Image credit: Guardi
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The holidays are officially upon us. ‘Tis the season in which we reunite with our loved ones, eat all the yummy foods, buy and wrap gifts and, of course, dress to impress.
Whether you want a show-stopping, sparkly dress for New Year’s or a classic, elegant look for your office holiday party, you’ll want to celebrate in style — especially since this might be your first holiday party in a couple of years! So why not have fun with bold colors, embellishments, and eye-catching silhouettes this season. A holiday cocktail dress might be one of the most fun items you shop for all year.
A warning: you’ll be bombarded with ads from fast fashion brands tempting you to purchase plastic-based shimmer. We want showcase holiday looks that are sustainably and ethically made—no need to get on Santa’s naughty list right at the end of the year.
The brands below craft dresses that will make you feel festive, stunning and confident while still celebrating peace on earth and goodwill to all women — especially garment workers.
What to look for in an ethical and sustainable holiday cocktail dress
Natural fibers: Many evening dresses are made out of synthetic materials, but most can’t compare to the deluxe feel of a traditional fiber. Consider a holiday dress made out of silk, cashmere, wool or organic cotton.
Recycled materials: If you decide to go the synthetic route due to performance or budget, favor brands that utilize recycled fabrics or use deadstock, surplus fabrics.
Semi-synthetics: If you prefer a machine-washable, luxe material, find dresses made out of cupro. It’s a hypoallergenic, anti-static and durable fabric made out of regenerated cotton waste. Cupro breathes and regulates like cotton but drapes just like silk.
Non-toxic materials: It’s been reported that the production of conventional sequins pollutes the environment due to its polyvinyl chloride (PVC) component. We’ve noticed some innovations in this sector like Bio Iridescent Sequin, a non-toxic, biodegradable alternative made from 100% plant-based cellulose.
Fair labor and transparency: We recommend you find artisan brands that list information about the workers who sewed the garment. For larger brands, check for labels, such as Fair Trade, andSA8000, which ensure your party dress was manufactured in safe and supportive conditions.
Low-Waste Packaging: Numerous brands offer plastic-free packaging. Double-check that they wrap your item in either reusable, 100% recyclable or biodegradable packaging.
Washable: Check the care instructions before you buy any dress and try to find ones that can be at least hand-washed. Most cleaners use a colorless, nonflammable liquid solvent called perchloroethylene, which has been classified as likely to be carcinogenic to humans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When inhaled, even low concentrations of it, it can cause vision problems, respiratory and eye irritation and kidney dysfunction. Some dresses labeled as dry clean only can be hand-washed — here are some tips on avoiding dry cleaning.
With that, here are our favorite brands making sustainable and ethical holiday cocktail dresses at varying price points, so you can show up at any soirée looking your absolute best.
Founded by an Argentinian woman, Amur’s name comes from the acronym, A Mindful Use of Resources. AMUR is a cruelty-free and fur-free brand that uses sustainable materials with vivid prints and sharp tailoring. In addition, the brand is on track to have its bags be 100% biodegradable by 2022. All of AMUR’s designs are sewn in NYC.
Founded in 2009, Reformation makes effortless and beautiful clothing out of low-impact materials, rescued deadstock fabrics and repurposed vintage clothing. Most Reformation products are designed, made, photographed and shipped from LA, either from its own facility or another factory it works with. You can find Reformation’s sustainability progress directly on its site.
Stella McCartney’s eponymous label designs ethical and high-end clothing, shoes, and accessories with a responsible, honest, and modern ethos. Its sustainable and cruelty-free designs lead the brand to pioneer new alternative materials, pushing towards circularity and sustainability. Stella McCartney measures and reports its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions with an approved science-based target to reduce them. The brand offers dresses for all occasions, including everyday elegance to embellished evening dresses.
Fox Holt is a conscious marketplace that works with brands that source their materials responsibly and consider their social and environmental impact while treating their workers with humanity and respect. The brand also carries four unique made-to-order brands from across the world.
A marketplace launched in November 2019, ourCommonplace offers the ability to shop according to your values. Whether you’re looking for gifts from women-owned and operated brands, sustainable, toxic-free, ethical, cruelty-free or BIPOC-owned, ourCommonplace categorizes their fashion, beauty, wellness, and homeware products according to these core values standards. Not only does each brand stocked adhere to at least two out of the six criteria, ourCommonplace is a member of 1% For the Planet, committing one percent of annual profits to environmental causes.
You can’t get more ethical and gorgeous than this Indian-Western fusion designer — EcoCult’s founder Alden Wicker had the opportunity and honor to visit the Bangalore atelier of New York-based Roopa Pemmaraju in 2018 and see it for herself! Roopa Pemmaraju’s collections meld the craftsmanship of India with timeless silhouettes and feminine details, using sustainable materials like silk and recycled cotton, which are cultivated from traditional and natural Indian farming techniques local farmers have been using for centuries. Roopa purposely avoids all synthetic materials, and she supports her artisans with long-term job security while preserving artisanal techniques like hand-weaving, block-printing, and hand embroidery. You can also request bespoke tailoring for sizes above the ones listed on her site and send back your dress for overdyeing or repair if you get any stains or tears — making each Roopa piece one you’ll have for a lifetime.
UK-based Guardi is a sustainable womenswear brand. All of its garments are made from either sustainable and recycled materials or rescued deadstock fabrics. The brand runs its own factory in Europe, where all its employees are fairly paid and offered flexible hours. Guardi sources its materials exclusively from the UK and Europe and uses blends of silk, recycled polyester, and organic cotton. Each design is wrapped in organic tissue paper, and all care labels are made from organic printed silk.
After watching her Nigerian mother sew her clothes growing up and working for illustrious names like Betsy Johnson and stylist Andrea Lieberman of A.L.C., Autumn Adeigbo created her namesake label of joyful, vibrant styles. The made-to-order, global brand ethically sources its materials worldwide, including Indian fabrics and West African beading, which has it sewn into its tailored silhouettes in New York City.
Founded in 2009, Rent The Runway is an online service that provides designer dress and accessory rentals for work, weekends, and events. It provides the flexibility of a one-time rental for four to eight days — an environmentally-friendly choice if you’re pretty sure you’ll only wear a party dress once or twice, or if you need to have several different dresses for several overlapping events this season.
Nuuly is a monthly rental subscription service for women’s apparel. You can choose any six items for just $88 per month, and they are yours for the next month. You don’t need to worry about laundry or repairs, as it’s included in the membership. If you fall in love with the garments, you have the option to buy them.
Shopping secondhand is also an excellent option when it comes to both sustainability and affordability. Check out this post for our recommendations for where to look for secondhand items. Poshmark, TheRealReal, Vestiaire Collective and Depop are great places to start.