Billy Crystal as Harry Burns, sarcastic political consultant and recent divorcée
New York City, Fall 1987
Film: When Harry Met Sally…
Release Date: July 14, 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Costume Designer: Gloria Gresham
As October advances deeper into colder weather, today’s post celebrates the enduring knitwear selected by costume designer Gloria Gresham for fall style icon Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.
Though he only wears it for two brief scenes in Rob Reiner’s 1989 romantic comedy, Harry Burns’ cream-colored cable-knit sweater remains a cultural touchpoint even nearly 35 years later. Sophie Benoit rated it the greatest of Harry’s costumes in a 2019 retrospective for GQ, and Daisy Alito articulated its legacy for Mr Porter the following year. In 2023 alone, the sweater received tributes on
X nah, Twitter from comedian Ben Schwartz as well as Crystal himself:
What’d He Wear?
We first see Harry’s sweater introduced as the cozy upper half of his gear while spending a sick day at home drinking Pepto Bismol and reading Misery. Here, the roomy sweater elegantly balances his bargain-priced heather-gray cotton (or cotton/poly) sweatpants with the bottoms tucked into marled gray woolen socks.
The cream-colored mock-neck sweater is knitted in the centuries-old tradition of fishermen from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, hence being known as Aran jumpers or fisherman’s-style sweaters. Aran sweater styles can vary from cardigans and crew-necks to turtlenecks and mock-necks (like Harry wears), but the standard characteristics are the cable patterns along the body and sleeves and—for traditionalists—being knitted from an off-white unscoured sheep’s wool.
Legend suggests that every cable pattern has a meaning, from the “lucky” honeycomb stitch to the ladder of life said to provide health. A darkly romantic—but generally debunked—theory further suggests that these sweaters were crafted with this unique stitchwork to help families identify fishers lost at sea, whose identifiable features would have otherwise eroded. Luckily, Harry’s misfortunes of a head cold and a bad date wouldn’t result in the Burns family needing to take such extreme measures.
Harry’s cream-colored cable-knit sweater checks the traditional boxes required to qualify it as an Aran jumper, knitted with a fisherman’s rib stitch between the thick cable braids. Intentionally oversized with the sleeves falling off Crystal’s shoulders, the sweater has a wide, narrowly ribbed mock-neck and the sleeves gather at the widely ribbed cuffs, which Harry rolls back once over each wrist.
Harry again wears the sweater while “recovering” at home a few scenes later… though this time it’s recovering from an awkward date that—to Sally’s shock—still resulted in sex.
Now that he’s back on his feet and spending time with a friend, Harry dresses the sweater more acceptably for going out into the world, paired with the unimpeachable casual combination of blue jeans and white sneakers. His medium-blue denim five-pocket jeans have an arcuate stitch across the back pockets similar to the Levi’s design, though they lack the brand’s telltale red tab sewn along the right pocket seam.
Worn with white ribbed cotton-blend athletic crew socks, Harry sports his usual Nike Air Rake AC sneakers—with all-white leather uppers, save for the visible blue collar and the darker blue “swoosh” logos at the top of each heel. At the time, Nike marketed the Rake trainers as “ultimate footwear for the club, the court, or the Coliseum.”
How to Get the Look
Rather than trying to copy the look down to the cable, you can look just as comfortable as Harry by pulling on a well-made (and well-loved!) sweater, adding retro lines and structure via dad jeans, and completing the effect with your favorite white sneakers—whether that’s ’80s-era Nikes or anything else.
- Cream cable-braided fisherman’s-rib knitted wool mock-neck sweater
- Blue denim five-pocket jeans
- White leather Nike Air Rake AC sneakers
- White ribbed cotton-blend athletic crew socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
That’s the good thing about depression, you get your rest.