It’s true that the school formal is one of the most-anticipated events of your final year of school.  Chances are you’ve been quietly or not-so-quietly stalking your own school’s formal for years, as well as scrolling endlessly online.  So many beautiful gowns, stunning hairstyles, shimmering makeup,  statement shoes, shiny cars, and smiling faces.

Yes, there are plenty of decisions to make, but we’re here to help.  Follow our tutorial in subject ‘Formal 101’ and you’re sure to score a great result on the night.

Right now, you might be wondering, ‘just who is this somebody trying to school me in making my formal awesome?’  Fair question.  So, before we go any further, here are my qualifications:

– I once attended my own school formal (wearing a black and gold number which my lovely mother made for me and I felt amazing)

– My years as a senior secondary school teacher have brought me into contact with the journeys of literally hundreds of formal attendees.  I will admit, a little less time spent listening to those journeys during my English lessons might have been good, but I’ve definitely heard more than my fair share of everything ‘formal’ over the years, as well as having had the privilege of sharing the excitement of the formal evening itself with many of my students.

– I have two (now adult) children, both of whom attended their own school’s formal.  One of my children is female and the other is male.  I think you can guess who spent the most time preparing for formal.  My son was sorted in not much more than two hours one afternoon about two months before the big event.  In contrast, if ‘School Formal’ had been a subject available for study in the year leading up to the event, my daughter would have scored an A+.  There weren’t just hours involved,  there were days and weeks.  There were two dresses purchased (one in Australia, then one in London), with the Australian one subsequently sold (thank you Ebay!).  I lost count of the number of potential makeup looks, hairstyles and heels presented to me for an opinion, but guess what?  It was all worth it and she looked and felt fantastic on the night.

On the basis of the above, I hereby declare myself a qualified school formal tutor.

Let the tutorial begin:

(1) Budget – no matter whether it’s you or your parents (or a combination of both) outlaying cash for your formal, it’s savvy to set a budget and keep a track of how you spend.

As a guide, your budget could include:

– dress

– shoes

– accessories – jewellery and clutch

– makeup

– hair

– nails

– lashes

– tanning

– transport

– wrist corsage

– event ticket (perhaps for partner too)

– afterparty

Once you’ve set a budget for what you’re willing to spend on each of these elements, do all you can to stick to it.  Then, decide on what is most important and prioritise devoting a definite portion of your budget to that aspect.  You might even be able to borrow or DIY in some areas, so you can spend more in others.

(2) The Dress

Let’s be real.  Even though I put ‘Budget’ as number 1, choosing your formal dress is more than likely the first priority.  There are basically three options:

– buy

– hire

– borrow

Buying a formal dress definitely isn’t as extravagant as it sounds.  Yes, it’s been bought for your formal, but there’s always the option to wear it to future event, like uni balls or if you’re invited to a black tie event or a formal wedding.  You always have the option of on-selling the dress too, if you decide not to keep it.  Buying brand new might be your preference, and once you’ve seen some of the beautiful options, you could find it very hard to look elsewhere.  There are so many lovely gowns to be found at Studio Minc (top feature image), Formal Wear of Brisbane, Heavenly Bridal and Formal, and A Formal Affair.

Sugar and Spice

Sugar and Spice

But don’t forget, buying a once-worn gown is also possible, and no-one’s going to know the difference on the night.  In addition, it’s always impressive to see the girls who have scoured the local op-shop for evening wear and scored incredible vintage or retro dresses for less than $50.  Talk about #waronwaste!

Another amazing option which has grown massively in popularity in recent years is to hire your formal dress.  It’s the best of both worlds – you get to wear the designer dress of your dreams, but you pay just a fraction of the designer cost.  Our friends at GlamCorner have thousands of gowns on offer and, I promise, the hardest job you’ll have is narrowing it down to one.  Just remember – the dress does have to be returned, usually a day or two after the event, so you’ll need to factor that into your (dance!) movements as well as post-formal plans.

