Save to Pocket
Mentors

Why the real Carrie Bradshaw (who was a broke, scrappy freelancer who couch-surfed) is a career role model

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any single woman who moves to New York to pursue any kind of career in the writing field will inevitably be compared to Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City. Your beat could be tax law and yet this comparison will be made, but it’s not the worst one to get considering the profound impact of the series which put HBO on the map as an original television content provider.

Upon the show’s 20th anniversary this week, the 30-something single woman who made running in heels look effortless and showed that single women in their 30s are not sad spinsters but thriving, successful and powerful women with great wardrobes, Carrie Bradshaw is getting a lot of attention.

However, in her new book Sex and the City and Us, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong points out that it is the woman who is responsible for bringing Carrie Bradshaw into the universe that should be getting more credit. That woman is, of course, Candace Bushnell who wrote the original New York Observer column “Sex and the City” was based on and helped to come up with the concept for the show.

“I really wanted to investigate the story of Candace Bushnell,” Keishin Armstrong told Ladders. “Even though she is super famous it was like she wrote this thing and then all the attention was on the show and not her. I really wanted to know that there is a real Carrie Bradshaw and it’s her.”

The woman behind Carrie Bradshaw

And yes, Virginia, there is a real Carrie Bradshaw, but there were a few differences. Like Carrie, she was a successful freelance writer but she was struggling a bit to make ends meet. The New York Times reported that one year she made $14,000 and was thrown out of her sublet. She literally had $300 in the bank when she started writing for the Observer at age 34 and was couch surfing at the time and not living in a rent-stabilized West Village walk-up like Carrie who only wrote one article a week and appeared to be able to survive on a diet of Cosmopolitans and Saltines. However, despite being homeless her social connections allowed her to summer in the Hamptons and hob knob with some very notable people. Oh and that wardrobe thing was true.

“It turns out it’s not as crazy as you think. There were aspects of Candice’s life that really mirrored this. One of my favorite things was that she was wearing head to toe Dolce while still sleeping on her friend’s sofa bed. She was really a scrappy, working freelance journalist. She was out there reporting stories for Vogue and GQ and all those places,” said Keishin Armstong.

That scrappiness paid off big time when her editor at the Observer offered her a column and she realized she was living it. “She was like, ‘I have all these fancy friends. Why don’t I write about them?’ It soon became the Observer’s “secret weapon.”

In a 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter Bushnell said, “People were buying the Observer for my column. They were reading it on the Hamptons Jitney, they were reading it to each other, they were faxing it. I’d been doing the column for maybe four months when I started to get inquiries from Hollywood. People in New York who worked in film and media were faxing it to their friends who worked in film in Los Angeles. I flew out to L.A. and had meetings. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ ”

In 1996, the column was turned into a book and then two years after that, a network called HBO turned it into a series. The rest is history.

“I really respect that she came to New York with nothing. She didn’t even know what she totally wanted to do and she figured it out and worked it. She doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves,” said Keishin Armstrong.

A new generation of Carries

After all, it was her character that inspired so many young women who grew up watching the show to think that they could not only survive in New York but conquer it and in Manolo Blahniks no less. The first line of the book is “I left my fiance for Sex and the City,” as Keishin Armstrong traded in a suburban married life in New Jersey to be a freelance writer in New York. “I moved to New York City at the hype of the show.

It was my oracle to all things. I ended up changing my life from being engaged in N.J. to being single in Manhattan. They would go someplace then I would go. It had that kind of effect on people. You didn’t passively watch. You wanted to be part of that world if you could.”

She believes the four characters on the show-Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha-also gave women more confidence in their careers. “In terms of the idea that you can be independent and you don’t need a man. These women could provide their own lavish lifestyle. That to me was really important and interesting to see. And seeing with their priorities that their friendships and careers were first then kind of dating,” Keishin Armstrong told Ladders.

In addition to the impact the show made on fashion, the New York economy (they put Magnolia Cupcakes on the map) and subjects you are required to talk about at brunch, they also served as role models for many … even when they wore tutus.

More from Ladders