What is it about Eileen Fisher?

If there were ever a label I have worked so hard to love–no, worship–it is Eileen Fisher.

For a good twenty years, from the label's Japanese-monk debut to its present Asymmetrical Goddess incarnation, I've been lured to the murmuring, monochromatic balm of the ads.

EF ballet-neck layering dress in merino

I have trolled EF boutiques, admiring the lichenesque colours, the self-effacing elegance, the zen discretion. I have tried on countless wools, silks and fine cottons, petting the lovely hand. When I found racks of EF at a discount store, I phoned my friend Marlene, prompting her to nearly wreck her car speeding there.

But I don't buy.

My friends do, as do many readers and bloggers. A women in EF does not look like she's trying to be mistaken for her daughter, trying to get a promotion, trying to seduce... trying for anything. She does not need to try; she is.

But EF is like the older sister of your best friend, the one who comes home occasionally, wafts an indescribable cedary-lemony scent, has the perfect ponytail and is kind but decidedly remote, inhabiting her singular, more refined world. We just don't connect.

When I picked up The New Yorker's Style issue (Sept. 23, 2013) for a bedtime read and found a long piece by Janet Malcolm, "Nobody's Looking At You", I thought, All will be revealed.

And much is, about Fisher herself— inscrutable, beautiful, elusive. Malcolm about weeps trying to understand the leadership koans ("the concept of facilitating leaders", "delegation with transparency") that guide the company's culture. 

Malcolm respects this complex woman who made the simplest of clothes (a design team now fills her shoes). She hints at Fisher's eccentricity in descriptions of her shyness, oddness and dislike of the business side of the company. Eileen Fisher reminded me of St. Laurent (minus the drug-fueled partying).

But I got no further in understanding why the clothes fail to incite gotta-have-it-lust. 

Upon waking the next morning, the reason hit me smack in the face: boobs. EF is not about the lushly three-dimensional female form. Yes, there is a woman under there, but head to toe EF has a contained quality. A woman will look womanly, but not sexy.

It's not that I wear frilly chiffon dresses or hootchie-mama décolléte. But there is a good eight degrees of chill built into EF that keeps me just on the wrong side of the shop window. When I mentioned this to Le Duc, he said "Eileen Fisher makes women look like nuns."

So who floats my strict boat?

Ça va de soie, a Montréal-based knitwear designer. Below, a page from last winter's catalog; the high-quality knits, in wool and cotton, are uncontrived but more fitted than EF. That high armhole elongates the torso and there are some fairly deep necklines which you can cami-flage or not.

Vivienne Westwood, whose Anglomania cloud coat in cherry makes me thrum with ardent adoration; I'm a fool for tailoring.

There are other designers, both European and North American, at various price points, who know women have boobs and a butt, and will wrap a seam or place a dart to caress them.

EF's great advantage is that their collections are presented in easy-to-assemble seasonal collections, offering both longstanding best-sellers and new pieces that coordinate. There is an ease beyond the cut; the company positions the acquisition of an Eileen Fisher wardrobe as sensible indulgence.

Some women mix the pieces with other designers; my take is that this is not often chic and at worst, jarring.

Right now, I am thinking of my close friend Alice, in her teal silk EF ensemble, narrow pants, shell and sheer gazar coat, feminine and floaty. She looks fantastic in that, so there is definitely a woman for whom Eileen Fisher sings.

But she is not my designer, and now I am closer to knowing why.


Darla said…
Great post. I too look and admire but don't buy EF. I think for me it has to do with the point you made about "mixing" not working. I feel the outfits look best all EF and yet I don't want to buy "outfits" I want pieces that work with what I have.

Darla said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
I know exactly what you mean. I have purchased several Eileen Fisher items over time and they never work out. The brand is designed for the tall, thin, person I would love to be; not who genetically I am. So while I love the look and the feel of the garmets, all the wishing in the world will not make the brand work for me.
I will continue to admire from afar.
Kristien62 said…
I am up bright and early today and pushing myself to comment sans first morning coffee. Your EF comments struck a chord with me. I admire the brand and see it beautifully interpreted by folks like Deja Pseu. But I cannot pull it off. To say that I am curvy would be kind and perhaps it is my physique which contradicts EF style. I wish I could define for you, in a word, what my style is, but I am all over the place. I have a soft spot for your Muriel Dombret dresses, the rich colors, the drape of the material, the style. Perhaps that visual sums it up.
Susan said…
I am a curvy tall woman who has a closetful of EF clothing, While I stay away from her voluminous choices, I do find quite a bit in her line that works for my life. What do I like about it? First, I appreciate a line of clothing that has continuity. I always know that something I buy this season can be worn next year and that there will be new pieces to coordinate with it. I also love that EF clothing is versatile. It can be casual, but it can also be dressed up with accessories. I LOVE EF dresses. They comes in different lengths and I can actually find dresses in her line that are long enough for me. My EF dresses are knits and are easy to wear, easy to style, and easy to travel with.

I do buy clothing from other lines (mostly WorthNY and Lafayette). as I have found that there is not an EF garment for every need.

I don't try to dress like a nun. I think it would be possible to dress like a nun in EF clothing depending on which style you choose.
Susan said…
I want to add on thing about my EF knit clothing--especially my sleeveless knit dresses. They hug my curves (including my bustline and wait) and I consider them quite sexy. Others of my EF dresses are straighter in their shape. The point is that there is quite a wide variety of options in EF.
Swissy said…
Just as you and others say, I also admire EF designs. I have a couple of basic tees, but generally, the clothing doesn't suit my body or my lifestyle these days. I'm 5' 4" and a size 6 petite, so any volume swirling around just doesn't work at all. And I live in a tiny, rural NE village, I'm retired and there are few dress-up occasions these days. But I can still admire the aesthetic...on others.
Duchesse said…
see you: My friends have some full outfits but also wear other brands. There is room for both if a woman wants.

