During the day, you’ll likely find Dan Clay at work in New York City as a strategy consultant for banks, wearing a snappy suit and tie with his blond locks slicked back.
Off the clock, he’s on Instagram, where he has become a viral sensation for his colorful send-up of Carrie Bradshaw, the protagonist of the beloved HBO series “Sex and the City.”
Meet Carrie Dragshaw, Clay’s drag persona who has amassed more than 100,000 Instagram followers who tune in weekly to see his spot-on outfits and read his aspirational commentary on life and relationships dispensed in the voice of Carrie Bradshaw.
Clay’s wild ride to online fame happened by accident. In 2016, the Michigan native dressed in drag as Bradshaw for Halloween. He was initially nervous to admit his love for the hit show, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, because he hadn’t fully disclosed his sexuality yet.
But after living in New York for a few years, he decided it was time to embrace it — especially since he lived down the street from Carrie’s fictional apartment, where Sarah Jessica Parker brought the fashionista character to life both on TV and in subsequent films.
With no design experience but a meticulous eye for detail and flair, he scrapped together every piece of fabric he could find. He went with his instincts to re-create the iconic pale pink tutu ensemble that Bradshaw wore in the show’s opening title sequence.
“I had to find the perfect wig and perfect costumes. It had to be perfect,” Clay, 34, said recently in a phone interview from his New York home.
He sought out “Sex and the City” costume designer Patricia Field for assistance after discovering that her website sold tutus and other “SATC” accessories. He got the rest at Party City.
On the road to love, sometimes you’re left out in the cold. As Aleksandr’s light exhibition opened and the light in our love went out, I couldn’t help but wonder: When you depend on men for warmth, are you destined for frostbite? And if one love leaves you cold, are you brave or crazy to try again? If at first he breaks your heart, cry cry again. But no matter how cold it gets, maybe the best way to bounce back after a break up is to be fabulous. To grab your faux fur, fairy skirt, and, most importantly, fabulous friends who will keep you warm. Because love hurts—but love heals, too. And there’s a light in everyone who’s looking for love. Keep it bright. It’s how the good ones find each other. #CarrieDragshaw
When the time came to present the completed DIY Halloween costume, Clay walked out of his apartment feeling as confident as Carrie when she strolls through the streets of Manhattan. He posted a picture and a caption right out of Carrie’s playbook.
“Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they just need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with them,” Clay wrote as Carrie on Instagram that night. “I have wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw for Halloween ever since college… I would pretend that I hated it because I didn't want to give myself away. Well, the secret's out, and this is the happiest day of my life.”
His Instagram followers nearly quadrupled overnight from a few hundred to a few thousand, and the post had gone viral with more than 4,000 likes and views.
Official “Sex and the City” fan sites reposted the photo, and it even made its way to the cast and crew of the show. His muse, Sarah Jessica Parker, commented on Instagram that she was in love with “every frame and every word.”
Clay chalked up his unlikely success to a “magical Instagram algorithm.” He uploaded another photo as Carrie, just to see what would happen; it too caught fire.
“It was crazy,” Clay said. “It made people really happy. [After that] I ran out of tutus and I thought, ‘Do I keep this going? Do I buy more outfits?’ It was the same night the president [Trump] was elected. I thought, let’s just set up a little alternative reality that is only love, and see where it goes. It was a delightful escape for me.”
Two years and nearly 100 posts later, Carrie Dragshaw thrives and provides an escape for more than just Clay. A regular post will now have around 20,000 likes.
Dragshaw’s posts capture Carrie’s essence by replicating classic-Carrie looks, and then he shows the results in side-by-side images. In every caption, Clay channels Bradshaw using notes he takes during episodes to ensure he’s both authentic and compelling.
Interacting with his 117,000 Instagram followers, he replies to comments every day and last year made an appearance on an episode of “What Happens Live with Andy Cohen,” where Clay was crowned the OMG Drag Pageant winner dressed as Dragshaw.
Parker gave Clay that award — and her seal of approval.
“If you look at Dan’s Instagram page, it’s kinda staggering what he does,” Parker told Cohen, praising Clay’s prose and attention to detail.
Clay is thankful to have video proof of the moment when he met his idol because he spent most of it worrying that he would make a mistake. “She made a point to meet me, and I can’t believe this person who I dress up as is one of the kindest people on the planet,” Clay said.
While Clay has featured posts with cameos by other cast members of “Sex and the City” — including Kristin Davis (Charlotte York) and Cynthia Nixon (Miranda Hobbes) — his fans are his biggest inspiration.
“If you’re going to do this, you’re going to do this right,” Clay said. “I really, really, wanted to use the writing to uplift people, because it is a time in the world to give people a thought [about relationships and life]… to give people a laugh.”
Clay’s admirers ripple beyond “Sex and the City” fans. He hears from people who love the art of drag, who love to write, who need to be uplifted, who are members of the LBGTQ community, those who are older, younger and even those who voted Republican. And they live all around the world.
Flora Zhu from Toronto has admired Clay’s work and continues to find motivation from it.
“In this day and age, it is easy to hide yourself and withdraw from public scrutiny, but Dan has opened himself and his vulnerability to the world in a manner I find inspirational,” Zhu wrote in an email. “[He] is a reminder to love yourself, accept yourself for your own differences and have faith in the good in the world. It is his bravery and humility that motivates me to try and live my best life and be the best person possible.”
Marissa Bethoney, a fan from Boxford, Mass., echoed that sentiment.
“Dan's pursuit of truth — his truth — as explored through fashion, satire and love inspires me to more fully speak my truth and share a much deeper expression of that truth in my business,” she said, also over email.
Even with a sturdy foundation of supporters, Clay continues to perfect Carrie Dragshaw “one heel at a time.”
“I always thought, ‘OK, this post is the last one,’ but it’s still kicking,” he said. “This project has gone on far longer and becomes much more meaningful to me than I ever, ever expected, so now I'm thinking more about longer-form writing and videos and other ways to connect with people. I'm super excited to see where the journey goes.”