The 8 Best Sustainable Dresses of 2021

We found eco-friendly frocks for every occasion.

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

What’s the environmental impact of your closet? Every year, the average American throws away an estimated 81 pounds of clothes, an amount that comes to 92 million tons of textile waste every year if you include everyone across the globe. Unfortunately, given that just 13.6% of all clothing and shoes discarded in the United States end up being recycled, it’s likely that much of what you throw away will end up in landfill or at the incinerator—a decidedly ungreen ending. 

Investing in sustainable fashion is an easy way of changing this narrative. Buying from sustainable brands that use natural clothing materials and low-impact manufacturing can quickly reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe. To help you do this, we’ve looked at sustainable and eco-friendly brands who are using natural and organic materials, or fibers made from recycled synthetics; deadstock—surplus materials from textile mills or garment factories—also features in some lines. 

The best part? The sustainable dresses we’re found are as on-trend as their fast-fashion rivals and with the focus of sustainable fashion on curating a wardrobe that’s set to last—and look fantastic for years to come—these choices are guaranteed to be a great investment in your wardrobe and the planet.

So here are the best sustainable dresses from our favorite environmentally and socially conscious brands.

The Rundown
Opt for versatile, sustainable fashion with this cute sleeveless dress made from organic cotton.
Inspired by the classic tank top, this dress from Threads4Thoughts is guaranteed to become a mainstay of your summer style.
Go romantic with this luxuriously handmade organic cotton and organic silk maxi dress.
Turn heads this party season with this elegant, midi-length dress from The Reformation.
Embrace the deadstock fabric with this casual off-the-shoulder dress, with pretty bow straps and whimsical puffed sleeves.
Buy locally and invest in innovative new fabrics with this striking halter maxi dress, made from the softest of silk alternatives.
Best Little Black Dress:
Sézane Cordelia Dress at Sezane.com
It's hard to go wrong with a little black dress, but make sure yours is green too with this stunning design by French brand, Sézane.
Best Organic Cotton:
Pact Midi Dress at Wearpact.com
Support sustainable agriculture and fair wages while looking fabulous in this versatile flared dress.

Best Overall: Toad & Co Cue Wrap Sleeveless Dress

Cue Wrap Sleeveless Dress

If you’re seeking a light dress that’s versatile enough to switch from casual beachgoer to swish wedding guest in an instant, then look no further than this cute sleeveless dress from standout sustainable fashion brand Toad&Co. Fitted around the bust and with a flare silhouette around the hips, this dress is made from moisture wicking materials that’ll keep you feeling good and looking great. 

Crafted from 48% organic cotton and 48% Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Tencel (with elastane thrown in to add some comfy stretch), this dress ranks high on the sustainability scale. We love its use of organic cotton and the fact that the Tencel is made from eucalyptus wood in a closed-loop system that uses nontoxic solvents to create a silky soft fabric. It’s also bluesign approved, which means that it has been manufactured in a process free of toxic chemicals and one that aims to be as energy and resource efficient as possible. 

We love this brand for its commitment to using sustainable fibers, but it also sell vintage items, too. Thanks to a commitment to a circular economy, you can earn credits towards Toad&Co products if you send in your used clothing to be brushed up and sold again.

Best Budget: Threads4Thought Martina Tank Dress

Martina Tank Dress

Hunting out staple pieces for a small but perfectly-formed sustainable capsule wardrobe? Inspired by the classic tank top, this dress from Threads4Thoughts is guaranteed to quickly become a mainstay of your summer style. Made from a blend of organic cotton, recycled polyester, and rayon, it features highly on the sustainability scale (although it’s worth pointing out that the company is searching for a more eco-friendly alternative to rayon, which isn’t as green as it could be). 

This dress might quickly become your favorite casual dress, particularly as it’s available in three colors designed to match any occasion. If you need any more reasons to buy, consider the fact that Threads4Thought ensures that 80% of all of the waste water in its factories is recycled, and the brand is committed to using only the most environmentally sustainable fabrics in its garments.

Best Luxury: Christy Dawn The Brooklyn Dress

Christy Dawn Sustainable Dress

Go romantic with this luxurious handmade maxi dress. With a tiered skirt and floral pattern that has been block printed by hand using natural dyes made from pomegranate flowers, madder roots, and other plants harvested directly from the soils of India, it’s sure to turn heads. 

