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! 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.
Given that we’re now in for what economists are saying will be the greatest depression the world has ever seen, dresses are long again, and are likely to be so for some time. The upside? At least they’re gorgeous!
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.
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 $300
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 – 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: Versatility; everyday basic wear
Prices: Start at around $100
This is one of our favorite brands for its ethical maxi dresses. In fact, it could be argued that this is what the brand is most famous for!
Nearly all of its many long dress styles 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.
We also love the Jaden dress, below, which features a scarlet red fabric and gorgeously fitted bodice.
Best for: Strutting your stuff in the city
Prices: From around $150
4. 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 Agatha Abstract Dress, below.
It features the ethical fabric Tencel with an eco-friendly corozo button. We also love the abstract pattern – a refreshing change from typical summer florals.
Best for: Great ethics and ladylike charm
Price: Around $100
5. Mara Hoffman
If you prefer to cover up a bit more in summer, this dress by Mara Hoffman is for you! The designer only uses conscious, vegan-friendly fabrics, and is well-known mainly for her resort wear and bathing suits.
Her Jasmine ribbed stretch-modal midi dress is a great alternative to the floaty, floral summer dresses you see everywhere during the warmer season. It’s made from a light, ribbed, stretch-modal fabric that’s eco-friendly and slightly figure hugging, too.
Best for: Wearing to work – especially if the office loves blasting the AC
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? Their square neck halter maxi dress with a pep hem in mustard, below, was made in partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative to improve cotton farming worldwide. This is good news for farmers as much as nature, as the BCI uses less water and pesticide, and pays farmers a fairer wage.
Best for: Shopping, wearing to cafes…actually this, would be my daily. summer go-to dress!
Price: Around $45
7. Flor et al
This is an ethical brand that aims to turn heads! If you’re thinking of making a dramatic entrance at that summer soirée you were so looking forward to, Flor et al is your label.
They collaborate with artisans around the world to find vintage hand-painted artwork for their prints and work with small artisans in India to create the hand beaded floral designs to pair back to the collection. They have also partnered with NEST, a non-profit that connects artisans and designers all over the globe.
If I had my choice (and the budget!) I’d wear the Brett Sleeveless Cascading Gown. The attention to detail is mind-blowing! But of course, the brand offers a wide selection of gorgeously made, ruffled dresses that can be worn every day, too.
Best for: Near-couture levels of attention to detail
Prices: Start at around $600 but you can find the brand on sale frequently here
Benedetti is an eco-luxury cruelty-free brand founded by the Eluxe award-winning designer Matea Benedetti.
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.
Best for: Really formal events
Prices from: Around $500
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.
One style we particularly love is the Kate Dress, with its beautiful beehive print. Not only is this a true ode to the world’s most important pollinator of food crops, but it also nods to that 70’s style we admire.
Best for: Swanning around posh resorts
Prices: From around $200
10. 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, 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 happy, summery vibes!
Perfect for: Everyday summer elegance
Price: Around $250
11. Eco Gypsy
Based in Bali, this ethical label is one of our favourites for its gorgeously flowing summer dresses, and intricately macramed swimwear.
One of their most beautiful ethical maxi dresses for summer is the Eco Gypsy’s Seseh design, which features a sexy, open back, plunging neckline and super long hem. It’s handmade from 100% organic cotton, and is fully adjustable, meaning it effortlessly fits any body type.
Perfect for: Hot, sultry days at the beach
Price: Around $200
Roomy and flowing? Check. Choice of plain black or artistic pattern? Check. Fully adjustable? Check. Pockets? Check! In fact, the gorgeous summer 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
13. Bitter Lemon
This cheerful British label came to life by two friends joining forces in the name of sustainability. Jacqui and Julie were inspired by local artisans and natural fabrics to create comfortable, ethical pieces that suit any woman.
For example? Their floral dresses bring an explosion of colours upon luxury pleated organic cotton. They’re roomy, comfy, and are perfect for either throwing over your bathing suit, or just wearing to the local cafe.
Prefer something a bit simpler? They also offer subtly patterned or plain dresses, too.
Best for: Strolls in the park or on the beach.
Price: Around $200
Summertime calls for a touch of bohemia, am I right? We love the folk-inspired, traditional Ukrainian vyshyvanka maxi dresses from My Sleeping Gypsy. They 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
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