Sustainable and toxin-free living

Sustainable and toxin-free living


Non-Toxic and Natural-Fiber Dresses to Wear to Cocktail Parties and Weddings (Even if You Have Sensitive Skin!)

Image credit: Reformation
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Who doesn’t love getting dressed up? Wedding season is here, which means it’s time to doll up and celebrate the lovebirds in your life. As you choose your perfect outfit, it’s important not to sacrifice comfort for style. A synthetic dress that irritates your skin—or worse, gives you a rash—can distract you from fully enjoying the event. 

So it’s important that your fancy dress is made with safe, natural materials, and without harmful dyes and finishes. You wouldn’t want to break out in hives right before photo time!

Certain textiles, such as cotton, can be treated with formaldehyde to make them more wrinkle-resistant and might cause allergic reactions in people with sensitivities. Plus, many formal dresses are made with synthetic fabrics dyed with suspected carcinogenic azo dyes, which can negatively impact human health. Other chemicals like BPA, PFAS, and phthalates in clothing could even affect our hormonal systems.

But the good news is you can look chic and elegant at your next event without compromising your health or inflaming your sensitive skin. Once upon a time, only cotton shifts were available in the sensitive-skin-friendly and sustainable version. But now, you can find beautiful sustainable cocktail dresses made by health-conscious brands. So if you’re searching for a stunning dress to wear to an event this spring or summer, look no further. We’ve compiled a list of non-toxic and sustainable-conscious brands with beautiful cocktail dresses for the 2024 wedding and event season.

What to Look For in an Ethical and Sustainable Cocktail Dress

Natural fibers: You’ll find that many cocktail dresses are made out of synthetic materials, but most can’t compare to the deluxe feel of natural fiber. Plus, natural fibers are a safer bet for your skin. We recommend you consider dresses made out of organic and non-toxic silk, linen, wool, traceable cashmere, or traceable cotton. For the sake of the environment, avoid sequins if you can, and opt for embellishments made of glass beads and natural-fiber embroidery.

Nontoxic dyes: Since there are often a lot of rich colors involved (and you might get a little sweaty on the dance floor this summer!) you want to go for nontoxic, biodegradable dyes whenever possible. Otherwise, all of those toxic chemicals can seep through your skin into your body, especially when you sweat. To know if a material is non-toxic, look for the labels like Oeko-tex and bluesign. You can also look for GOTS, but we recommend only shopping for this certification combined with Oeko-Tex or bluesign to be safe. A great eco-friendly and safe option is plant-based dyes, which are derived from natural sources and used by some of the brands we’ve listed below. 

Eco-conscious processes: There’s a lot that goes into making just one dress. The process starts with growing, shipping, and processing the fabric. It then moves on to dyeing, cutting, and sewing the piece. And of course, the finishing touches before sending it to you. Each of these steps use water, CO2, and other non-renewable resources. Consider brands that decrease their footprint wherever possible, whether it’s making their pieces to order, which cuts down on waste, or offsetting the carbon footprint of shipping your dress to you. Numerous brands also offer plastic-free packaging. Double-check that they wrap your item in either reusable, 100% recyclable or biodegradable packaging.

Fair labor and transparency: Cocktail dresses are a great way to showcase and support traditional artisanship, such as embroidery, weaving, beadwork, lace, and more. We recommend you find artisan brands that list information about the workers who sewed the garment, as well as who sourced and spun the material. For larger brands, check for labels, such as Fair Trade and SA8000, which provide some assurance that your dress was manufactured in safe and supportive conditions.

Washable: Check the care instructions before you buy any dress and try to find ones that can be at least hand-washed instead of dry-cleaned. 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

OhSevenDays

What we love: This womenswear brand uses deadstock fabric directly sourced from Oeko-Tex-certified mills in Istanbul for its unique and multifunctional designs. Its collection of cocktail dresses are simple and elegant with both bold and neutral colors. Its partner factory, also located in Istanbul, is regularly fully audited to ensure fair trade practices.

Loud Bodies

What we love: Loud Bodies, a colorful Romanian brand, boasts an array of long and short dresses while prioritizing inclusive sizing. The brand uses sensitive-skin-friendly materials like Tencel, Lyocell, and cotton. It also uses non-toxic dyes and Oeko-tex-certified fabrics. Loud Bodies sources its high-quality fabrics from nearby regions, including Portugal, Germany, and France, to minimize environmental impact. 