Made from organic cotton and organic silk, it forms part of the company’s innovative Farm-to-Closet initiative, which seeks to show how fashion can help regenerate the earth and protect it from climate change. To achieve this, the company sewed cotton in a barren and depleted 24-acre plot of land in rural India, working with the ancient farming techniques and wisdom of the local community to regenerate the land and grow organic cotton. This was then harvested and turned into a timeless collection, which includes this dress and proves the transformative power of fashion.

Best Party Dress: Reformation Juliette Dress

The Reformation Juliette Dress

Turn heads this party season with this elegant, midi-length dress from The Reformation. Sporting a sweetheart neckline, lined bodice, and relaxed skirt, you can guarantee you’ll look sensational. It’s made in Los Angeles from lightweight viscose, a material that the brand has committed to ensuring is sourced from sustainable forests as part of the CanopyStyle Initiative. This aims to stop the increasing number of apparel brands using fabrics made through the chemically intensive process of dissolving pulp. 

Reformation holds itself to rigorous sustainability standards, which you can browse in depth on the brand's website and learn how it's working to improve every aspect of its supply and manufacturing chain. 

Part of this is its goal to pay all workers a living wage (calculated using the MIT Living Wage Calculator), as well as ensuring the use of only a small selection of the most sustainable fabrics in their designs. They company is in the process of being certified Carbon Neutral, too.

Best Casual: LEYT Pink Making Waves Dress

Pink Making Waves Dress

This casual off-the-shoulder dress features whimsical puffed sleeves and pretty bow straps. Made from seersucker deadstock fabric sourced from the NYC garment district, this dress is at the top of the sustainability spectrum as it’s an example of a waste product being transformed into a brand new—and extremely cute—garment. 

As a brand, LEYT is rooted in sustainably sourced materials and ethical production methods. Alongside its deadstock collection, it works with a fair trade Bangladeshi handwoven supplier to develop one-of-a-kind and small-batch artisanal fabrics composed of only natural fibers. Better still, it pays fair wages to its craftspeople and provides them the opportunity to pass their skills to the next generation, thus keeping their ancient weaving traditions alive.

Best Made in the USA: Amour Vert Jasmin Cottonseed Cupro Dress

Jasmin Cottonseed Cupro Dress

Buy locally and invest in innovative new fabrics with this striking halter maxi dress, made from the softest of silk alternatives. Eschew the dry cleaners and the wrinkles traditionally encountered when wearing silk thanks to the innovative cottonseed cupro used in this dress. Made from plant seed fiber that is traditionally thrown away in the cotton growing process, it’s fully biodegradable and still as lustrously glossy and slick as silk. 

Manufactured at factories in the Bay Area of California, this company is proud of the reduced carbon footprint that local production enables, as well as the money this process returns to the local economy. Better still, Amour Vert uses only compostable packaging to store and ship its garments, keeping everything as green as as can be.

Best Little Black Dress: Sézane Cordelia Dress

Sézane Cordelia Dress

It's hard to go wrong with a little black dress, but make sure yours is green too. This knitted black dress from French designer Sézane has a sumptuous scalloped neckline and delicately ribbed sleeves for a truly elegant piece that’ll no doubt become a staple of your evening wardrobe. 

You wouldn’t believe this black number started out life as wood pulp, either; it’s made from ECOVERO LENZING viscose, which has a fully traceable manufacturing process, ensuring the brand knows exactly where the materials that went into it came from. Sézane has also confirmed that 68% of the viscose they use in its designs is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, meaning it's harvested without contributing to deforestation.

Best Organic Cotton: Pact Fit & Flare Midi Party Dress

Organic PACT Fit & Flare Midi Party Dress

Support sustainable agriculture and look fabulous in this versatile flared dress from industry innovators, Pact. Made using GOTS-certified organic cotton in a Fair Trade-certified factory in India, you can rest assured that Pact is as ethical as it is environmentally-sound. 

We also love that you can find out the exact impact of your purchase on the environment with the company’s handy guide to how much water each product has saved by using organic, rather than conventional, cotton—61.7 gallons in this case. To be even more climate-conscience, you can also choose to offset the carbon footprint of your shipping at the checkout.

Final Verdict

Look gorgeous, whatever the occasion with Toad&Co’s versatile sleeveless dress (view at toadandco.com) made from some of the industry’s leading sustainable fibers. If you’re looking to splash some cash on a timeless dress to add to your capsule wardrobe, opt for the one-of-a-kind Brooklyn Dress from Christy Dawn (view at christydawn.com), whose Farm-to-Closet initiative is something we can definitely get behind.

