The only thing you really need in your wardrobe this season is one of these ethical maxi dresses for summer!
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
I’ll be honest: when I first started seeing longer hemlines a few years ago, I didn’t think the trend for maxi dresses would last. Sure, the frocks were pretty, but come on – summer is a time to tan our legs, right?
But if we follow economic history, it’s not surprising ethical maxi dresses are still a huge ‘thing’. After all, there has been a longstanding tradition that the worse the economic situation, the longer the hemline.
Hemline Ups and Downs
Don’t believe me? Consider this: during the Roaring 20’s, a post WWI boom introduced the ‘flapper dress’. It was just below the knee. And it was absolutely outrageous at the time! Remember: just a generation before this decade, Victorian style gowns were in style. For some conservatives in the 20’s, a flapper dress was basically regarded the same way we’d look at women going out dancing in their underwear today.
But when the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, hemlines dropped to around the ankle and remained there till the 1940’s. The only reason styles rose at all was due to a lack of fabric. In 1942, textile rationing brought about actual regulations on women’s clothing in both the USA and UK. The UK had their ‘Utility Clothes’ standards, and the USA had Regulation L85. These codes set skirt lengths to 17 inches above the floor – slightly higher than skirts had been before.
As the slowly economy rose after the Second World War, so did skirt hems, until they reached ‘peak shortness’ with the introduction of the miniskirt in the 1960s.
The economic mess and oil crisis of the 1970s meant that longer dresses made a comeback, and since then, hemlines have gone up and down like a yoyo in tune with boom or bust.
Today’s Styles: Maxi and Mini
Today, it’s clear we’re in a state of economic inflation. So, dresses are long again, and are likely to be so for some time. The upside? At least they’re gorgeous! No wonder they’re a favorite amongst tween girls, teens and grown women alike.
That being said – the mini is also making a comeback. Does that mean better economic times are around the corner? Let’s hope so!
Meantime, here’s our pick of the best sustainable maxi dresses for the season – and beyond.
The Best Ethical Maxi Dresses For Summer
AMUR – an acronym for “a mindful use of resources” – came onto our radar a few years ago, and is now one of our favourite brands for ethical maxi dresses.
It’s defined by its light, feminine style and delicate prints. Both features can be clearly seen in their new collection, which is packed with some of the best ethical maxi dresses for summer this year. For example?
Check out the lovely pink Lucy dress, below. It’s is made out of recycled polyester and lined with cupro (aka vegan silk). I adore the little cutouts and sweet little spaghetti straps!
Best for: High quality, beautiful design that’s loved by A listers
Price: From around $325
2. Amour Vert
Amour Vert is well known by conscious consumers for its gentle elegance and sustainable philosophy. They offer clothing for every situation and every season, from sweaters and trousers to pyjamas and socks. But what I’m coveting most this summer is their Astrida Maxi Wrap Dress.
This is a classic must-have for any wardrobe. Sticking to classic black means it’s super versatile, too. You could pair this with sandals for day, or heels and jewellery for the evening. I also love that the fabric is comprised of the brand’s signature beechwood fibre material.
Best for: Definitely one of the best ethical maxi dresses for versatility; everyday basic wear
Prices: Start at around $100
This is one of our favorite brands for its sexy, sustainable summer dresses. In fact, it could be argued that this is what the brand is most famous for!
Nearly all of its many ethical maxi dresses are made from upcycled deadstock fabric, and most come in a variety of different prints, too.
Take the Gavin Dress, for example. Comprised of rayon, a fiber made from wood pulp, it comes in seven different colours and prints. The dress was created in collaboration with the non-profit Canopy, which is committed to triggering change through forest products.
Best for: Strutting your stuff in the city
Prices: From around $150
WVN is a California-based B-Corp that makes sustainable and ethical women’s clothing. Especially ethical maxi dresses!
We adore their shirt dresses, in particular. They’re elegant, with a flattering silhouette. The dramatic maxi length and crisp clean collars make these dresses absolute classics. WVN makes these from organic cotton jacquard, finished with a removable sash-style belt and a slight shimmer of natural shell buttons down the front. They also use only Fair Trade Certified factories.
Best for: Everyday casual elegance, perfect for the office, beach or home.
Price: Around $130
For those who like their fashions minimalist, you’ll love Mastani!
The brand is ethically made in India by artisans preserving traditional native clothes making techniques. Fabrics include organic cotton and peace silk, for example.
We love their slip dresses, with their clean necklines, side zips and two side slits. Want to stretch the use of this look into autumn? Just layer it with a turtleneck underneath and some boots!
Best for: A bit of 90’s vintage
Price: Around $180
6. People Tree
People Tree has always been exemplary in the field of sustainable fashion, both for its attention to the environment as much as to fair trade ethics. Its styles are always full of grace and charm, as you can see in the Lea Dress, below.