Faithfull the brand

What we love: Faithfull the Brand stands out for its versatile range, featuring everything from breezy dresses to classic, dressier pieces. Its commitment to skin-friendly and eco-conscious fashion is clear in its use of Oeko-Tex and GOTS-certified cotton fabrics, with some items crafted from Tencel and Lyocell to cater to sensitive skin. 

Verandah

What we love: Verandah is a “conscious luxury” brand and creates gorgeous apparel while embracing sustainable materials. Its collections feature GOTS-certified and Tencel fabrics alongside Econyl yarn crafted from regenerated nylon and biodegradable cellulose fibers. The brand supports anti-poaching initiatives with Tigerwatch, reef regeneration with Reefwatch, and various biodiversity conservation projects. Verandah’s designs are inspired by the natural world and designed to bring out your inner goddess.

Studio 189

What we love: Studio 189 combines fashion with environmental care, using low-impact, azo-free natural dyes and organic GOTS-certified cotton. The brand also incorporates Tencel fabric and innovative Pinatex leather made from pineapple fibers. Studio 189’s dresses are handcrafted by skilled artisans and feature highly personalized design techniques, such as hand-batiking performed by Ghanaian artists.

Seams Friendly

What we love: Seams Friendly focuses on custom-fit craftsmanship with a commitment to the environment. It primarily uses locally sourced organic cotton from near its artisan facility in India, colored with azo-free natural dyes. Additionally, the brand offers undyed options, catering to various preferences and emphasizing its dedication to skin-friendly, eco-conscious fashion. Its made-to-order approach, available in 23 standards and three height options, highlights a focus on personalized, sustainable style.

Cortana

What we love: Cortana crafts its entire line in local, small-scale ateliers, using natural silk, cotton, and wool fibers. Built on a philosophy of sustainability, simplicity, and slow fashion, each garment is crafted in Barcelona and Mallorca. Whenever available, the brand opts for certified organic cotton and natural dyes.

Mara Hoffman

What we love: Founded in 2000, Mara Hoffman didn’t start out as a sustainable brand but has since become a staple in the conscious consumer’s wardrobe. The brand prioritizes natural, recycled, and organic materials, including organic cotton and linen for its dresses. It also prefers suppliers that are Oeko-Tex certified. Mara Hoffman’s garment workers are treated and paid fairly and it aims to minimize waste and energy usage throughout the entire supply chain. 

Gabriela Hearst

Gabriela Hearst launched her eponymous label, a luxury women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories collection, in 2015.

What we love: Each garment is constructed with conscientious materials, including silk, cashmere, linen, and wool from her family’s Uruguayan ranch. The brand uses biodegradable TIPA packaging and is committed to being plastic-free and investing in zero-waste stores. The brand has announced its goal to eliminate the use of virgin materials and includes detailed information about each item’s production, including certifications such as Oeko-Tex.

Reformation

What we love: This US brand works with ethical, fair-trade factories to craft elegant and non-toxic products with certifications like Bluesign and Oeko-Tex. Reformation is upfront about its commitment to non-toxicity, including detailed sustainability reports, lists of restricted substances used in manufacturing, and recycling protocols in factories and retail outlets. The brand has an excellent selection of wedding guest dresses and occasion dresses.

Chloé

What we love: From evening dresses, wedding guest dresses, and even bridal apparel, this elegant brand has it all. Using organic silk and cotton, the brand shares a detailed sustainability manifesto and plans to increase the proportion of other lower-impact materials in its collections to at least 90% by 2025, as part of its commitment to significantly reduce its environmental footprint in raw material sourcing and production. 

Autumn Adeigbo

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. 

What we love: The made-to-order, global brand ethically sources its materials from all over the world, including Indian fabrics and West African beading, and has it sewn into its tailored silhouettes in New York City.

Watch out for: There is limited information on non-toxic certifications for clothing.

 

1 People

What we love: This Danish luxury brand designs minimalist looks handcrafted by artisans. It’s certified by bluesign, GOTS, and Oeko-Tex. Its fabrics include recycled, natural, and bio-based materials, and it sends its deadstock fabric to a re-spinning mill in Java, Indonesia. Its supplier code of conduct, as well as detailed lists of manufacturers, are available on its website. The brand works with a family business in Bali that specialize in natural plant-dying techniques.

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