What to Look for in a Sustainable Dress

Organic and Natural Fibers

The most sustainable clothing is made from natural fibers. The reason for this is because these materials require less mechanical processing than synthetic material and are biodegradable, meaning they can be returned back to the earth at the end of their lifespans. 

Organic growing processes, whereby no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are employed, are preferred when it comes to natural fibers, as they can radically reduce the environmental impact of growing a certain material. For example, in the case of cotton, growing it organically reduces water and pesticide use. Look out for certifications, such as the Organic Content Standards (OCS) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), for proof that a brand is using certified organic cotton in its garments. Those that use just one fiber, rather than a mixture, are much easier to recycle, so opting for these is the surest way of being conscientious in your fashion choices. 

While we have included recycled materials in this round-up, buy these products with caution. The issue with synthetic materials—even those that have been recycled—is that every time these garments are washed, they release microplastics that pollute waterways.

Quality

Sustainability in the fashion industry isn’t just about buying natural or recycled materials, it’s also about consuming less in the first place—a key tenant of slow fashion. Purchasing high-quality garments that will become a statement piece in your wardrobe for years to come is a sustainable alternative to fast fashion.

Local Manufacturing

Buy items that have been made locally, and you’re also cutting out key parts of the manufacturing process where the greatest environmental and social harm can take place. That's because the United States tends to have better worker and environmental protections than many of the countries where the majority of garments are made. If you do buy garments that have been made overseas, seek out brands that follow ethical manufacturing processes by paying their workers a fair wage, providing safe working conditions, and offering secure job contracts. Keep an eye out for certifications such as Fair Trade

Shopping for locally made clothes also means avoiding the pollution associated with shipping garments made abroad.

Cost 

Sustainable fashion that's designed to last and doesn't rely on exploitative labor practices does tend to cost more than fast fashion. If being price-conscious is a deciding factor for you, all is not lost. Shopping vintage or buying second hand at your local thrift store is a truly sustainable alternative, and can often lead to you picking up iconic pieces from decades past at bargain prices.

FAQs

What kind of dress should I include in a capsule wardrobe?

The concept of a capsule wardrobe is based upon a series of basic pieces that can be mixed and matched according to the occasion. As a result, you want dresses that can be easily combined with other items of clothing; day dresses are easy to dress up for evening events or smarter occasions, or worn simply as they are for more casual affairs. Similarly, sweater dresses are a great item for use in the winter, when they can be worn with tights, leggings, or even jeans, depending on the look you’re seeking. A summer dress that’s perfect for the beach or lounging in the park, but can be dressed up for a dinner date, is another key part of your capsule.  

Bear in mind that most capsule wardrobes stick to monochrome color palettes and use accessories to add spice and interest to your look; however, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to this. Ultimately, the purpose of a capsule wardrobe is to introduce pieces that you love enough to wear on a frequent basis, so if a splash of color is a reflection of your style and personality, then embrace it.

Is renting a dress sustainable?

Not as much as you might think. While renting clothes has been heralded as an exciting new arm of the sharing economy, there are a number of issues. One of the most problematic is the transportation methods used to move an item between people. Normally, this relies upon delivery services using vehicles that run on petroleum or diesel, which, as a study conducted by Finnish researchers, results in higher emissions. To make clothing rental a sustainable option, this study concluded that low-carbon transportation methods are essential, which only works if you live in an urban location with companies offering this service located locally. 

Ultimately, the most sustainable option is to buy fewer dresses, keep them for longer, and donate them to a thrift store when you’ve finished with them.

Why Treehugger?

Greenwashing is a particular headache when it comes to hunting out sustainable fashion and it can be difficult to know which certifications to trust and whether apparel brands are being transparent in their eco-friendly claims. Our aim was to make things clearer, which is why we’ve focused on the types of materials used in the making of garments, as well as any other actions brands are doing to offset carbon emissions or increase the transparency or fairness of their manufacturing processes. 

Author Steph Dyson advocates for slow fashion and has spent years fine-tuning her own capsule wardrobe, with a focus on using eco-friendly fabrics and keeping hold of much-loved pieces for as long as possible.

View Article Sources
  1. "Textiles: Material-Specific Data." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.