Waste not, wear lots: Your essential guide to 2019's eco-friendly summer dresses

Living
Ethical fashion round up

Our intrepid secret fashion editor's adventures have taken her into summer dress realm for May. What wonders for beach, bar and wedding will she find amongst our favourite ethical brands?

Georgina Wilson-Powell 14 May 2019

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Summer. Why does it always make us feel that we must buy new things? As in, come May, we look in the wardrobe and think, ‘OH MY GOD, I HAVE NO WARM WEATHER CLOTHES!’ Even though, rationally, we know we do. 

We were not naked on the last 20C-plus day. Nor were we naked on our last holiday. Nor at the last wedding we went to. (Side note: if you were naked at any of these points, fair dos. We’re not here to judge.)

Yet there you are, hit with the desire to buy new ‘funtime you’ clothes (even the most devoted wearer of black can be persuaded into Hawaiian prints at the merest hit of a UV ray), but fully aware that it’s hardly a sustainable shopping strategy. After all, your funtime-you clothes are really only good for a few weeks over the summer… then next summer? Well, they’ll be lying forgotten at the bottom of the closet while you’re busy screaming about your lack of warm-weather clothes.

6 Essential Eco Friendly Summer Dresses - Mother of Pearl

There are two ways out. The first is to excavate those buried summer pieces – anything animal print, floral or pastel from last year will still work. And so, buried deeper, will anything tie-dye from the '90s. Or even, deep down at the igneous layer, cycling shorts and bucket hats (really, we kid you not: they're back. Fashion is weird sometimes).

But if the urge for newness is just too strong, allow us to present the solution: the summer dress. 

OK, it’s not exactly a ground-breaking suggestion, but choose the right one and it IS the most sustainable way to do summer. 

Firstly because it’s a whole outfit in a single piece (no need to buy three items when you can do the entire look in one). 

Secondly because it can be dressed up for weddings, down for casual picnics and be made winter-appropriate with the addition of a roll-neck and ankle boots – meaning the chance of wardrobe interment is slim. 

And thirdly? Well, because there are some brilliant ethically made options out there.

6 eco-friendly summer dresses that you can wear to everything in 2019

Meadows

Launching this month is Meadows, the new brand by cult designer LF Markey, who’s swapping her trademark paintbox-brights for romantic, folk-inspired silhouettes in timeless whites and cream. Ethical production is at the heart of the label's ethos – and the Wild Rose style is at the heart of our summer dressing plans. Toughen up with a leather jacket, pare down with trainers or go the full Stevie Nicks with headscarf and shawl.

People Tree

People Tree is always a good shout for fans of ditsy prints and feminine cuts; we like the current collaboration with the V&A for an artier spin. The Yasmin flared dress has a print that’s just the right side of soft furnishings, a cut that taps into s/s 2019’s voluminous trend, and can double as an oversized shirt with jeans come autumn. 

Eco friendly summer dresses from Meadows

L: People Tree's collaboration with V&A is bang on this summer. R: New ethical fashion brand Meadows is folksy and fair trade

Twenty Seven Names

Meanwhile, New Zealand label Twenty-Seven Names is embracing this summer’s ’60s trend with its baby-doll styles in groovy (sorry) floral prints. This is a brand that’s big on accountability – providing info on where each item was cut and made, and the provenance of the fabric, lining and trims. The Austin (100% Tencel, a sustainable fabric regenerated from wood cellulose) is the ultimate in what fashion eds call ‘one-step dressing’: throw it on and no further statement-making effort is required.

Sustainable summer dresses for 2019

L: Go groovy with your eco-friendly dresses with Twenty Seven Names. R: Mother of Pearl go dotty for this year's spotty trend

Mother of Pearl

Fashion-insider favourite Mother of Pearl is for when you want to be fabulous (and when don’t you?). This is eco-luxury with the price tags to match, but we reckon the cheery polka-dot Jane (also Tencel, and digitally printed) is versatile enough to justify it. It’ll take you from a wedding to the races to the pub garden (with a tee underneath and trainers). Probably not all in the same day, though.

Eco friendly fashion brands for summer dresses

L: Waft around anywhere in Apsiga. R: Ninety Percent's endlessly useful organic cotton maxi dress

Aspiga

When it’s wafting on a beach that’s called for (and even when it isn’t: we’d waft around Wolverhampton as long as the sun’s out), check out Aspiga, a beachwear brand whose small-batch production practices rely on artisans, small suppliers and tribal groups rather than commercial factories. The Lenu maxi puts a summery spin on the still-going leopard print trend.   

Ninety Percent

For less shouty dressers – yes you, whose idea of ‘funtime’ is switching from black to navy – may we present Ninety Percent. This London-based brand has not only mastered the art of the basic (think super-soft jersey cottons in goes-with-everything shades), but it has committed to sharing 90% of its distributed profits with charitable causes. The organic cotton maxi is endlessly useful and will be for years to come. 

More adventurous, trend-adopting types can wear it with that tie-dye shirt and bucket hat you dug out earlier. We really weren’t joking about them, you know.  

Need more eco-fashion fixes? Check out these recent, popular fashion round ups:

Our favourite ethical jeans brands

Sustainable sunglasses that will make your summer

Ethical swimwear for every beach body

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