Lm: YOu will see some curvy women wearng them, and EF, to their credit, make Plus sizes in the same beautiful fabrics. I think it is more a matter of taste than size.

Kristien: And I notice EZF making forays into colours like paprika and deep bottle green, unlike years ago. But still, it's not my cut.

Susan: I expected some defending by EF wearers, and I acknowledge the brand's strengths. I would not call the dresses sexy, ever- but that is relative. The woman who buys L'Wren Scott is not gong to have to mull a choice between that and EF.

EF is designed with a certain customer in mind.

My husband did not say that the woman in EF •tried• to look like a nun, he said she looked like one. There is a difference.

Interesting post! I like Eileen Fisher, but it is not to my taste - it is more avant garde than I prefer and the plainness leaves me a little cold. I also love ca va de soi and Nougat London. I enjoy a little "extra"!
Susan B said…
I get what you're saying. It's an aesthetic that either appeals or not, I guess. Because most of my wardrobe has to work for the office, "sexy" is rarely what I'm going for when it comes to daytime wear. I do mix the basic pieces (tees, jeans, slim ponte pants) with other designers with no problem. And it's strange, but I actually think some of the pieces look better on me than on the models primarily *because* of my curves. But do check out the waxed cotton denim jeans or the moto jacket. "Nun" doesn't come to mind.
Susan said…
I would echo what Une Femme states. The knits on someone with curves are very different from what you see in the ads which use very slight models with straight figures. (Which is what I was trying to say above about some of the knit dresses being figure hugging.)

About the clothing being plain--yes, it is! That is one of the things I like best. I find simple to be more flattering and also a nice canvas for accessories. Plain clothing is also more versatile and allows a smaller wardrobe with varied looks.

Enough of the defense of EF. Not everyone likes it.
pinkazalea said…
Want to like EF, but only have three pairs of pants which I wear with other tops. Don't care for the all in one look where everything is EF. Also I tend to avoid clothes where the brand is so easily recognizable - like an entire outfit picked from the JCrew catalog. I do love EF on une femme, just suits her beautifully. I feel like a sad-sack wearing it. To each her own.
Gretchen said…
I've owned one item, a gorgeously colored mohair sweater, that I never wore. The idea of EF clothes (washability, each year blends with past pieces, no crazy colors, great fabrics) is great, but her stuff looks like hell on me. The skirts and trousers emphasize my hips and not in a good way, and the tops swallow me whole. While not well endowed nor very big in general, I find that classic tailoring fits me better, and emphasizes my "femaleness" without crossing too much into Katharine Hepburn territory. To me, EF just is blah.
frugalscholar said…
AS someone sans "boobs and butt," I am relieved to find something that doesn't cling. Her pieces are easy on the waist for those of us who lack a waist and go right over the tummy for those of us w/ a slight apple.

The only other line that does this is Chicos! And maybe JJill, but their quality is distressing.

Interestingly my tall, very thin 22 y.o. daughter likes EF too.

You're lucky you don't like it--I find the prices high for the quality, find most items made in China, and find the whole new age aura annoying.
Anonymous said…
Very interesting post. I am now 78 and never thought EF would work for me. I've always been a classic-aging preppy sort but lately I've been drawn to EF, perhaps because of djeu psue's styling, and have bought some EF. Sizing has to be done carefully and I avoid the voluminous but the fit can be quite marvelous and it's always comfortable! I bought the coated jeans this fall and love them with a beige yak yarn sweater and it fits my retirement lifestyle. I did think the New Yorker article mean spirited and said more about the author than perhaps she intended. I have also bought on line from EF (living in rural Ontario) and wonder if there is a difference in quality between what is in the store and what is on line. Would love to know if anyone else has found this to be the case?
materfamilias said…
Great analysis. I've bought two pieces, and one I don't wear anymore thanks to moths. The silk tank is unimpeachable, a gem truly, but like you, I generally get excited in anticipation of trolling the HR racks, sure that I'll end up as smart-looking as those bloggers (hi Pseu!) who rock their EF pieces. But I haven't left the changeroom with anything I love for the last several attempts, and I think I've stopped trying.
LOVED your description of the friend's older sister -- perfection!
MJ said…
I've bought several EF pieces (more since I mostly retired), and the ones I have work when I want to be "dressy casual." But I avoid the pieces that are big and floaty. A friend is a House of Colour consultant, and she talks about style types, which I found useful. I'm not sure what EF is, since it's not what I am (maybe EF is "natural," while it sounds like you may be more of a "dramatic classic"), but that might explain why it works for some of us and not others.
cgk said…
I love Eileen Fisher and find her clothes project a quiet sensuality. Not overt sexiness, but fluid movement and agility. You can sit on the floor in her clothes. I also like the minimalist aspect and clean lines, almost architectural in spirit. Very much a fan of EF!
Duchesse said…
WMM: Oh, I love Nougat, too. The clothes have more embellishment than EF and the like but are still quite discreet.

une femme: I do not mean a blatant, workplace inappropriate, I mean a discreet sexy, like that Westwood coat or a pencil skirt (not skintight) and a pair of boots, or a wrap dress, a look I believe you have modeled for us. Maybe I mean a tailored sexy... oh dear, this should be another post.

pinkazelea: That EF looks so wonderful on certain women sharpens my disappointment when it looks shapeless on me.

Gretchen: EF seem to know about this charge, as they have been cutting differently and including more detail in the past three years. I read somewhere that they are trying to appeal to the younger customer, too. There has been a shift, which Malcolm notes in her article too, from the 'old' EF, which was basically a series of rectangles. That is not to say it works for either of us.

frugal: If you can find this quality at a lower price, retail, let us know! For women who love EF there is always a ton of it on eBay.

