Nora Ephron, film legend and beloved essayist, understood the energy of the main character in the height of the 90s. Her two most iconic films are the ultimate argument for complicated relationships in the complicated city she adores, New York: When Harry meets Sally and You’ve got mail. Her character is dressed in a headstrong but straightforward manner – a reflection of Ephron, who has written numerous essays exploring his own relationship to fashion. While a black turtleneck or oversized button down are timeless basics, thanks to Ephron they have become iconic ’90s fashion trends, part of the minimalist and classic aesthetic perfected also by celebrities like Carolyn Bessette. Kennedy and Gwyneth Paltrow as well as designers like Calvin Klein and Miuccia Prada.
The world that the writer creates on screen is as fascinating as the Upper West Side that she immortalizes in her essays. There is a quirk in his characters, a human fragility that is refreshing in the cookie-cutter world of romantic comedies. The dialogue is quick, but just as human, and easy to imagine hearing in the street, like, “I don’t want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question into the void “, of You’ve got mail. Looking at the costumes in Ephron’s films is like looking at the writer’s wardrobe itself. There is an intentionality in simplicity, that which allows writing to claim center stage.
Ephron’s characters embody a certain connection to their outfits and the moment these ensembles punctuate their own lives – Meg Ryan’s break-up getaway in an oversized blazer in You’ve got mail, or the frantic phone call from the same actor in crumpled pajamas When Harry meets Sally, the improvised number that witnessed an inevitable “I love you” at the end of the same film. The clothes tell the story before the character gets a chance, making revisiting Ephron’s greatest hits a seasonal ritual not just for their smart lines, but for every ’90s outfit inspiration of the moment.
Coming up is a look at six of Nora Ephron’s essential female-inspired pieces that will fit into any fall wardrobe – on the Upper West Side or elsewhere.
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The interior shots of the characters’ eerily sprawling apartments are some of the most iconic in Nora Ephron’s universe. They’re not tidy, they’re manned – with piles of books and mismatched pillows. An iconic scene is a photo of the main woman in bed on the phone. In Insomnia in Seattle, Meg Ryan jumps out of bed when her friend calls her to let her know that Tom Hanks’ son is on the radio and asks him to tune in. Julie and Julia, this is the scene where Amy Adams opens for the first time a book by Julia Childs. In Lucky numbers, Lisa Kudrow prepares for John Travolta’s lottery victory. The look celebrates intimacy in the mundane routine of home life, something perhaps even more relatable in 2021. Invest in smart pajamas put on just in time for long nights at home. Your iPhone will have to do this instead of a landline.
Shameless men’s clothing
When Harry meets Sally is a masterclass on tailor-made men’s fashion for women. The principal, Meg Ryan as Sally Albright, walks through a film that runs essentially two hours of her male counterpart explaining the inability of men and women to be friends. Albert Wolsky, the film’s costume designer, punctuated the film with reinterpreted men’s pieces for Albright, including a bowler hat paired with a leather shoulder bag, and the bookstore’s red sweater and brown suede jacket look. What sets these outfits apart is that they are worn with irreverent ease, a little tighter than the modern trend, but the result is just as cool, if not a little more lived-in.
In I feel bad about my neck: and other thoughts about being a woman, Ephron writes extensively about his love for turtlenecks, especially black turtlenecks. “Everything corresponds to black, especially black,” she writes. “Sometimes I buy something that’s not black, put it on and I’m so sorry,” she adds later. Black turtlenecks get the screen time they deserve on the practical runways of Ephron (like Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly in You’ve got mail). As it is perpetually autumn in the world of Nora Ephron, turtlenecks are seen alone or layered under dresses, but their simplicity serves as an anchoring force to her heroines.
Accessories are inconspicuous in Ephron films. Women mostly wear shoulder or cross body bags, and there are no designer labels to be found. Ephron herself was known for her distaste for the accessory based on the 2002 essay, “I Hate My Handbag,” which she included in her literary compilation, I feel bad about my neck: and other thoughts about being a woman. She evangelizes against the oppression of a heavy purse in a world where the essentials can really fit in a pocket. But one accessory the ever-handy Ephron can get is a watch. Almost all women wear an elegant watch. They are usually small and worn tight on the wrist. There is something charming and practical about a watch, especially in the digital age.
Another icon When Harry meets Sally moment, involving a carpet and an empty apartment, is bordering on distraction to watch because of the two protagonists’ knitted sweaters (Billy Crystal plays Harry). Harry outshines Sally in dress for the first time in the film by wearing a fisherman-style crewneck with a dropped shoulder. And in Delighted, a chunky knit is part of Nicole Kidman’s elegant uniform. The inspiration for the iconic line of questioning of You’ve got mail, “Don’t you like New York in the fall?” feels quite appropriate in a world of cozy sweaters and dates at the Met. Styled with just blue jeans and the vintage accessory of a disposable plastic water bottle, the look couldn’t be simpler. Read as: easier to copy.
Everything except miniskirts
Ephron characters are known to wear a below-knee skirt for both a run at Zabar and a snap in the upscale neighborhoods. Long skirts are a staple of the ’90s that have seen a modern resurgence. Take a page of Kathleen Kelly’s look in You’ve got mail by teaming a skirt with ballet flats or matching boots and tights. The look is cool in a way that makes me worry about what’s in fashion, which just might be the epitome of what makes Ephron and his characters so persistent.