When Harry Met Sally: A Nomex Flight Jacket on New Year’s Eve

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan assure their old acquaintance won’t be forgot among fellow New Year revelers as the eponymous leads in When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Vitals

Billy Crystal as Harry Burns, sarcastic political consultant

New York City, New Year’s Eve 1988

Film: When Harry Met Sally…
Release Date: July 14, 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Costume Designer: Gloria Gresham

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Happy New Year’s Eve!

One of my favorite romantic comedies, When Harry Met Sally… follows its two eponymous leads over twelve years of off-and-on friendship from their contentious meeting during a ride home from the University of Chicago up through a climactic New Year’s Eve party.

Several hours before the ball drops, Harry Burns is spending a lonely New Year’s Eve at home with Dick Clark and Mallomars, having all but ruined his friendship with Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) by sleeping with her at a moment of shared vulnerability… then awkwardly panicking to the extent that he alienates her, ruining not only their fledgling relationship but also their sincere friendship. Sally’s on his mind during Harry’s despondent stroll through the city, set to Sinatra crooning “It Had to Be You”, until he realizes that it had to be Sally and runs to find her at the party she was trying to leave.

After the dust settles, the kisses are shared, and the two are renewed by the promise of a new relationship in the new year, Harry returns to his neurotic nitpicking, this time at the expense of “Auld Lang Syne”:

What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean “should old acquaintance be forgot…” Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances or, does it mean that—if we happen to meet them—that we should remember them… which is not possible because we already forgot ’em!

What’d He Wear?

Billy Crystal’s on-screen wardrobe often reflects military outerwear repurposed as comfortable civilian dress, such as the field jackets seen in both Running Scared and When Harry Met Sally. The latter presents yet another military-influenced jacket for the final sequence, as Harry pulls on a sage-green CWU-style flight jacket.

The nylon-like shell was a flame-resistant compound known as Nomex, developed by DuPont in the 1960s. In response to learning that the nylon used to make its MA-1 bomber jackets was prone to burning, the U.S. Air Force introduced Nomex as the shell material for the new garments authorized as the “Jacket, Flyer’s, Cold Weather” for pilots beginning in 1972, as reported by Albert Muzquiz for Heddels.

Made from this innovative material that proved resistant to flames, chemicals, and certain degrees of radiation, the new design provided the foundation for two Cold Weather Uniform (CWU) jackets: the lighter-weight CWU-36/P and the more insulated CWU-45/P. The design would be colloquialized as the “MA-2” by the late 1980s when the Cobles Clothing Company reportedly introduced it to market their civilian streetwear variations of these jackets. Nearly a half-century after their introduction, the CWU-36/P and CWU-45/P remain the primary active duty flight jackets for both USAF pilots and U.S. Navy aviators.

Harry’s jacket appears to be a commercial variant of the lighter CWU-36/P, defined by the same details of the mil-spec jackets aside from the lack of a velcro patch over the breast. The front zip is backed by a storm flap that runs the length of the zipper from hem up to the shirt-style collar. As with the earlier MA-1, the cuffs and hem are made from a ribbed knitting that matches the rest of the jacket, and there’s a zip-entry pocket on the left sleeve, but the primary outer pockets are now two large cargo pockets with angled seams over the edges of each patch, covered by a substantial flap.

Billy Crystal as Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Based on how the jacket wrinkles over Crystal’s frame, we can deduce that Harry’s jacket is based on the CWU-36/P rather than the more insulated CWU-45/P, though even this lighter-weight jacket would offer plenty of comfort, warmth, and protection for a brisk evening stroll.

For an extra layer against the wintry chill, Harry wears the intermediate layer of a gray cotton crew-neck sweatshirt, which he appears to wear inside-out with the fleecy reverse side showing. This casual but comfortable-looking reversal considerably dressed down the outfit, making his already-informal outfit even moreso against the sea of revelers in their fancy suits and gowns.

Billy Crystal as Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Harry’s reversed-out sweatshirt under a Nomex flight jacket may not be consistent with the party’s dress code, but he’s unfazed as he makes his case to Sally.

Harry’s base layer is a cotton T-shirt, horizontally striped in black and marled gray with a black banded crew-neck and sleeves. As Sophia Benoit pointed out in her great ranking of Harry’s costumes, there may be some significance to Harry wearing the same T-shirt here that he had layered under his sweater and Army jacket on the pivotal night that he and Sally first slept together.

Billy Crystal as Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

A subdued New Year’s Eve, complete with Mallomars (“the greatest cookie of all time”) and basketball.

Although Crystal had worn Levi’s in earlier scenes, these blue jeans don’t appear to have any of the hallmarks of the “Big Three” denim brands: Levi’s, Lee, or Wrangler. He holds them up with a brown woven leather belt that closes through a brass single-prong squared buckle.

Harry’s sneakers are all white, save for the blue lining that extends over the collars of each shoe. Small navy swooshes toward the top of each heel suggest that these may be the same Nike sneakers he had worn when he and Sally ran into his ex-wife Helen and the dreaded Ira while singing karaoke at The Sharper Image months earlier.

Billy Crystal as Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

“This is good.” Harry catches up on his window shopping.

For more appreciation of Harry’s style in When Harry Met Sally…, check out Sophia Benoit’s GQ feature story, in which she ranked all 32 of Crystal’s costume changes in celebration of the landmark comedy’s 30th anniversary. She places this outfit at #10, though the stripped-down T-shirt comes in only at #25, commenting that “I can’t be the only one who thinks it might be A Thing that he’s wearing the shirt he wore over to her house when they hooked up because it reminds him of her!”

What to Imbibe

Mallomars.

How to Get the Look

Billy Crystal as Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Billy Crystal as Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

While I’d probably favor Harry’s mil-spec flight jacket, layered crew-necks, jeans, and sneakers for something along the lines of weekend errands, his functionally fashionable look has potential for low-key New Year’s Eve festivities if you swap out the sweatshirt for a dressier sweater and the sneakers for chukka boots.

  • Sage-green Nomex CWU-36/P zip-up flight jacket with shirt-style collar, slanted-flap patch pockets, zip-up left-sleeve pocket, and ribbed-knit cuffs and hem
  • Heather gray cotton crew-neck sweatshirt (worn inside-out)
  • Black-and-gray horizontal-striped cotton short-sleeved T-shirt with black banded crew-neck and sleeve-ends
  • Blue denim jeans
  • Brown woven leather belt with brass squared single-prong buckle
  • White sneakers

CWU-style flight jackets can be purchased with both mil-spec Nomex and less expensive nylon shells:

  • Alpha Industries CWU-45/P Bomber Jacket (Heritage) in sage-green nylon (available from Alpha Industries and Amazon)
  • Alpha Industries CWU-36/P Nomex Mil-Spec Lightweight Flight Jacket in sage-green Nomex (available from Alpha Industries)
  • Genuine Issue CWU-36/P Nomex Summer Jacket in sage-green Nomex (available from Walmart)
  • Mil-Tec CWU Flight Jacket in olive-green nylon (available from Amazon)
  • Rothco CWU-45/P Flight Jacket in sage-green nylon (available from Rothco)
  • TOPMAN Bomber in military-green polyester (available from YOOX)

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve… I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Leave a Reply