Anon@10:04: I very much doubt that EF is shipping anything but their store quality. (I know some brands make a lesser quality which they sell at outlet stores and via their 'warehouse' online shops, but have never seen this myself with EF.)

That being said, I have found some of the fabrics in last summer's line not as appealing as I'd expect for the price, while others are lovely.

materfamilias: Women who post themselves in EF are super-happy in it; probably no one else at that price point inspires such enjoyment. Pseu picks hers up with jewelery or a scarf terrific makeup and has vibrant blonde hair which is an accessory in itself.

Without styling, a woman in EF looks very safe and generic to me.

MJ: I like tailoring and detail, but look godawful in a meanswear blazer. That Westwood is me, unfortunately s/o in my size.
Duchesse said…
cgk: The company's growth is because of its appeal to many women, for the reasons you describe.
Anonymous said…
Your husband's response that EF makes women look like nuns is hilarious. My husband made a similar comment when I wore a black A-line skirt, "you look like a nun." I donated it immediately. Sometimes I like the EF look because of its minimalism, but have a problem with the loose pajama look it projects to me. Still, in my opinion the EF line is far more elegant looking than many other lines out there.
SewingLibrarian said…
The sentence that said it all for me was, "I'm a fool for tailoring." That's me, too. Structure!
Susan B said…
You know I think the keyword here is "tailoring" and love of EF or not hinges on whether one's style leans toward tailored pieces. I'm sort of in the middle, preferring knits with a bit of structure. As a petite, I find a dearth of *good quality* tailored pieces that are cut for my frame at a price I can justify. Sure, there's Lafayette 148, but I find their pieces are often over-designed and hit St. John or Armani price points. There are very few lines out there that offer a petite size range or tailored lines that will work for shorter women.
LPC said…
I think une femme has hit it, for me. I like more structure, a shape, precisely because I don't have, um, boobs as a dominant parameter of my silhouette:).

Oddly, I have to dress more like a man to show off ways that my shape is womanly.
Anonymous said…
I keep thinking I should love EF too, but the line can be expensive and, to me, not very interesting. I am short and even her petite clothes just seem too big and voluminous. Tailoring is also an issue; I need some structure in my clothes. Still, I like looking at the pictures!

Yes, much as I admire that Westwood coat, I don't really like tailored garments.

Ça va de soie doesn't go beyond L and hence might well be out of the question for many who are overendowed in the boob department... Their quality is very good and often they have interesting colours (though I shouldn't look at their summer catalogue, as I hate pastels).

Some of the Eileen Fisher garments are cut VERY large. Is that vanity sizing, or are they supposed to be tent-like?

What I do like is the silk and linen knits. Looking at their current catalogue, I see some much more form-fitting garments than beforehand.

Though I can't for the life of me understand a denim shirt (Tencel or not) costing over $200!
Duchesse said…
lagatta: EF make a Women's range, too- their sizing covers quite a range of bodies, and to their credit theWoman's sizes have the same fabric, unlike other brands like Calvin Klein. I do see women in Ça a de soie who are large-ish busted, but some of their cuts are narrow and would probably be too tight above a D.
Anonymous said…
The EF linen tee is perfection in our humid summers. I size down for a more streamlined fit. The crepe slim leg pants are also wonderful. I avoid the oversized pieces and get lots of wear out of what I do selectively purchase.
Wendelah said…
I love Eileen Fisher. Her style suits my lifestyle and flatters my body. The items I need can usually be found on sale at Nordstrom or even Ebay. Since I no longer have a waistline to showcase, I like that her clothing doesn't cling. My husband has never accused me of looking like a nun, thank goodness. I don't have trouble mixing and matching her pieces but I've never been drawn to structure, and my wardrobe reflects that. Tailoring on me just makes me look prim and like I'm trying too hard. I also greatly appreciate that she has a Plus Size line, although I most often wear an XL or even a L in her tops, like the linen tees. The washable silk travels well, too.
Susan said…
I don't know about vanity sizing in the EF line, but I find that I try on sizes ranging from S to L in most pieces to find what is appropriate for me. I purchased a lovely silk jacket (not voluminous by the way) is size S this fall. It has angles in the front and is not one of those flyaway styles which are too matronly imho.

I have to say that I find your comments Duchesse to be just the slightest bit hurtful. While it is fine to say that the line does not suit you at all, to imply that those of us who do like EF are dressing like nuns does not seem kind. And, I don't agree with your assessment. As I said above, there are many choices in the EF line and some are quite edgy.

LauraH said…
Influenced by how great Deja Pseu looks in her EF, I've trolled the online catalogue several times. The colours have always stopped me from going any further, seems everything I like is black, which I'm trying to avoid, or dull grey, which I find depressing. Also not sure if these clothes fit with my life right now.

Your post and the ensuing discussion has had the odd effect of conviincing me to actually try EF, even if it means going to Holt's which I don't like to do. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
I find the "great fabrics" and quality overrated. I bought a 3/4 sleeve tee shirt and a knit skirt for big bucks online, a first time customer, and I will say the skirt fabric quality is worse than my Landsend ponte knit skirt from last year. Luckily I had bought 3 of those for $25 each on sale.

The sleeves on the 3/4 tee shirt are too tight for someone who exercises at all or is the least bit flabby, Talbots 3/4 sleeve is a better cut but flimsier fabric. It was too complicated to return from Canada so both are still wrapped up in my drawer ready for a garage sale or the Salvation Army. Very expensive mistake.

