For many—this writer included—autumn is associated with a specific strain of New York romantic comedies, especially those from Nora Ephron’s oeuvre. The late writer’s most beloved films basically treat fall foliage
and cozy knitwear as secondary characters—especially 1989’s When Harry Met Sally, which has earned its status as both a top-tier rom-com and also A Great Fall Style Movie. But Ephron doesn’t have a stranglehold on cozy-clothing cinema. And while you might not think of the Ben Stiller 2000 comedy Meet the Parents as a legendary fall style film, well: you’d be mistaken. Today, the movie stands as a timeless snapshot of autumnal men’s fashion—a bizarrely prescient reflection of modern-day menswear.
The movie doesn’t immediately announce itself as being chock-full of sophisticated and classic style. Stiller’s Greg Focker is a Chicagoan dressed in run-of-the-mill, turn-of-the-millennium metropolitan attire. He dresses like a Gap guy, basically. It’s only when Greg and his girlfriend, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), head out east to meet her family that the sartorial ante is upped. You probably remember the rest: the airline loses Greg’s luggage, which means that he’s forced into clothing borrowed from Pam’s overprotective father Jack (Robert De Niro) and her pot-smoking younger brother. The Byrnes family live in a well-to-do part of Long Island and dress the part, opting for a truly classic take on East Coast style—right at the spot where the fall catalogs of Ralph Lauren and L.L.Bean meet.
“We wanted it to feel timeless,” explains Daniel Orlandi, the Emmy-winning costume designer who worked on the film. “It was a lot of Brooks Brothers and Paul Stuart. They’ve been making these clothes for decades and the look hasn’t really changed.” For Orlandi and the director, the concept of the movie is pretty relatable—everyone has met the parents—and the wardrobe should follow that lead.
The dinner scene in which Greg offers up a slam poem-like prayer and then accidentally smashes the ashes of Jack’s dead mother all over the floor is best remembered for its antic level of cringe comedy. (“I’ve got nipples, Greg—can you milk me?”) But watching it recently, I was most struck by Greg’s certified Fall Fit. He wears an olive turtleneck sweater, black pants, and a particularly excellent flannel jacket. (Not unlike this one from Aimé Leon Dore.) The look is pulled entirely out of Jack’s own closet and sets the tone for the quintessentially East Coast menswear that will be a visual constant throughout the rest of the film. Orlandi picked up that jacket from Purdey, a long-standing rifle company that also makes hunting apparel that had a store at Madison Avenue at the time. (He said he received gun catalogs in the mail for a decade after, but a small price to pay for such an excellent piece of outerwear.)