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The style legacy of ‘Sex and the City’

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

It’s 2 a.m. on a Friday and an army of young ladies begins streaming onto the streets after a rousing evening of cocktails. Their uniform, worn from Lansdowne Street to Central Square and beyond, is easy to spot. Women in sausage-casing-tight black dresses stumbling in towering heels while trying to hail a cab.

It wasn’t always this way.

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Sarah Jessica Parker took her “Sex and the City” character Carrie Bradshaw (below) in some brave fashion directions. And yet, she inadvertently inspired this omnipresent nightlife silhouette. The fashion-obsessed Bradshaw, introduced to HBO viewers 15 years ago this month, has been distilled by fans into a simplistic formula: style means big designers, big heels, big swaths of exposed skin.

That “Sex and the City” perspective, still broadcast with disturbing regularity on E!, dramatically changed the way that fashion is viewed and consumed. But while Bradshaw’s look served as the outer expression of her creative and often-intrepid personality, the post-Carrie world feels watered-down and safe.

At the risk of sounding like a cantankerous old man, I miss the freedom of interpretation that came from Lisa Bonet’s “Cosby Show” head wraps or Winona Ryder’s “Beetlejuice” glum goth style. The tradition of individual style is being carried on these days by the queen of quirk, Zooey Deschanel, but many fashion innovators are being chased into hiding by Joan Rivers’s forked tongue. As a result, experimentation is down, sausage casings are up.

When Cyndi Lauper appeared at the Tony Awards last Sunday dressed in a pantsuit that looked stolen from Stevie Nicks’s closet, I shouted a hallelujah of “She’s so unusual!” Of course, Lauper wound up on more than one worst-dressed list.

Other actresses looked pretty in their evening gowns that night, but Lauper and Tony winner Cicely Tyson were memorable. Love it or hate it, at least Lauper sent the right message (I’m paraphrasing here): “I’m Cyndi Lauper, and these are my true colors.”

Christopher Muther can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther
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