The thing I liked about Eileen Fisher was the muted colours, it's impossible to find something like grey tee shirts, older women here dress in primary or toddler colours.
Nancy K said…
That's it in a nutshell. If you have boobs and hips EF is not for you, or me with with my 38DD bust and hips. Years ago I was trying on clothing in one of her boutiques with my dh and I came out in one dress and he said,no, it's just not flattering and he was right. They are a little more fitted today, but not enough bust or hip shaping to suit a curvy woman.
I love simple clothing, so they appeal but I know that they just don't suit me.
Gauss said…
I love the EF look - simple, almost monastic - but I really cannot justify paying these prices. $200 for a t-shirt made in China?! I end up using their styling as inspiration, and try to either make my own clothes or put the looks together with more affordable pieces. Maybe if I win the lottery I will start buying the actual clothes.
Nancy said…
Here in the Bay Area, EF is so strongly associated with a certain type of woman--let's call her "middle-aged Berkeley psychotherapist willing to pay a lot of money to prove she doesn't care about fashion"--that it's very hard to avoid that linkage. That said, I live near an EF outlet store, which is pleasantly appointed and often has some relative bargains, and I do roam the racks when I'm in the neighborhood. But I never find anything that's even remotely flattering ... and I am, objectively, tall and slender. The colors are either woefully drab or sherbet-bright; the trousers are too wide and short; the shapes (on me, anyway), are tentlike and uninspiring.

I was recently in Nordstrom, looking for a particular style of jacket. The saleswoman, herself of a certain age, started to recommend EF, then stopped, looked me over, and said: "No. Too square for you."

A friend of mine put it best when she dubbed EF "Forever 49."

And yes, that Janet Malcolm piece was offputting! Bizarre, even. It made EF sound like a creepy cult.
Linn said…
I think Duchesse is on to something with her comment that styling is important for EF wearers. I tend to wear my very curly hair away from my face and up, and that can exacerbate a monastic vibe. Certainly my EF attempts have not worked, except for one grey linen skirt that became my go to skirt this summer. Although even that needed to be taken in (I am a size 12; it's hard to imagine wearing a Small, but apparently I do in EF-land!) and taken up to his a more flattering point on my legs. I so admire the style of women (Pseu, etc) who look so good in those outfits, but the voluminous tops make me look huge.
Anonymous said…
I don't really know EF , it is available in the UK now but not in my area & I'm not a mail order fan . However the discussion was so interesting between those for & against ,I had a look at the website & the prices seem rather 'hot' to me . Whilst I do like quite a lot of their stuff , it isn't particularly unusual or out of the ordinary , so why so expensive ? Your Canadian nuns must be quite snappy dressers compared to their British sisters though
Duchesse said…
Wendelah: I know what you mean about tailoring looking prim, and it can also look too hard. Obvously, our husbands have different taste.

LPC: I do think EF can be worn by a woman with various sized breasts, but the designs I have tried, over the years, seem to best flatter the A to-B woman.

Nancy K: I know what you mean, but suspect it is the interplay of various cut choices that make it less appealing on hourglass figures. Because, if I may say, Deja Pseu has a bust and looks great in hers.

Nancy: The look you describe also exists in women who wear Eskandar, Rondaldus Shamask and certain Donna Karan pieces (among other designers): soft, unstructured, clothes that are at the other end of the scale from power suits. Good clothes for sitting in, for hours, non-binding.

Susan: Please read that sentence again. I hope you can differentiate between someone's opinion of a clothing line and a personal
criticism of •your• appearance.

Linn: Others have a they have to try on a a of sizes to get the right EF fit. I have tried that too-but extensive alterations, on top of the price? Not going to happen.

Anon@3:06: Do you know anyone who would appreciate them as a gift? Really sorry they are unworn. As for the fabric, I have seen some I thought was very good, and others that did not seem to justify the price.
Duchesse said…
Anon@4:28: I worked amid nuns for some years and it always amazed me how, though they wore relatively the same simple clothes, some had style and others did not.

Poetry (UK) looks rather like EF, as the clothing is unstructured and the palette is those non-colours.
Susan said…
Thank you Duchesse for saying that the criticism is not personal--even though it felt that way.

For those who question the quality of EF fabrics, I have this to say. You have to pick and choose. I avoid all the very light weight fabrics and all the transparent fabrics.

I love the ponte knits(for pants) and the viscose jersey (for dresses and tops) . I don't like the voluminous tops at all. I like EF coats. I own several and enjoy them immensely. I don't like the boxy tops. You really have to pick and choose. I think it would be extremely dicey to buy from the website without seeing the items in person. I am fortunate to live in a big city that has both an EF shop and department stores (at least three of them) which carry EF. All carry different items.
Duchesse, the only EF top I ever owned, thrifted, was a size medium. That is why I was referring to vanity sizes. I'm a ddd at least.

And I LOVE their grey.

By the way, hope all had a lovely long weekend. The weather was spectacular here, as is the produce!
beyondbeige said…
I love clothes but have a really hard time finding what looks good on my short,booby,hippy body. I I have tried EF but as others have commented it just doesn't work. Please somebody help! :)
Anonymous said…
Wow--big reaction to this post. EF's clothes can be hard to wear (I always have to remind myself, when the brochure arrives and I'm enthralled with her new looks, that I am NOT that tall Asian model, reed thin with a yard of black hair.) But as one whose small-chested frame is easily overwhelmed by collars, lapels, pockets and embellishments, I am grateful that Fisher so often replaces these with narrow bands and invisible finishes. I've bought several pieces, some second-hand, others new, and all have paid for themselves many times over. Her handkerchief linen clothes are my favorites; nothing else makes me feel as comfortable and composed during hot, humid weather. True, they are not designed to attract others, exactly. They seem introverted and self-contained, and that may be what many of us find so appealing.

Anonymous said…
I like your blog a lot. I also like Eileen Fisher, very very much. I am petite with curves both in the chest and in the tummy. I find that the voluminous Eileen Fisher pieces do not fit me but the well made silk tee shirts, A line skirts, and A line dresses fit well and are timeless. In fact my wardrobe is 80% Eileen Fisher, most were bought on eBay or Nordstrom rack. I do think one needs to be picky with Eileen Fisher. I learned that fact over the years and I have got rid of most of the oversized tops and wide leg pants. I love Eileen Fisher and buy new and pre-owned items every month. Maybe too much, I have to tell myself to stop.

