One Memorable Look: The Fisherman Sweater From When Harry Met Sally…
Ms Meg Ryan and Mr Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally (1989). Photograph by Columbia Pictures/Alamy
There’s a chill in the air, a whiff of wood smoke, and for the sartorial world that means the arrival of sweater weather. For me, autumn is also associated with Ms Nora Ephron’s romantic-comedy films, including 1989’s When Harry Met Sally…, starring Mr Billy Crystal as Harry and Ms Meg Ryan as Sally.
Part of the joy of the film is watching Harry and Sally’s respective style evolve from 1970s-era prep to 1980s urban professional. Though there are many standouts, Harry gave the world one look that I often return to: a cream-coloured, mock-neck chunky knit sweater, medium-wash jeans of indeterminable brand (now known as “dad jeans”) and unadorned white sneakers of indeterminable brand (now known as “normcore”). In fact, I feel so protective of this look that I was a little offended when audiences fawned over the fisherman sweater Mr Chris Evans wore in Knives Out, especially because Mr Evans paired his with pinstripe pants. Amateur.
When The Sweater first appears in the movie, Harry, laid low by a cold, is reading Mr Stephen King’s Misery next to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. The sweater is perfect for such moments when cosiness is prescribed – it is a bellwether for Harry’s state of mind, appearing when he is sad or has fallen victim to dating self-sabotage.
It’s a perfect choice considering the history of the style. The fisherman’s sweater, or the Aran sweater, originated between the late 1800s and early 1900s off the west coast of Ireland. Traditionally, they were knitted by wives and daughters to protect, comfort and keep fishermen warm out at sea. The different patterns carry distinct messages – the braided pattern on the front of Harry’s sweater and sleeves signify a fisherman’s rope and good luck at sea. Later brought into the mainstream by fashion icons such as Ms Grace Kelly and Mr Steve McQueen, this style has become a beloved classic.
But the rest of the outfit is on trend for the 1980s, when the Levi’s 501 reigned supreme and Reebok was pulling in more revenue than Nike. It’s hard to be 100 per cent sure, but Harry’s sneakers look pretty similar to the Reebok Club C. The director (Mr Rob Reiner, by the way) and costume designer (Ms Gloria Gresham) couldn’t have known that they would become sartorial classics in the ensuing years – the film is full of prescient choices like these.
“The sweater is perfect for such moments when cosiness is prescribed – it is a bellwether for Harry’s state of mind”
In one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, Harry wears the sweater, jeans and sneakers as he unrolls a carpet in his light-filled Manhattan apartment, water towers visible in the background. (That this real-estate bounty could come from his political consultant salary alone induces pangs of nostalgia for affordable Manhattan apartments, but I digress.) As they adjust the carpet, Harry and Sally discuss their misadventures in dating, until they both come to rest, squatting side by side on their heels, exhausted by both the physical efforts of home decor and the emotional tax of singledom. Harry clasps his hands, looking as devilish as ever; Sally holds a bottle of Evian water.
When the film was released in 1989, it was fulfilling the promise of one decade while on the cusp of another. The leads spouted (now) dated aphorisms including “restaurants are the new theatre” and “pesto is the new quiche”. Now that our lives can be divided pre- and post-pandemic, there’s a clamour to offer up similar insights. The great thing about this outfit is that it isn’t the “new” anything, it simply exists as it is.