A: Remember Jenna Elfman's crunchy-granola parents on Dharma & Greg? You don't have to look like them. It is possible to be ethical and chic. Many designers are doing their bit by using organically grown fibers, drawing on recycled materials, observing fair-trade practices—or all of the above. And as green style becomes more prevalent, the fashion establishment is paying more attention (Stella McCartney built her business on cruelty-free principles; John Patrick's Organic line was a 2008 finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, an industry grant to emerging designers). I'm not just talking about T-shirts and drawstring pants, either: These are grown-up, cutting-edge clothes, and they aren't all oatmeal beige.
They Don't Look Earthy: Checked blouse (Organic by John Patrick, $275) and glamorous pants (Eco-Ganik, $174) are made of purer-than-pure cotton. Phillip Lim has designed an all-organic collection: This sleek jacket (Go Green Go by Phillip Lim, $595) is a highlight. Floral dress comes from Suno, a company that makes clothes in Kenya with recycled textiles ($495).
Q: I dislike the idea of wearing leather, but don't faux materials feel stiff and look phony?
A: Not anymore. We've come a long way from mock croc that resembles embossed plastic, or pleather you can't bear to touch. These days the best faux skins have such a believable texture (designers even build in tiny irregularities) that you honestly can't tell they're synthetic. Only the price gives the game away—and that's another advantage: Simulated leather is less expensive than real. For purists intent on avoiding all animal products, there are vegan companies (like Matt & Nat) that not only shun leather but use vegetable-based dyes and glue.
The (Un)Real Thing: This blouson-style jacket feels supple and luxurious but costs peanuts (Newport News, $79). The glossy, plausibly textured vegan clutch has a clear conscience (Matt & Nat, $185). An ultrachic peep-toe mixes "skins" in different colors (Olsenhaus, $198).
Q: I'm into fitness, health, and all things eco. Is there athletic gear that's nontoxic but cute?
A: The activewear industry has long been an innovator in "performance" fabrics. Now it's applying that expertise to the challenge of avoiding synthetics that pollute the planet, while retaining superior function and style. We're seeing a lot of recycled elements and plant-based fabrics (soy, bamboo, even coconut shells) in workout clothes. Plus, outdoorsy companies (like Patagonia and Nau), which have a vested interest in the environment, often recycle their own clothing or contribute to green causes.
Lean Green: Pink tank in recycled polyester has side panels that make you look thinner (GoLite, $50). End Footwear uses recycled materials in its sneakers ($85) without sacrificing functionality or looks.