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 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
This elegant line is designed by a trio of international designers who are motivated by a global perception of beauty and find inspiration in their various backgrounds and cultures. They collaborate with craftsmen and women around the world to find vintage hand-painted artwork for their prints, and work with small artisans in India to create hand beaded floral designs on some of their collections. Adding strength to their ethical roots, they have also partnered with NEST, a non-profit that connects and supports artisans and designers all over the globe.
Their most recent collection has been constructed from recycled fabrics, and I’m particularly in love with this festively formal, romantically ruffled dress that’s demure, but sexy at the same time.
Best for: Romantic chic with a modern twist Price: $695
Nanushka isn’t yet a fully vegan brand, but they’ve recently transitioned into creating more vegan options, including cruelty-free ‘leathers’, so I thought it would be good to support that change. It was founded by a London College of Fashion graduate Sandra Sandor in 2005, who strongly believes in the slow fashion concept that if a garment is designed to function well, it will by definition be beautiful. This gold dress features a cutout at the waist, and would fabulous accented with a black clutch and vegan heels. It looks all silky, but it’s actually fully vegan-friendly!
Best for: Minimalist elegance; feeling like a million bucks Price: Around $425
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 $220
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
Once again, you don’t need to wear a gown or fancy dress to a big event! These high rise trousers by ethical British brand Mother of Pearl offer some dramatic flare thanks to their beautifully tailored, wide-legged silhouette, enhanced by inverted pleats. This is a super versatile item, as you can style the pants with a blouse and heels for a formal event, or a sweater and sneakers for a day at work.
Best for: Using again and again! Price: $895
New Zealand born-and-based ethical designer Maggie Marilyn has created this modern dress from ethically produced silk-satin. It has a lower impact on the environment than most other kinds of materials because no pesticides or fertilizers were used to make the fabric. The bias cut flatters all body shapes and sizes, and the ruffled belt gives a nod to 80’s vintage style. Of this piece, the designer says: “This is a fun choice for a formal event or easily styled with a pair of sneakers for a more relaxed feel.”
Best for: Cool, arty girls with confidence and style Price: $380
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
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