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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