Why Sarah Jessica Parker's Character in Divorce Dresses Nothing Like Carrie Bradshaw

SJP Divorce Character - LEAD
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Sarah Jessica Parker makes her triumphant return to the TV world this Sunday night, starring in and executive producing HBO's new series, Divorce. The actress's role as unhappily married mom-of-two Frances is captivating—and it couldn’t be more different from Parker’s last iconic television character, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Despite the fact that both series are set in New York, Frances’s suburban world is nothing like Carrie’s glamorous Manhattan—not to mention, it’s very much Manolo-free.

In Divorce, Parker's character spends her time navigating the murky waters of her failing marriage. Her goal is to simply get through the day, which means that cultivating a trendy wardrobe isn't on her lengthy to-do list. Instead, her signature look consists of timeless staples like tailored coats, cable-knit sweaters, and modest patterned dresses. For Frances, fashion just isn't a top priority—and while SATC fans may be tempted to compare her style with Carrie’s, the show’s costume designer, Arjun Bhasin, and Parker didn't even discuss the matter when filming Divorce.

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Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

“We never really talked about Sex and the City, quite frankly,” Bhasin recently told InStyle. “I think with any actor who has been in a role that was pivotal to them, you don’t want to go back to that again—they’ve already done it, and it doesn’t allow them to do anything new.” So when it came to developing Frances’s look, Bhasin and Parker started from scratch. “It was just like, ‘OK, it’s a new show, and a new person, and a new character, and we’re going to go with that,” he said. “The material dedicates the look, and so you try to create a new and specific identity for that character in that show. When you read a new script, you generally don’t tend to follow in the footsteps of another character that the actor has played in something else.”

From day one, Parker had a clear vision as to what Frances's wardrobe would look like. “Sarah Jessica is very interesting, because not only is she obviously one of the most stylish women in New York, but there was a certain thoughtfulness to the way she was approaching the character,” said Bhasin. “She wanted it to be very authentic to the experience of that character. We talked a lot about having it be a very realistic and normal sense of domestic life, of divorce, in New York, in the winter—and of people of a certain age and economic bracket. So that really influenced a lot.”

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It also meant that certain pieces were off-limits. “From an early point, we made a decision to stay away from high fashion and fast contemporary fashion,” said Bhasin. “Instead, we really wanted to create a history and add a sense of nostalgia to the show. So when I suggested that we do a vintage feel, it hit all those buttons.” From there, the duo came up with an overarching plan for Frances's outfits. “We wanted the clothes to be lived-in, and we wanted her to have a stylish, sophisticated look,” said Bhasin. “But we didn’t want it to be trendy or loud and buzzy in terms of fashion and color. We wanted it to be elegant and simple and classic.”

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Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Frances’s simplicity trickles all the way down to her toes, and while her shoes may be low-key compared to Carrie Bradshaw’s—and Parker’s—the character’s footwear collection isn’t lacking. “We did think about the shoes more than we should have, because there is such a connection between Sarah Jessica and shoe world,” said Bhasin. “But we decided to pare it down and have it be quite simple. You’ll see different types of shoes in her wardrobe—some green ‘80s snakeskin pumps, some higher-heeled contemporary shoes, some '70s boots—but we weren’t committing to a character who’s shoe-obsessed or is more keen on a certain brand of shoe versus another.”

The lack of sleek stilettos even extends to Parker’s own SJP line of shoes, which Bhasin revealed won’t be making an appearance on Divorce. “There are no SJP shoes from her line in the show,” he said. “Her shoes are beautiful—they're really spectacular—but I think they’re a little too fashion-y for Frances.”

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