The Best Ethical Evening Dresses For Big Events

Stuck for ideas on what to wear for a wedding, New Year’s Eve, Christmas or another big bash? We’ve got some ethical evening dresses that will make you light up the room!

By Diane Small

The festive season means loads of food, booze, gifts, friends…and parties. And parties mean: dressing up!

Personally, I love the chance to doll up a bit. After weeks upon weeks of sitting at home, mainly seeing people on Zoom calls, I really look forward to showing the world that I can scrub up pretty well. Especially if I’m wearing a gorgeous evening gown!

But, what makes the difference between an ‘everyday’ dress, and one you’d wear to an evening event, I hear you asking?

Well, lots of things, of course.

What’s meant by ethical evening wear?

So, what’s meant by ‘ethical evening wear’ anyway? Well, first off, it’s all about the higher quality, slightly shinier, sparklier fabrics. Think: shimmery 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.

Next, there’s 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. There are many types of evening and formal dresses (see here for instance), and it’s all about what best suits you for your special occasion.

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, as well.

Also, remember that sustainable evening wear is stuff that shouldn’t be ‘trendy’. These are slow-fashion garments that should look chic for decades.

Now, let’s get to the ‘ethics’ part

If you’re vegan, you’ll want to look for recycled or deadstock fabrics. Another option could be plant based materials, such as viscose, cupro and organic cotton jersey.

Non-vegans will find silk just fine, but you should make sure it’s naturally dyed and finished. And why not look for peace silk, which is an even more ethical option?

Whatever you buy, you should ensure that the garment was either:

  • made in a factory where the workers are guaranteed to earn a living wage
  • locally made by a company that pays above the minimum wage
  • vintage or rented

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 Wear For A Big Night Out

best sustainable evening dresses

1. Silk ‘Backwards’ Dress

Made ethically in Chile by female artisans, this stunning dress features a wrap cut. It marks a bit of a revival of the 70’s trend for wrap dresses.

This slinky, silvery dress is one of the best ethical evening dresses for anything from NYE parties to weddings. It features an elegantly cut, deep V neck, but is ladylike enough to wear to the most formal events, thanks to its maxi length.

This would look especially fabulous accented with a black clutch and vegan heels. Oh, and if you’re wondering why it’s called the ‘Backwards Dress,’ well, that’s because there’s a V cut in the back, as well as in the front.

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Minimalist elegance; feeling like a million bucks

Price: Around $725

best ethical evening wear

2. Cahuita Sequin Black Dress

Dear reader: do you dare? Do you dare walk into a room, shouting (sartorially speaking) – ‘I’m a confident woman in love with my sexuality’? If so, this dress is for you!

Made from recycled PES fabric, this frock is not for the faint of heart, thanks to its slinky slit and sexy cutouts. But if you’ve got it, flaunt it, right?

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Bold women who aren’t afraid to make a serious statement!

Price: $285

best sustainable evening gowns

3. The Sissy Mini Dress

Hate being cold when you go out in winter? The Sissy mini is one of the best ethical evening dresses for you! Knitted from a super soft blended Alpaca yarn, this mini is slinky, yet warm.

If it’s really chilly where you live, pair this with some knee-high boots. Not so cold? Strappy sandals look just as good!

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Not freezing to death at winter fetes.

Price: Around $445

the best ethical evening dresses

4. Rent The Runway Options

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!

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Making a seriously deep first impression as you glide into the room

Price: $75 for a 4 day rental

Image credit here.

best sustainable evening gowns

5. The Kourtney Dress

Red is such a festive colour, no? And the Kourtney by The Reformation boasts a gorgeous cherry hue! This midi length dress with a fitted bodice is super slinky. That’s mainly thanks to its slim fitting faux wrap skirt with a high slit, and sexy, adjustable spaghetti straps.

In case you’re wondering about the fabric, it’s viscose made from sustainably managed beech wood forests.

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Knocking ’em dead!

Price: Around $225

Best Ethical Evening Dresses

6. The Shimmery Jimmy Dress

Shine like the star you are in a shimmery little mini dress!

This navy, sequinned number is made from upcycled deadstock fabric. And we think it’s super fabulous! Pair it with simple heels and accessories, and let the dress really shine. Literally!

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Channelling your inner 1990s Supermodel

Price: $279

best sustainable evening gowns

7. Butterfly Wrap Dress

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s just no more universally flattering style than a wrap dress! This Butterfly frock, made of cupro, is one of the best ethical evening dresses for loads of other reasons, too. For example, it’s practical enough to wear to work, but with heels and statement jewellery, it’s ideal for a big night out, as well.

Price: $550

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Flattering all figures

best sustainable evening dresses

8. Aegean Slip Dress 

If you ask me, of all the ethical evening dresses to choose from, the slip dress is always in style. It’s pretty much a wardrobe staple, and no wonder. The shoestring straps, mid-length hem and subtle V neck make it a versatile layering piece in winter, and a chic option on its own in summer.

This Aegean slip dress was ethically made using natural dyes and Ahimsa silk, also known as peace silk. In case you didn’t know, unlike the conventional kind, Ahimsa silk does no harm to the insects that spin the threads used to make it.

PS: Want some hot tips on how to rock underwear as outerwear? Check this article out!

Price: $265

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Seasonal versatility

best sustainable evening dresses

9. Evan Dress

This is another of the best ethical evening dresses for those who really feel the chill!

Made from 90% recycled cashmere, the Evan is guaranteed to keep you cosy, thanks to its long sleeves, maxi length and super soft fabric.

We’re also loving a nod to those Gothic Wednesday Addams vibes! But if you’re not a fan of Goth chic, the Evan comes in ivory or green, as well.

Price: $348

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: A touch of Gothic elegance.

the best ethical evening dresses

10. Argentina Knit Dress

After red, for us, the most Christmassy hue is gold. And this dress has it in spades! This sleeveless, maxi dress features a high neckline, side slit, and a figure-flattering silhouette. It’s made from deadstock fabric.

Does sustainable evening wear get more gorgeous than this?

Price: $198

One of the best ethical evening dresses for: Showing off curves. Ooh la la!

best sustainable evening wear

Main and second image: Reformation

Diane Small

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