If I have to pay retail, probably not. Then on the other hand, I never pay for retail on almost any clothing items. It simply is not worth it to me. I like style and fashion but I will not bankrupt myself for any designer.
Hadilly said…
Interesting post. I have a couple of dresses and a tunic sweater (blackberry merino, asymmetric hem, v-neck). 34dd, curvy, 5'5" 148lbs., and I take a xs in EF (ridiculous vanity sizing!). I find the dresses very sexy and sensual with their substantial jersey, one is a long black tank dress from their basics collection that swirls in the most delightful way around my legs, and the other a long sleeve peacock blue (with a nifty triangular cutout in the back) that shows off my breasts but skims my stomach.

I do think one has to shop carefully at EF. They make some enormous cuts and big batwing sleeves, but their dresses bearr consideration.
juno said…
Just a thought, but what is so offensive about dressing like a nun? Is it the modesty that everyone finds unattractive? Imho I find modesty a greatly undervalued aspect of appearance (and personality too). I find great beauty in monks robes, nuns habits or chadors (all shapeless garments). The focus is on the face and I find the swish of fabric wonderfully appealing. I find it very appealing to not emphasize my body in clothing (I have a very good figure). Perhaps it requires extra confidence to cover up what society finds appealing? Interesting discussion, thanks for the post.
Anonymous said…
"introverted and self-contained, and that may be what many of us find so appealing."

Yes, or not so appealing. :)

EF clothing remind me of grown up hippy clothing. In a good way.
Duchesse said…
C.: Handkerchief linen is one of my favourite fabrics, ever,

Anon@ 10:02; eBay is always stuffed with EF. If you know you can wear a particular style, and are willing to watch for it, that is an excellent way to avoid the high price.

Hadilly: Your pieces sound very appealing.

juno: Since the comment was made by my husband, I asked him; he said "like a nun means "asexual'".

He likes quiet, elegant clothes. But his preference is more like the clean but fitted dresses Robin Wright Penn wears in "House of Cards" than the loose monastic robe.

As far as covering up what society finds appealing, nuns are required to dress the way they do. Other women will make their choices, and women in North America show a very wide range of choice.

My husband, though, respectfully admires the charms that are presented in women's conventional secular dress, as do many people with a certain vitality.

EF does not turn heads like some other clothes- which may be an anti-goal to a woman. That is only one function of clothing- and at times that last thing I'd want.

But with my husband with me in the shop, trying on the EF I was thinking of buying to wear, out with him? Different story, and that was his take.
Duchesse said…
Anon@7:16: Actually when I was a hippie I wore a lot more revealing clothing than EF! Little tank tops, low-cut gypsy blouses, sheer dresses, tight bellbottom jeans, with hip-slung belts. And no bra. Ah, youth.
Beth said…
Hah. I have owned only one EF item: a beige, heavyweight silk charmeuse top. I wore it once and then gave it away to a friend who loves EF. Just Not Me. To be honest, I think EF clothes are an upscale version in fine fabrics of the body-concealing long skirts and oversize tops, often in purple or batik prints, worn by the aging hippie women who populated the Vermont towns where I used to live, and delighted in calling themselves "crones"; they have given up on relationships with men and gather with other women for solstice celebrations. That's fine, but like I said, it's Not Me. (My husband doesn't like those designs either!)
Beth said…
p.s. Interesting comment about Robin Wright Penn's wardrobe! I admire her clothes too, and she has a great figure -- but her character in that show ruins the attractiveness for me!
Unknown said…
As une femme noted, it is hard for to petites like me to find good quality tailored garments that fit well although I would prefer those pieces if I could find them. I have several EF pieces carefully selected for fit on my petite frame. It helps that I have no boobs.

I've had to return many EF pieces because they are not fitted well enough or are too drapey.
Duchesse said…
Beth: I had not connected that reference (as the batik clothes are so garish) but see how the most voluminous EF could remind you. (Also Flax.) Yes, the character is horrid but does she look good in a pencil skirt!

Susan Partian: I see many well-dressed petite women but Pseu says the petites departments in good stores are going the way of the tea sandwich, so it's hard. I don't know your style but my petite friends say Rag & Bone and Theory fit them well even though they are not labelled petite.

Duchesse said…
Gauss: (Sorry, so many comments I forgot to whom I had replied): lucky you can sew, and yes, EF type clothes exist at lower price points- for example, Flax, Cut Loose, J (a Jones New York brand) and various indy designers.

You'll find number EF-type patterns at Vogue and Burda, as well as the smaller houses. One might think this sort of thing is easy to sew, but some designs (for example, a bias-cut asymmetrical top in silk) are not beginner projects.
Gayle said…
EF Love the quality but seldom does it work for me.
Too much 'float-y' ..
Am I too short?
But those silk tees
are great.
Anonymous said…
I'm 5'4 and curvy......some (my husband) would say sexy. I like EF, and when I want to take it up a notch, I belt it! I've received compliments on several things and when asked where I got it, I will receive a surprised look when I say it's EF.
HB said…
Love the post and all the comments here. I am solidly in the A-B set with broad shoulders and a long inseam...and hips!...and have worn EF for years. If you were to dress me in a tailored suit, god forbid in a pencil skirt, I'd look like a tank. My flattery zone has always been a man's blazer (a real one, not a mannish model) and a-line midi skirt or wide trousers. The float of EF's line mixes well in that wardrobe environment.

The nun statement does ring true - I use EF in a work environment that is 98% men and with a casual edge (in the Pacific NW). It substitutes well for a "suit" feel without having to commit to that level of formality; it is neutral enough to the casual observer that I don't feel over dressed. And I love the versatility I get out of the fabrics from one season to the next. It's probably the way I accessorize and imx, but I have never been accused of being unfeminine, typically quite the opposite. Anything that does speak to my curves or a more sensuous celebration of form is in contrast to the majority of an outfit.