We love this pretty, ethical maxi dresses for summer thanks to its cheerful, pretty buttercup hue and its fun frill at the bottom of the skirt. Perfect for twirling!
Best for: A bit of cheer on a hot summer day
Price: Around $180
7. Mara Hoffman
Who says ethical maxi dresses have to have a hippy vibe? This stunning, structured number by vegan and sustainable designer Mara Hoffman is elegant enough for evening fetes, or wearing to important meetings. But get this: it’s actually made from hemp!
Dress it up with some heeled gold sandals and a clutch, or dress it down with flat sandals and a basket bag.
Best for: Summer power dressing
Price: Around $350
8. Cult Gaia
The Juliana Knit Dress is a handmade cotton crochet knit that is sheer and seductive. The bell sleeves and low open back that skims along the bodice creates an alluring silhouette.
From the pool to sunsets by the beach, the Juliana is meant for the heat. Wear it as a bikini coverup on the beach, or with your best lingerie underneath for special evenings out. If you dare!
Best for: This is one of the best ethical maxi dresses for serious summer seduction
Price: Around $800
9. Aurora Sage
How pretty is this blue Venus wrap dress? All Aurora Sage’s pieces are naturally hand-dyed with organic plant and flower materials. Each piece non-toxic, hand-washable, and one-of-a-kind. Hand-dyed exclusively by Stephanie Carollo at her Los Angeles studio, each dress is a unique piece of wearable art meant to be worn for many seasons.
Best for: Making an impression at work or a business lunch
Price: Around $200
Yes, we know: ASOS is essentially a fast fashion brand. But if you’re on a strict budget and want to buy a sustainable maxi dress for the summer, you can’t get better than their Responsible Edit.
For example? This collusion cami maxi dress in black, below, is made from 100% organic cotton. And it exudes 90s retro vibes, which we love. Especially when paired with a sun-blocking bucket hat!
Best for: Shopping, wearing to cafes…actually this, would be my daily. summer go-to dress! It’s also one of the best ethical maxi dresses for those on a budget.
Price: Around $20
11. Benedetti Life
Everything on offer here is not only 100% vegan friendly, but is also produced ethically and locally from fully ecological materials.
The vibe here is very chic European. If you’re looking for a formal gown that can boost your figure with a simple and sleek cut, check out this dress below. It’s made from an innovative wood based silk, and goes beautifully with some chunky ethical jewellery and vegan flats.
Best for: Really formal events
Prices from: Around $500
12. Jaline Resort
We love this brand for how it emulates the chic glam of the 1970’s with its innovative silk prints and fitted, sexy styles.
The label was founded by Jacqueline Lopez, with the dual aims of encouraging consumers to switch to eco-fashion and to empower Mexican artisans, who still carry out traditional crafts on her garments, such as hand-weaving.
We particularly love this floaty, colourful look, below. It’s so light and loose, you’ll practically feel nude!
Best for: Swanning around posh resorts
Prices: From around $200
13. HØST & VÅR
This mother and daughter owned Norwegian brand demonstrates their loving bond in every garment. The items you can find here, seen below and in the main image, are all cross-seasonal, cross-generational, cruelty-free, and sustainable. That’s thanks to their use of organic cotton, biodegradable cupro and other eco-friendly fabrics.
What’s more: with every purchase made directly from the brand, they donate a portion of the sale to YAM: ‘the Youth Aware of Mental Health Programme,’ to raise awareness and care of mental wellbeing.
The naturally vegan dyed fabrics used by this gorgeous brand provide summery feels with a retro touch.
Perfect for: Summer elegance with a vintage vibes.
Price: Around $295
Roomy and flowing? Check. Choice of plain black or artistic pattern? Check. Fully adjustable? Check. Pockets? Check! In fact, the gorgeous ethical maxi dresses by British label Cossac check all our boxes!
This ethical brand works exclusively with small factories that ensure employees are working in fair and just conditions and are not being exploited in any way. Cossac also makes every effort to incorporate sustainability into all aspects of their business. Fabrics such as organic cotton, Tencel and modal are used for each slow-fashion style.
All online store receipts, purchases and delivery details are sent via email to reduce paper waste; all packaging and labelling is kept to an absolute minimum during deliveries; swing-tags and boxes are made from recycled paper and are 100% recyclable.
Best for: Well, let’s just say this is one dress that you will always have in your closet. I mean, can you ever imagine this NOT being in style?
Price: Around $200
Summertime calls for a touch of bohemia, am I right? Release your inner gypsy with the folk-inspired, traditional Ukrainian vyshyvanka maxi dresses from My Sleeping Gypsy. These ethical maxi dresses feature artistic, handmade embroidery by fairly paid artisans in the Ukraine, who are keeping a wonderfully European custom alive.
The highly detailed results are spectacular, for both environmentalists and fashionistas!
Best for: Rich hippy chic, conserving traditional European craftsmanship
Prices: Start around $500