The 12 Best Fair Isle Sweaters for Women in 2023

The fairest of them all.

woman wearing Fair Isle sweater overlayed with white text reading The Essentials
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Welcome to The Essentials, our series highlighting the must-have classics key to building a timeless, pulled-together closet.

They look right at home in a wood-paneled Aspen ski lodge, but the traditional Fair Isle sweater was born in Fair Isle itself, a remote seaside island just south of Scotland. "Fair Isles originated in the early 19th century as a pattern for fishermen's caps and sweaters," Boden's Head of Product Merchandising, Lucy Rosenberg, explains of the iconic multicolored geometric jumper. And the best Fair Isle sweaters, she says, honor the style's legacy and classic simplicity. "It's an enduring pattern that's great for all ages and, in a way, is almost a neutral," she shares with Marie Claire, saying the sweater's timeless look has helped it remain a buzzed-about, cold-weather essential, even 200-odd years later from its conception. 

Princess Diana in a Fair Isle sweater.

(Image credit: Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Hulton Royals Collection/Getty Images)

Fashion journalist Elizabeth Holmes adds that the Fair Isle sweater's inextricable connection to the Royal Family also plays an instrumental role in its perennial appeal. After being worn by Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1921, the multicolored knit jumper catapulted to fame as both a trending style for the masses and a royal fashion staple. "I love how Diana wore them, particularly early on in her royal tenure," says Holmes, the author of the best-selling book HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style. "The maroon cardigan with the pie-crust-collar blouse was a classic look, indicative of her sweet, slightly mummy pre-wedding style (so fitting as a 19-year-old girl trying desperately to be seen as a grown-up princess)." 

Kate Middleton, ever the thoughtful dresser, also has her fair share of Fair Isle outfits. Holmes' personal favorite is the sweater from Scottish brand Brora's collaboration with TROY London the new Princess of Wales wore on a 2020 Scotland tour, as it was "a lovely, gracious nod" to the style's origins.

kate middleton in a fair isle sweater

(Image credit: OWEN HUMPHREYS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Holmes adds that the Fair Isle knits have become a symbol in the royals' style code, signaling a down-to-earth humility that contrasts with their otherwise high-octane looks. "Members of the Windsor family are expected to be both fancy and frugal, aspirational and relatable, worthy of the royal title as well as responsible stewards of taxpayer funding. The glamorous gowns and sparkling tiaras are one side of that, and the classic royal country attire is the other end. Fair Isle sweaters are a key piece of the latter," the royal fashion expert explains. "They're in the same bucket as Barbour wax jackets and Hunter wellies as part of the royals' 'off-duty' uniform. And in some ways," Holmes points out, "that's more exciting because those elements of their style is more within reach, bringing them down out of the palace and among the people."

If you don't own one already, it's about time you join the club. Shop our below edit of the best Fair Isle sweaters for women and take comfort in the fact the knit is truly timeless.

The Best Fair Isle Sweaters

Meet the Expert

Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes is a New York Times best-selling author and veteran multimedia reporter. Her first book, HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style, debuted on the New York Times best-seller list in November 2020. A contributing editor at Town & Country, Elizabeth’s work has appeared in a host of national outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Real Simple, and InStyle. She spent more than a decade on staff at The Wall Street Journal, most recently as a senior style reporter and columnist focusing on the business of fashion and beauty. Elizabeth is also the creator of the Webby-honored Instagram Stories series “So Many Thoughts,” which offers sartorial commentary on the royal family.

Sara Holzman
Style Director

Sara Holzman is the Style Director for Marie Claire, where she's worked alongside the publication for eight years in various roles, ensuring the brand's fashion content continues to inform, inspire, and shape the conversation about fashion's ever-evolving landscape. With a degree from the Missouri School of Journalism, Sara is responsible for overseeing a diverse fashion content mix, from emerging and legacy designer profiles to reported features on the influence of social media on style and seasonal and micro trends across the world's fashion epicenters in New York, Milan, and Paris. Before joining Marie Claire, Sara held fashion roles at Conde Nast's Lucky Magazine and Self Magazine and was a style and travel contributor to Equinox's Furthermore website. Over her decade of experience in the fashion industry, Sara has helped guide each brand's style point of view, working alongside veteran photographers and stylists to bring editorial and celebrity photo shoots to fruition from start to finish. Sara currently lives in New York City. When she's not penning about fashion or travel, she’s at the farmer’s market, on a run, working to perfect her roasted chicken recipe, or spending time with her husband, dog, and cat. Follow her along at @sarajonewyork