Now - if we were really going to delve into what I love and would purchase if I could afford it on a regular basis: Donna Karan. Not the same, by any means, but there is a subset of commonality in the lusher fabrics and comfortable cuts which respond to a woman's curves well. Ms Karan's silhouettes, however, are stunning and quite sensuous-to-sexy. Somehow her clothing doesn't wear me even when more conventionally feminine garb does; it mixes well too. No idea why.
Duchesse said…
HB: I would love to see you, in your EF pants worn with a real man's blazer, sounds personal and fresh. Almost Diane Keaton-style, mixing mens'wear with slouchy pants or a soft shirt.

Agree about DK, too. She has an way of mixing comfort with sensuality; she once said, in an interview, "I like my girls to look hot as a pistol"- though the few DK pieces I have owned were easy, wore extremely well and did not date.
Mary W. said…
I love the look of EF clothes on the hanger, but I have not had luck finding anything that looks good on my body shape. I'm in awe of bloggers like Une Femme who wear EF clothes and look great.
Unknown said…
I have to agree - I like the vibe but 1/20 of the pieces I've investigated have worked for me. Which comes out to something like 4 garments.

The New Yorker piece actually turned me OFF of EF (perhaps the person more than the business). I didn't find much there to connect or resonate with.

My latest delight is finding brands like Cut Loose in local stores that are US made, EF-like (arty) but also cheaper than EF. The same problem of "often too loose, too boxy, too sloppy" still applies, though.
Anonymous said…
There's a reason you are not attracted to Eileen Fisher, but I don't think you've quite identified it.... there is no with or charm in her designs. The original japanese 'monk' designers oozed both qualities, but Eileen Fisher does not see more than the superficial minimalist aesthetic. Comme des Garcons has humour, Issey Miyake has energy, and Yohji Yamamoto (my particular favourite) has romance. Eileen Fisher has succeeded in avoiding all of these elements.
Duchesse said…
Artful Lawyer: I really like Cut Loose and Flax for less-expensive, easy-fitting linen.

Fisher herself seems like an introvert (at least in that piece), and it's hard for such persons to reveal themselves to those they don't know.

Anon@4:36: You are right that there is no wit in EF, as opposed to, say, Westwood or Dries van Noten. (Maybe that is why women feel compelled to add accessories.)

But my husband also abhored my Yamamoto coat! While I do not dress exclusively for him, if making a big purchase and trying therefore to justify wearing it a great deal, I want him to be able to stand it.

Marla said…
I have been a fan of EF for years and I am not tall or willowy, but I am very selective and have stuck mostly with basics along with dresses and cardigans. Une Femme has been an inspiration. I think the biggest attraction was the quality which I used to think was commensurate with the price. My lifestyle has changed in the past couple of years and I haven't found a new clothing niche by a long shot, and I've been consistently disappointed by EF recently. The prices have shot up alarmingly as well as has the huge volume of some of her pieces - they swallow me whole. I used to love the seasonal planners and visit the store about once a month...I think I've been in once this year. I have pieces I've worn to death and even bought multiples of in the past, but I don't see much for me in the future. I feel kind of sad about it, but relieved that I don't fit into Beth's hilarious description of the solstice worshippers!
Unknown said…
I was too wimpy to put this in my original comment - to anyone who read the New Yorker piece, did the ongoing drama with EF herself and the outdoor cat turn you off? It didn't sit right with me - my opinion, worth $0.02 towards a cup of coffee - but I certainly didn't come away thinking "yes, I want to give her $400 of my hard earned cash!" The perils of being interviewed and breaking silence...
Duchesse said…
MD: Part of EF's allure is (or was) in being that consistently welcoming brand. All we ever need, just right... some women find theirs and others keep searching or are forced to if the line changes.

Artful Lawyer: The cat story disturbed me, too. (For those who have not read: EF turned an indoor cat into an outdoor one after he had disputes with her other indoor cats. The cat had spent a winter outdoors and there was no plan to change this approach for the next. He was fed from the porch.)

I had hoped she would find another home for the animal.

Susan B said…
To Anonymous, I get what you're saying regarding "wit and charm;" it's true that EF pieces don't have the kind of witty design details that a Yohji Yamamoto piece might, but they're also not in the same arena design-wise or certainly price-wise. It's a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. They're also easier to wear day-to-day than a lot of YY pieces might be.
Carolyn from Oregon said…
D'accord. I like EF clothes and wish I could wear them, or something conceptually similar that wasn't triangle shaped, but they just aren't meant for bosomy "V" silhouette women. I have a couple of cardigan things that flatter and work well but more that ended up in the consignment shop.

I'll gladly check out your alternatives - especially the silks. I'm allergic to wool.

Calabash said…
I have been wearing EF for at least 25 years. I feel so at home in her clothes, and they meet my deep need for clothes that are black, all shades of grey and variations on sludgy colours. Summer can be difficult with all those retina-scalding brights, however.

I also like that I don't feel constricted in her clothes, I don't do structured, tailored, lined clothes, I feel claustrophobic and I find I'm always tugging at things. We all have our weirdnesses.

I mix EF with Vince, Splendid, Joie and Helmut Lang, they play nicely together.

Anonymous said…
I love Eileen Fisher and I find the cuts and fabrics fluid and sensual. I find overly tailored clothing fussy and stuffy at my age -- makes me feel dated and constricted -- and I appreciate the understated drama of the natural fibers and hues. I don't find any problem whatsoever in mixing and matching Eileen Fisher pieces with other labels and I often "de-fuss" a more tailored piece with something swingy and arty from EF. And the scarves are gorgeous. I just got a red red wool one that is my new favorite thing.

