Fashion & Beauty

What’s Right (and Not So Right) About Eileen Fisher

By Nancy McKeon

I’M LOOKING AT the Eileen Fisher website. Which is what today’s email from Eileen Fisher suggested that I do. Their push at the moment is for linen, organic linen of course.

But I’m not seeing the crisp, airy-looking linen that I usually find at J.Jill, for instance. At the latter there are oversize woven-linen tunics, light-as-air trousers and crops, in airy, summery colors—aqua, raspberry, ivory. The Eileen Fisher pieces, at least those being promoted in this email, are mostly linen knits, easy to wear, true, but droopy. And the colors are . . . non.

One thing we have to remember about wearing Eileen Fisher styles: You have to supply your own shoulders. By that I mean most of the tops do not have the high set-in sleeve seen in, for instance, a classic Chanel jacket or just about anybody else’s blazer. That kind of cut builds in some architecture where there may be none. EF styles, on the other hand, often have drop shoulders or no real delineation of shoulder at all. If you’re round up there, or slightly droopy, be aware that EF may be the paper bag you worry about looking like.

Proportion is another caution. The current standard says that if  one part of your outfit is voluminous then the other part should be tailored or cropped, anything to give the blousy, flouncy piece something to contrast with. But so many EF garments are big and loose and shown over . . . big and loose. A small woman is at risk of being overwhelmed, a larger figure may just look draped with a tarp. The cropped and more fitted EF styles are available, for sure, but stylists for the EF site as well as those of major retailers often highlight the droopy over the trimmed back. So you have to be your own wardrobe stylist to keep things in check.

Assuming you’re buying or at least browsing online, take a good look at the models wearing the EF styles. See whether you think the women look their best—and remember, they’re models! Do you think you’re going to look better than they do?

Now, on the positive side, EF understands (a bit too well, perhaps) the idea of understated. No one will think you’re trying too hard, for sure! In addition, the cuts are what we might call “forgiving,” what with so many elasticized waistbands.

I have a friend who swears by the EF ponte pants, mixes and matches them with everything. Another woman I know is careful to always pack an EF black knit dress when she travels; add a cardigan or a shawl and she’s ready for evening. One of these women is very petite, by the way, the other her polar opposite, taller and bulkier. EF accommodates them both.

Maybe we’re forgiving of Eileen Fisher simply because she is so forgiving of us. Gain a little weight, lose a little weight, no matter! Call it the new body unawareness. The line is undeniably popular, and the relatively new “System” of eight basic shapes (tank top, T top, cropped pant, straight pant, tank dress, etc.) is a reboot of Donna Karan’s debut all those years ago, albeit without the body suits and shoulder pads.

If any brand ever epitomized the chasm between “fashion” and “fashionable,” it’s probably Eileen Fisher. It’s not either-or, though; our lives require a mix of both. But just as in extreme fashion, we all need to be judicious about the choices we make, even in our everyday wear.

I think the crop of the pants keeps this Eileen Fisher outfit from being too droopy. LEFT: The Short-Sleeve Vertical Striped Sweater is $148. The description calls the sleeves “caftan style,” making it unclear how they would fit under a jacket. MIDDLE: The nicely cropped Tencel-Linen Tie-Waist Lantern Pants are $178. RIGHT: The cotton Mandarin Collar Snap-Front Channel Jacket is $258. All available at Neiman Marcus. The jacket is also at Saks Fifth Avenue.


Two faces of Eileen. LEFT: The Inverted Step-Hem Sweatshirt with drop shoulders in cotton “offers abstract structure to sweatshirt,” according to the description. Not really, but it does look comfortable. It’s $178 at Saks Fifth Avenue. RIGHT: This boatneck linen box top has a little bounce to it, probably because of the crisper, woven fabric and the slightly shorter, and only slightly dropped, sleeve. It’s now $124.60 (down from $178) at Saks Fifth Avenue.


