I love Sex and The City for a number of reasons. A true-blue 90s television classic, the show offers a take on one of society’s most elusive creatures: the single and wealthy New York woman. A main fixture in the show’s premise is undoubtedly fashion; not just the clothes that the characters wear, but the overall aesthetic quality of a well-off woman in her 30s in the 1990s. While the show has its share of dubious moments (like the notion that Carrie Bradshaw can afford her “rent controlled” Upper East Side apartment off the earnings of a weekly newspaper column), the show redeems itself with other elements of accuracy, allowing it to maintain some air of credibility. With this earned integrity comes some interesting creative choices on the writers’ part, one of which being Carrie’s smoking habit.
Sure, it’s not uncommon to feature characters smoking on television; period pieces like Mad Men and gritty dramas like Breaking Bad feature on-screen smokers. However, what’s interesting to note is that Sex and The City is a show set in the era that it was produced (not a period piece) and a mostly lighthearted slice of life in which a character smoked–no shame about it.
This is where the overall aesthetic quality (or “fashion”) converges with cigarettes: Carrie is a fashionable yet “real life” woman who smokes. When one considers the relationship between fashion and cigarettes, often images of Carla Bruni or Kate Moss with Marlboro Reds draped over limp lips come to mind. However, there’s a larger relationship with smoking and fashion that is not strictly associated with heroine-chic high-fashion royalty of the 1990s. “Fashion cigarettes”, as they are aptly named, signal a larger scheme in which fashion and smoking go hand in hand.
Smoking cigarettes was originally seen as a very masculine habit and it was frowned upon for young women to smoke. However, with the advent of luxury fashion brands and branded cigarettes geared towards women, smoking became more widely accepted. The marketing of these cigarettes, specifically aimed towards young, professional and fashion-conscious women, offered cigarettes as a form of accessory. Luxury fashion brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and Givenchy even licensed their names to appear on limited edition cigarette packages in the 1980s and 1990s.
Ritz and YSL cigarette collaboration, 1988.
But isn’t smoking bad for your health?
Well, yes. Having said that, fashion has always been shrouded with notions of excess, vice and insouciance. Essentially, “It’s sexy to smoke and it’s cool not to care.” Even soaring into the 21st century, fashion and cigarettes still engage in a toxic symbiosis. Every year, images of celebrities smoking in the Met Gala bathroom make their rounds: blurry mirror selfies, celebrities crouched on the tile floor in literal custom couture, charging their phones, smoking cigarettes.
Now Gen Z, society’s most party-hardy and (dare I say) nihilistic generation, has developed our own relationship with smoking. E-cigarettes of all kinds–Juuls, Puffbars, Stigs, Stiks, Mylés, Ghosts–originally invented to help people quit smoking, are now not only commonplace, but nearly essential among fashion youth. There’s no shame in the act: pre-Covid, it was no big deal to switch vapes or take a hit off a stranger's e-cig during a night out. No longer will you find kids standing outside clubs or venues having a cigarette; they’re all inside, puffing the night away. Originally thought to be the generation that would end smoking, Gen Z has made it their own again, and have even been found to be migrating towards traditional cigarettes after developing a nicotine addiction thanks to vapes.
So where does it end?
Like any addiction, you have to truly want to quit to do so, and fashion doesn’t seem to want to. Who would voluntarily quit a habit that has so long been the shining image of luxury, nonchalance and exclusivity? While smoking is not quite endorsed anymore in fashion, it hasn’t been entirely rejected, either. There seems to be a mutual understanding among fashion fanatics that smoking is both harmful yet integral to the image, a habit that may forever remain at the intersection of vice and Versace.
Cover Illustration: Inci Sahin