shares how he used to keep that side of himself closed off from colleagues. “It almost forced me to shed outdated insecurities that I was just holding onto,” he says. “That there's a certain way you have to be in business or nobody's going to respect me at work or I'm never going to be able to get a date if I overtly show the feminine side of myself.”
Putting together the looks and writing the captions for Carrie Dragshaw has allowed Clay to spend less energy keeping up appearances and more energy on doing his best work, as partner in brand strategy and innovation at Lippincott consulting firm. “That energy is freed up to actually just do the work, and I think my relationships with my colleagues are stronger. Who knew that I needed a nudge from all these internet strangers encouraging the part of me that I thought was the part that needed to be hidden, to be celebrated? Flipping the script has had such a lasting impact on me and everything in my life.”
With each Instagram post he seeks to share this feeling with others. “I remember on Oprah’s very last show – it was just her talking to the camera – and she said, every single person that she's talked to on the show, and really every single person in the entire world, has one thing in common. They all want to know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter?”
"When I watched that episode, and when I saw that, I was, like, 'Oh, that's it!' That is what it is to be a good manager in a corporate setting; that is absolutely what I try to do with my captions, too. For someone going through a breakup or for someone going through, like the current plot, a loss, is to write a little something that makes people feel seen and heard and validated.” And long may his continue to do so, one fabulous outfit at a time.
Feature photo by Charlie Engman.