LEFT: The short-long balance of the boxy sleeveless shell ($128) and the long faux-wrap skirt ($178), both in handkerchief linen, seems about perfect. Both available at Eileen Fisher. CENTER LEFT: Pulled apart, the jacket and pants are fine. Shown here, though, it’s an overabundance of fabric: The Washable Wool-Knit Blazer ($358), Italian Boatneck Long-Sleeve Cashmere Sweater ($378) and Silk Georgette Wide-Leg Pants ($298). All available at Neiman Marcus. CENTER RIGHT: This is about as pared down as Eileen Fisher gets: The Velvet Drawstring Slouchy Jumpsuit, on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue for $116.40 (down from $388), can be surprisingly flattering. And it’s certainly minimal. RIGHT: The Eileen Fisher Square-Neck Shell in a viscose-nylon-spandex blend ($88) nicely tops off the Wide-Crop Self-Tie Pants ($178) in the same fabric. Available at Saks Fifth Avenue.


Here are a few of the useful pieces that make up the Eileen Fisher “System.” You can see the entire collection at Eileen Fisher.


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17 thoughts on “What’s Right (and Not So Right) About Eileen Fisher

  1. marguerite guineheux says:

    I think Eileen Fisher clothes are terrific and have thought so for a good 10 years or more.
    Most of my wardrobe is EF. I can’t really afford it either. I would sell the EF clothes I don’t want
    on Ebay. I think knowing the clothing line very well helps. I made a lot of mistakes too. I love
    her linen shift dresses. Knee length with a bit of length in the sleeve. The clothes are very durable
    unless made of a fragile material.
    I’m wearing her brushed wool pants that need to be dry cleaned. They were too big for me. I washed them in hot water and put them in a hot dryer. They didn’t shrink all that much but look good now. They are warm and soft.
    Wearing it with a Merion/Yak cardigan. Feels great!

  2. Mary Lynne says:

    In my opinion, the ideal EF woman is tall and reed thin so the extra volume and boxy shapes work. Most women can’t wear these things, me included. I call them rich old hippie clothes. Women who partied at Woodstock wear Fisher. Women who think shopping at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods makes them somehow healthier wear Fisher. They market themselves as an ethical clothing company so women who think they’re woke consumers wear Fisher. The designs are also boring and drab. They remind me of Communist China uniforms from the ‘70s. In other words, you have to be a “type” to wear EF …… and have deep pockets. And, P.S., I don’t know anybody under 50 who wears EF, despite their marketing.

  3. Susan D. says:

    I used to buy EF clothing all the time. These days, I see NOTHING that is appealing. Stop with the boxy already. It doesn’t look good on anyone. And why are all the sleeves too long? That is not a good look either. Their so called ecological fabrics don’t look good and don’t wear well. EF needs a total redesign. There are women out here who want good clothing. Why not make it for them?

  4. Candy says:

    Drab, droopy, boxy, expensive — this is what comes to mind when I see EF clothes. Schlumpy, as my mother would say. I appreciate Nancy curating the best options, but still not convinced the line is worth it for me.

  5. Christine Jacobs says:

    Some of my favorite clothes are Eileen Fisher. Many of her styles I cannot wear – not flattering on me. I’m
    5’5″ and 136 pounds. Around the middle is wear I need a more generous amount of elastic or fabric. What I can’t for the life of me figure out is that Eileen Fisher asks for reviews, then sends a reply that she is grateful for the review, but never seems to use the information for much needed changes – even when we’ve only asked for the original – much coveted version of that item from the past. For example, the ponte pant – slim fit. So many women have written in to ask for another 1 – 1 1/2 inch higher in the waist, and why is it now “hugging” the crotch now, and why are they ridiculously long now??? The request is never granted – the pant has never changed back to its original version. For many, many, many women this pant was a staple for every day wear. So sad that she refuses to give a huge number of customers (see reviews on her site) what they are asking for. Also, I have noticed that some of her best pieces (boxy cotton tees with 3/4 length sleeve) are never brought back. Fit is not consistent – sometimes I now wear a small – not a medium. Have to return and re-order….. And the colors she uses are just downright putrid not creative or appealing. People who are larger do not like to look like a giant mango. Fabrics for tops often remind me of the 1960’s cheap weaves. I have to wonder who is making these really “off” design decisions. Oh, well… we look elsewhere…..her loss.