GlamCorner’s Rebecca Valance gown

GlamCorner’s J’Adore gown

There are other great dress hire companies around Brisbane and the Gold Coast, such as Love it or Lease it in Brisbane and Just One Night Formal Hire on the Gold Coast.

2019 Dress trends include:

– metallics

– lace

– embroidery

– sequins

– cut-outs

– two piece (our favourite)

2019 colours:

– white

– red

– black

– champagne and blush tones

– pastels 

– jewel – especially emerald and sapphire 

What colour should you choose?  According to Coco Chanel, ‘the best colour in the world is the one that looks good on you’.

(3) Shoes

Once the dress is sourced, that will provide the direction for the rest of your outfit decisions.

Your shoe choice should be a perfect combination of style, function and comfort.  For every person, that will mean something a little different.  Colourwise, a guaranteed winner is always going to be a nude heel, although if your dress is a strong colour, black is definitely an option.

A word of advice – practise wearing your heels in advance!  Think about what your formal night will involve.  Practise walking up and down stairs, practise standing up and sitting down, and even practise a few dance moves.  Try to keep your dress length in mind in this equation too.

Tony Bianco has so many beautiful heels, from patent closed toes through to strappy ankle ties.  Here are our current favourites.

(4) Accessories

Let’s start with another famous tip from Coco Chanel, ‘before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off’.  We couldn’t agree more – a clutch and one feature accessory is far better than four or five competing items.

Most girls will want to carry a clutch.  It should be large enough to hold your phone and lipstick/gloss but small enough to be comfortably held in one hand.  Match it to your shoe colour or make a statement with a complementing shade or pattern.

We’re in love with these pouches from Mimco.

Other accessory options include:

– earrings

– necklace (consider this only for off-the-shoulder or strapless dresses)

– bracelet/bangle

– ring

– headpiece/hairpiece

– belt (as part of the dress)

Mimco earrings
Seed earrings

(5) Beauty, hair and makeup

In 2019, formal beauty, hair and makeup looks range from the sleek and sophisticated to the boho and feminine.

We’re especially in love with the boho braided styles and the glamour waves being created by hair magicians such as Isabella Jane Hairstyling and Hair I Come.  Then again,  a sleek ponytail or uber-straight style can be stunning too.

Isabella Jane Hairstyling

2019 makeup trends include these incredible looks from Makeup by Madison – smokey gold eye, pinks and Hollywood glamour.

The week leading up to the occasion is the time for nails, lashes, and tanning.  Our tanning expert, Katie from Celebrity Tans, advises having your spray tan two or three days before your formal, while lashes and nails can be done anytime in the week prior.

On the day of your formal, be realistic about the time you have to work with and speak in advance to your hairstylist and makeup artist about how much time to allow for their appointments.  Factor in travel time too so that you don’t have to worry about rushing any of these steps.  Alternatively, have an amazing mobile hair and makeup artist like Ashleigh Bialic Hair and Makeup come to you, and relax in your own home as you get glammed up!

(6) Transport

The sky’s the limit when it come to your mode of transport – from horse and buggy, tandem bicycle through to fire engines, helicopters, and vintage kombis.

For stylish arrivals as a couple or for your group, Limoso Luxury Car Hire have you sorted.

Most likely, your school will organise some kind of plan for arrivals.  Ideally, make sure you book a slot somewhere in the middle of the arrival window so your entrance can be seen and remembered by the crowd.

Take a moment to have a think about exiting from your transport.  Try to keep your knees together and swivel in the seat prior to stepping out (and watch for your dress hem in the process!).  Your partner or driver will be able to open the door for you, so you can concentrate on a graceful first appearance.

Then be ready for the flash of cameras and the crowd loving your look.  Step confidently onto the red carpet and into the night you’ve been waiting for!

A final tip:

We have one last thing to say.  Your formal is not really about the colour of your dress or the earrings you choose, or whether you’ve quite managed to walk in the heels you’re wearing.  No.  It’s actually about sharing the night with others you care about and making memories together.

So, as you work through your formal checklist, be sure to relax and enjoy the journey too.

Wishing you loads of fun!


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