Stuck for ideas on what to wear for New Year’s Eve or another big bash? We’ve got some ethical evening dresses and pantsuits that will make you light up the room!
By Diane Small
What makes the difference between an ‘everyday’ dress, and one you’d wear to an evening event?
Lots of things, of course. First off, it’s all about the higher quality, slightly shinier, sparklier fabrics. Think: silks, satins, chiffons – with or without a bit of glitter.
Then there’s the beautifully tailored, elegant cuts that show off just the right amount of skin: a well placed slit up to the thigh, or a low-cut back, for example. And, of course, the ‘wow’ factor – that certain something that makes heads turn, and that makes you feel absolutely fabulous in what you’re wearing. This could be a ruffled shoulder, a puffed sleeve, or maybe a subtle cut-out in the design.
Of course, we needn’t stick with ethical evening dresses for a big night out: jumpsuits are making a huge comeback, too, but if you find one-pieces too uncomfortable, a pair of palazzo pants (especially high-waisted ones) are not only an elegant option, but a versatile one, too.
Whether you’re ringing in the new year, on a big date, or going to a gala, I’ve found some ethical formalwear options that I think you’ll love.
The Best Ethical Evening Dresses For A Big Night Out
This is one of the best ethical evening dresses for vegans who want to make a seriously sexy impression!
The brand’s signature butter-soft (and machine washable) vegan leather feels and wears lighter than you’d expect. Their ‘Helisa’ dress has a universally flattering wrap silhouette that’s draped through the waistline and cut mid length. Wear yours with some tall boots, or strappy heels.
Best for: Vegans on a big night out Price: Around $675
This is a new brand I’ve just discovered. They’re from New Zealand, and are dedicated to supporting women, helping local and small businesses, and causing the least harm to the environment with their work. For example, when choosing fabrics, they look for myriad factors before making a decision: beauty, hand feel, and luxury, of course. But also biodegradability, country of origin, and that certain je ne sais quoi.
I love their floaty, feminine style, and think this blouse is the perfect top to wear to a party. I’d pair it either with a pair of palazzo pants and sneakers (to a gallery opening, for example), or a slim fitting skirt, heels and a wide belt, for a more formal event.
Best for: A throwback to the Wall Street vibe of the ’80’s, understated glam Price: Around $300
Made ethically in Chile by female artisans, this stunning, dress features a bias cut. It marks a bit of a revival of the 90s style for slip dresses. Yep, I’m talking about the days when Kate was with Johnny and the glam was casually cool.
This electric blue dress also features an elegantly cut V neck, but is ladylike enough to wear to the most formal events, thanks to its maxi length. It would look especially fabulous accented with a black clutch and vegan heels.
Best for: Minimalist elegance; feeling like a million bucks Price: Around $590
Mini or maxi? Hmm…not sure about either? Try a universally flattering midi-length dress then, like this Santos model from one of our favourite ethical fashion brands, Reformation. We love the puffed sleeve, swishy skirt and the tiny bit of sparkle in the upcycled deadstock fabric. Very festive!
Best for: A bit of fun and romance Price: Around $180
Want to look as though you’ve been dressed by one of the world’s most famous designers? This off-the-shoulder AMUR pantsuit reminds me of something Armani would create for his A-list clients for them to show off on the red carpet. The difference is that although AMUR shares the great Italian’s eye for tailoring and fabulous fabrics, they’re much more eco-friendly, since they use fabrics like Tencel, organic cotton, silk, or recycled materials.
Best for: Formal wear with couture quality Price: $448
The little black dress just got a twist!
With its ruffled collar, voluminous puffed sleeves and sheer fabric, the Tomi Dress is both sensual and classically romantic. The beautiful intricate embroidery, expertly crafted by skilled, fairly paid artisans, is emphasised by the semi cotton tulle fabric. Sustainable viscose is the other fabric used to create this dress, which you could dress up with a jewelled clutch and strappy sandals, or dress down with sneakers and a cross body bag.
Best for: Using again and again! Price: $375
Ethical evening dresses don’t get floatier or more feminine than this one by Fanm Mon! This sustainable label takes a traditional approach to embroidery, offering work to traditional artisans in Ukraine and Turkey. These women pay close attention to detail, and have mastered both traditional and proprietary hand embroidery techniques.
The dress features natural, light linen, a midi length, and looks wonderful with ethical ballet flats or heels.
Best for: Cool, arty girls with confidence and style Price: $275
Save the $995 on a new Nicole Miller dress you’ll likely only wear a few times and spend $75 to rent it instead! Even when you consider the delivery and dry cleaning emissions, renting clothing is still way more eco-friendly than buying it – remember that the delivery emissions will be the same for rented or bought clothing, and although dry cleaning does have an ecological cost, making a new dress has a much higher one! I’m in love with this classy, lacy gown with a sweetheart neckline. It’s definitely a head turner!
Best for: Making a seriously deep first impression as you glide into the room Price: $75 for a 4 day rental
Kate Moss is well known for showing up to posh bashes in vintage frocks – in fact, she often attends her own birthday parties rocking a vintage dress. And why not? It’s pretty certain that no one else will turn up in the same outfit, and you’re bound to get tons of compliments and comments on your dress. Luckily, there are increasing numbers of stores – both online and on the high street – that are offering unique and beautiful designer vintage dresses that are perfect for a big night out, like this Alaia number, below. Sure, the prices aren’t exactly low, but remember: you can always re-sell something in great condition on sites like Farfetch or Vestiaire Collective!
Best for: Price: $1,928
Sorry, but this whole collection is just so fab, it was impossible to pick just one outfit! These are some of my favourite ethical evening dresses, ever! And what’s more – supermodel Helena Christensen is modelling it! The photographer, climate change activist and mom looks absolutely stunning in the slip-dresses, delicate camisoles and puffed-sleeved, 80’s inspired mini dresses that Reformation is offering this holiday season, and so will you!
Fabrics include silk chiffon, upcycled deadstock, TENCEL and Eco Cinch Lite, which is made with 90% TENCEL Lyocell and 10% spandex. As you probably know, TENCEL comes from sustainably planted eucalyptus trees, which only need half an acre to produce one ton of fiber.
Best for: Old Hollywood screen-goddess glamour Prices: From around $250
Main and second image: Reformation