But to each her own! I don't really care what middle aged therapists living in Berkeley, California wear -- just don't care and I left all that kind of worry behind years ago. I don't care what men want me to wear either, lest I appear nun-like. I wear what I like and what expresses my joy. I used to feel the same way about women who wear Ann Taylor or women who dress too "ladies who lunch" as some people seem to feel about women who wear Eileen Fisher ... but now I just think that women should wear whatever the heck they want.
Ellen said…
What a great discussion! I've had a 15+ relationship with EF garments, mostly ambivalent. She uses some gorgeous fabrics, and understands how texture enhances a neutral or monotone outfit. I've had dismaying experiences of VERY expensive EF Fisher sweaters not holding up well -- pilling, seams pulling out of shape, zippers breaking -- ugh. As I study the EF line, it seems that most of her garments and outfits pull the eye down. Like une femme, whose blog I read and admire, I am curvy and petite. But unlike une femme, tunics are a killer for me, and crew necks make me look busty and stuffed. I need some level of detail to pull the eye up and shape around the shoulders, bust and waist. The pieces work best with other EF pieces, there is an aesthetic of length and drape and similarity of non-tailoring between them. The recent muddy colors and price tags have severely limited the appeal of her line. I'm glad to see other suggestions from your readers for color, and more feminine shape.
Duchesse said…
une femme: YY to EF is not an apples-to-apples comparison, and I agree EF is far more mainstream, not to mention relatively less expensive.

Carolyn from Oregon: EF suits some bodies and not others; I bought several pieces over the years. Silk velvet pants worked well, then EF shortened the inseams.

Calabash@4:56: "I feel at home in her clothes" is a simple summary of why the line has grown.

Anon: I think women do wear what they want, but that choice also factors in various criteria: the occasion, their role, and what they wish to say about themselves, visually, and to whom.

I don't dress to "please men", I dress to please one man, and sometimes overrule his opinion. And •I• do not want to look like a nun, either.

Any woman who asks a friend or significant other, "How do I look in this?" is soliciting others' opinions, which she may accept or reject. Wearing what expresses your joy sounds great to me!

Duchesse said…
Ellen: This post has generated more comments than any other, in nearly six years. EF is a polarizing brand: opinion ranges from "indispensable and loved" to "disliked" and "not worth it".

Few other brands would evoke such heated opinion. I tried to think- who else? Prada maybe, though not many can afford it.

the Merry Lemon said…
This is a great post. Love the discussion.

I have been wearing EF for at least 15 years. First menopause, and then the onset of diabetes left me with an odd shape. Thin legs, no butt, but weight in my stomach area. I could Lways find outfits and pieces that mixed well during those difficult years. I still have many of those pieces, but they are now too big as my weight and figure have become more even.

Fast forward, and I - a New Yorker - find myself living and working in Washington DC. The conservative style of dress is MIND NUMBING!! It has taken me a while to find my style. Some edge but nothing too bizarre.

In my mind I would like to dress in a Bohemian style. But it wouldn't be appropriate, nor does it really suit me (I told you it was in my head).

I wear a lot of EF. I look good in boxy tops and slim pants/leggings/slim skirts. EF also offers some items that have just a touch of edge. The rest of my wardrobe is St. JOHN (travels well, very professional - mostly bought on eBay), and a collection of no iron shirts from Chico's, Brooks Brothers and Nordstrom Rack.

I love EF Ponte fabric - pants, skirts and dresses. I love that most of it is washable. I don't like the price point.

EF works for me. I am excited to find these blogs that can offer suggestions for my age AND my style. :)
Anonymous said…
Missed this post as I was in Paris. I packed my E.F. pieces (they seem to be wrinkle resistant) and a few other carefully chosen items. I am of a certain age, petite and somewhat slender. The lava kimono jacket and matching scarf along with a black column was my favorite look and judging by the complements, many others as well. I was browsing in a shop when a thirty something male approached me. Once he established my limited grasp of French, he switched to English. He expressed his opinions quite clearly. One, he loved my look and said I carried it off well. Second, he said liked my artistic flair and third he was somewhat surprised I was an American. We had a lovely conversation about art, math and the Euro zone. I was very flattered by the attention of this handsome man and his charm. He did not have an agenda, but was simply acknowledging me. I was not invisible in France.

I was wearing the E.F.lava kimono jacket, matching E.F scarf in lava, black silk stop and black harem pants. All E.F. except for the black suede wedges with bows. I am still walking on air.
Duchesse said…
Gayle: The belt does add shape and can completely change the look.

Merry Lemon: Wow, would not at first thought have thought the same woman would enjoy EF and St. John; congratulations on knowing what lines work for you.

Anon@7:54: Lord, I recoiled at those harem pants (any harem pants, in fact), and am sincerely impressed you can wear them well. I also heard they have sold well. An example of how one women's reject is another woman's signature look.

Anonymous said…
Look at JJill.com. A former designer for EF is designing now for Jjill.
Duchesse said…
Anon@3:34: J Jill are certainly are making similarly-styled things at a lower price point. Have you bought any of their EF-type clothes? If so, what did you think, by comparison?

I noticed many of J Jill sweaters have some acrylic or nylon in them, and while a blend can be pleasing and increase durability, EF devotees like their natural fibers.

Mallory Weiss said…
I'm a 27 year old somewhat trendy woman (i like cropped tops and holes in my jeans), and I love the EF aesthetic. Am I going to walk around in wide leg cropped pants with a tunic to my knees and a kimono on top? No, I don't think you have to accept the whole look when purchasing EF (although some head to toe outfits on the IG page are tdf-check them out), but I can't deny that the plain, well designed pieces are very attractive IMO. I've always liked a loose fit to my clothes as well, but I will admit that it takes a certain figure to wear loose flowing clothing. I wear a loose EF linen blazer over white denim cutoffs and an EF black midi sleeveless dress with a vintage Guatemalan jacket. What excites me about EF is it seems like its made to complement whatever your personal style is! That being said, the pricing, and sizing could use some rehauling.
Duchesse said…
Mallory Weiss: At 27, you are far younger than the persons for whom this blog is written (50 and up) which is not to say you are unwelcome or that your opinion is not of interest. Women past 50 have different clothing needs than women in their twenties, though there are some mutual ones.

