On Willie Garson and the Fabulous Legacy of Sex and the City’s Stanford Blatch

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I had such an irreverent column planned on the return of getting ridiculously glammed up and going out-out. I wanted to talk about big looks coming back, all bells and whistles and sequins and taffeta. As someone who spent lockdown in five-inch Patagonia shorts, I have been unabashedly enthralled by benignly gossiping about who’s wearing what and where and with whom. 

I was going to write about all these things, but that was before the world learned that Willie Garson, who played Carrie Bradshaw’s gay best friend Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City, died at the age of 57. The news, coming as it did out of nowhere, hit like a punch. After the initial shock of it, I’m left thoughtful for Willie’s family, but also, as someone who experienced him almost solely via the HBO juggernaut, thinking specifically of Stanford Blatch’s legacy. 

We should, of course, start with the fashion. Nobody in the history of TV has ever looked quite like Stanford Blatch. Thanks to Patricia Field, there were so many looks. The noisy shirts, the noisy ties, the color clashing and the strobing patterns. Hats were plentiful—trilbys, buckets (and I think once a beret?). And there were the signature glasses, with more colored lenses than an eye exam. His surprising marriage to Charlotte’s gay BFF Anthony (I’m still a bit annoyed at SATC2 for lazily coupling up their only two gays after a single New Year’s Eve kiss), saw Stanford’s aesthetic restraint with a minimal all-white affair. A little less understated was Liza Minnelli’s “Single Ladies” cameo. 

I don’t want to shy away from the valid criticism of Stanford’s accessory role in the series. He was always an accent to proceedings, even in his BigTool4U storyline. Stanford, like all the non-Carrie characters, was a single note in the symphony of Miss Bradshaw, a vehicle to reflect her own story (she even took him to the Soho House pool like a trusty Birkin). What was Stanford’s role if not as an oversized corsage for Carrie? 

Though he embodied the commodity of a gay BFF, Stanford represented something important, at a time when representation for gay men was lacking. We’ve all been side dishes to female life, which isn’t a bad thing exactly, but most of us aspire to main character status. I’m not sure many gay men were ready to admit the familiarly we felt in Stanford’s character—because of his appendage-status, and perhaps more critically because he wasn’t, by his own admission, traditionally hot. He was not so much aspirational, as eerily recognizable, covering his flaws with designer goodies. But Stanford was also dependable and fabulous, possibly the only person who could get away with referring to Bradshaw as “fashion roadkill.” I somehow find myself feeling that best friend loss for Carrie, a woman who simply does not exist. 

Samantha was first introduced to us as a New York institution, but in his own different way Stanford was, too. And sometimes, rather annoyingly, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. As we reemerge from lockdown like spring buds, double-vaxxed and knowingly overdressed, I wonder how much we owe to Stanford Blatch, a true pioneer of just-because clothing. More than a side dish, Stanford was an entire meal. 


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