  6. Ellen Schofield says:

    I think you have to be careful about what you buy from EF. That said, almost all I’ve seen this year for sure are things that hang. Not my bailiwick. In the past, I’ve been able to buy nice fitted clothes from EF that last forever and look and feel good. Not so lately, except for a very few styles.

    I even have a classic black fitted midi skirt and loose matching top with sleeves that has lasted for decades. It’s a spring and fall outfit. I unbutton the top few buttons and belt it with a wide statement belt and that has made all the difference in how it looks. But I am disappointed in EF’s latest styles and won’t buy them.

    I usually wear a size XS in EF tops, sometimes S, but I do have a (sigh) bust. What I think is a huge miss for a line that prides itself on being inclusive for larger bodies is the lack of (fitted) v-neck tops, which she used to always have, as this is the best style for us women of “abundance!” 🙂 Also, we can’t wear straight across boat necks, Eileen–surely you must know that! But all in all, the line, with its current droopy, hanging shapeless clothes, has definitely “developed” into one that disappoints.

  7. Marna says:

    I think they are the most boring clothes I’ve ever seen and I am 69 years old. I just don’t get the appeal at all but…. different strokes for different folk(s) I guess.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Marna, I do understand what you mean. There is an ease to Eileen Fisher clothes, though, and they can offer a certain “polish” without having to assemble more than two or three pieces. That said, you had better supply your own square shoulders or you risk looking like a lump.

  8. Update 2020. Eileen Fisher is not as it once was. Fabrics decidedly inferior and shoddily stitched. Pants bag at the knee after only about a dozen wears. For the money – no longer
    worth it.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Oh, I dearly hope you just had a bad experience! The company certainly touts its fabrics. The clothes I have have worn like iron. Let’s hope it’s a momentary blip.

  9. Connie says:

    Yes, you have EF figured out–dark, sad, sloppy and droopy. In her defense this year EF has come out with pine green and midnight blue, and a topaz or bronzey color. Yes, at last. Quality or not, her summer fabrics often need dry cleaning. Am I going to waste any time going to the cleaners on a beautiful day. Come on Eileen, try a little harder to make wash-and-wear linen for summer. And by the way, EF, not a fan of unstructured and boxy styling. I buy EF because I can find my sizes and the quality is soo much better, not for styling.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Agree absolutely!That said, I have tons of EF in my closet.

  10. Julie Dear says:

    Hi Nancy. Great piece on the ambivalence in regard to EF. So admired for simplicity, comfort and fine fabrics. But disenchanted by drab colors and baggy drape effect. I always check her pieces first but realize they don’t make me feel like the image I want to project…relaxed but professional. Perhaps if I were a blonde or redhead!

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Hey, there, Julie! I don’t think your hair color has anything to do with it! Though I know what you mean about trying to stand out from those dull colors. I just noticed something funny on the EF website. Under “Clothing/ Collections,” it lists the “The Color Shop,” where you can find clothing that is NOT black or olive or raisin or mustard–actually, mustard sometimes has a punch. But all the colors are the grayed-back version of clean tones (I don’t know how else to describe it). All of that said, my closet is chock-a-block with Eileen Fisher! The pants are great, some of the jackets have a presence and, yes, the fabrics are very nice (which explains the higher price tag for basic Ts and camisoles and such). Anyway, we march onward in our search for wearable style!

  11. Nancy says:

    Although I have always been drawn to this line, nothing has ever really fit right or done anything for me. Definitely not for small ladies. Other than the dresses.

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      I feel the same way. The clothes look appealing but then they’re mostly overwhelming.

  12. Ginny says:

    Good points

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