While 50+ women may need loose, flowing clothing to accommodate bodies that time has changed, an number of us do not want to look sexless. (For others, that is not a consideration.) But it is for me. In EF, I feel like a nun, and the only other person whose admiration I seek, my husband, hates the clothes. So, I am biased. And yet, as I said in the first para, I have worked hard to at least like EF, because I seek simple clothes made from good fabric.

In the several years since I wrote this post, I've revisited EF boutiques and departments, same results. But I can admire it on someone else, usually mixed in, as you describe your ensembles.

I've found a line that is more body-conscious and fits me well (ça va de soi); however, they make only tops and a tiny collection of skirts, no pants.

Unknown said…
Great post on EF line of clothing....I appreciate your opinion. I love EF for all the reasons you don't. LOL! I have been wearing the line for 20 years and still have and wear some older pieces. I also mix the line with other lines like Chimala, Humanoid, Isabel Marant Etoile, etc. I am petite and curvy and can't carry off the items that are too voluminous. I was in one of the boutiques in NYC and making a fairly large purchase a few years back and said something about the ease of her clothing and an SA said that her clothes will just make you eat more and you will get fat. This has never happened to me. And I thought---now, that is someone they should let go. ha, ha, ha!
Duchesse said…
TheOrganiclady: Of all my thousand plus posts, this one and the post on sexless marriages has the most hits, go figure. Nearly three years later, I stand by my assessment and still find EF anodyne. But I am deeply appreciative that EF make their plus line in the same fabrics as misses' and admire it on some women, sometimes.

When you first began to buy it 20+ years ago, there was nothing like it readily available. Now there are several brands that sell relaxed, natural-fiber clothing, such as Everlane, Flax, and (at a lower price point) J. Jill, plus a clutch of European "lagenlook" makers like Oska and Lilith.

I still will walk through an EF department or boutique with an open mind. Lately I have noticed more EF marked down and wonder, Was it was overbought by the store? Is it too pricey in this skittish economy? Have women have returned to more (relatively) fitted clothing?

EF lovers ardently defended their pieces in the comments here, and I respect them.

Odd remark from that SA, most tell the customer she looks thinner in the brand.
Unknown said…
I'd like to read your other posts. I was in Germany this summer and discovered Oska. I thought it look a lot like EF and bought a few pieces. But I will be honest with you, I don't think the quality is the same. I will look up Lilith. Thanks so much!
Oh by the way, my sister, in Connecticut, says that EF seems to always be on sale at Lord & Taylor. I don't have one where I am and for some reason, I just don't like their website. I do have to tell you that Neiman Marcus here had stopped carrying it for a while but now it is back. You are probably right about the skittish economy. Yes, I don't know what was going through the mind of the SA. ;)
Nancy said…
This made me smile and remember all the years I faithfully bought Vogue and other women's magazines, lusting over the Ralph Lauren ads, so wanting to have "that look". While I was able to get away with the crew neck sweaters so long as I wore a Liberty-type print blouse underneath, the look overall was just too stiff, tailored and rigid to do me any justice. I visited a color consultant/stylist in NYC years ago and he told me I was so Yin as to be almost off the chart - but not the Bernadette Peters type of Yin - more like Ann Margret. I needed soft, lush fabrics and shapes with some curve. Fortunately I found that Evan Picone filled the bill perfectly during my working years. Never had to try them on. I could trust their shapes and their sizing and feel my absolute best. Even were they still in business, my circumstances would no longer allow me to buy with abandon as I once did. To this day, I love their slightly fitted, collarless jackets. I never liked standard lapels and David Kibbe allowed me to know why. I will tolerate a shawl collar but prefer none, with something soft underneath. Fortunately, I sew and have a lovely collection of silk tweeds just waiting to be sewn up from my very old Evan Picone patterns. No matter how much we admire a designer and long to wear his or her clothing, we must consider what works for us. Sigh, my preppy years have softened around the edges to more curve in my clothes and a softer me but I still love the scent of 4711 or Royal Lyme which we all wore in the mid 60s summers. I still adore my pearls and if am not wearing something to warrant a strand, then I wear my lovely 10 mm floating pearl (a treat to soothe my spirit when my husband of 28 years no longer wished to be married to someone with orthopedic/rheumatologic issues). I love that solitary floating pearl - somehow symbolic of my life in my last 17 alone years. I float and survive and just become more like a beloved pearl. I survive. As an aside, when first on my own, I wanted to move to Ontario but because I was not able to be employed (as I was on Social Security disability) I was told I was not a candidate for permanent citizenship.
CK said…
I am tall and plus-size. At EF, I can find pants that fit in nice fabrics and colors, and t-shirts and tops that are very well cut. The prices usually make me go ouch though so it's a once in a while purchase. They also now have a site to buy their refurbished used clothing (and you can trade in garments for a tiny sum in return).

I have to admire their commitment to fairly made clothing and responsible manufacture. I by no means limit myself to their clothing.Most things in my closet are from LLBean, JJill, or Universal Standard. I doubt their commitments to the things that EF is committed to, but my pocketbook only goes so far, and I'm not often able to find thrifted clothes that fit my body.
Duchesse said…
CK: The reasons you cite are echoed by many commenters like the brand. You can find a lot of resale EF on eBay; several friends have a permanent search for their favourites. I just found (and bypassed) a pristine pair of black wool EF trousers for $6 in a thrift store. I also like that they make their plus sizes in the same good fabric they use for regular. Not all high end RTW designers do.

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