Graduating high school is an exciting time and getting ready for your formal can be stressful, second only to your treacherous year 12 exams. There is a lot to think about – where do I shop? What do I wear? How about hair and makeup, cars and afterparties? Have no fear; here is a guide to make sure you are ready for the big day!

Remember, formals are not a competition about who spent the most money or even who looks the best. It is about celebrating, having fun, and spoiling yourself a little. Dress in a style that you love, not what others are wearing or tell you to wear. If you are happy with your look then it will show!


For the young gentlemen:

Most of my advice is aimed at the ladies, but boys I do have some pointers for you!

Girls don’t get to have all the fun when it comes to choosing what to wear. Do not feel obliged to wear something plain or boring. It is worth your while to invest in a nice suit but there are plenty of places that hire if you are not willing to commit. Try Black Tie by Xavier, John Hanna or Roger David.

Also, if a black-tie tuxedo isn’t your thing, go for something a little different. Wear a coloured suit, or chinos and a blazer, or add some flair to your outfit with a bowtie, patterned tie, or bright shirt.

Yes, it is a formal, but if suits don’t suit you, compromise and find something that you feel good in. David Jones, MJ Bale and Zara have all different styles of formal wear to choose from.

If you have a lucky lady, make sure you know what she is wearing. Consider wearing a tie the colour of her dress or buy a corsage (the flowers for her wrist!) that matches her accessories.

A fresh cut and minimal styling product will have you looking your best. I know it is easy to get carried away with waxes and mousse but be wary that too much might look greasy or dirty.

A clean shave will go a long way and show off that handsome face of yours BUT if you are lucky enough to have an impressively substantial beard, make sure you groom it properly. There are plenty of products around for both hair and facial hair styling at General Pants, Hairhouse Warehouse or Groomed in the Ori building on Lonsdale.

From my experience, if you want to arrive in a statement car, your girl won’t be the one organising this. If it is just a few of you, ask around and you might find someone with a sports or vintage car that will roll you in with style.

If you have a big group arriving together, go for something fun like a stretch limousine or party bus. Make sure you book ahead through First Class Formal Cars, Hire My Ride or Valley Limousines Canberra.



For the lovely ladies:


Girls, you are lucky in that you have so much choice in what you want to wear. Canberra has some great spots to shop and most places keep a registry to make sure no one else buys the same dress.

Start looking by trying on things in shops that you like and go from there. I would start at Mussen, Myer, Ferrari, Sass and Bide or Forever New.

You do not have to wear a full-length dress. You don’t even have to wear a dress. If you want something a bit different, opt for a midi or high-low hemline. Or why not mix it up with a pantsuit, jumpsuit, or a co-ordinate top and skirt?

Online shopping is fabulous but make sure you plan very far ahead! You need the dress to arrive with enough time to exchange sizes, change your mind or get it tailored.

The risk with buying your dress online is that you can’t know for sure if anyone else is wearing the same thing (but if they are it’s not the end of the world!). My picks online are ShowPo, Pretty Little Thing, ASOS and MissGuided.

Don’t feel like you have to spend a bomb on your dress. It is unlikely that you will wear it more than a few times and the next time a big event comes up you will want a new one anyway. Shop in places that you would not expect to have formal wear to find something you can dress up and make your own.

The less you spend on your dress, the more you will have to spend on accessories that you will use again, or splash out getting your hair and makeup done. I would poke through Portmans, Bardot and Forecast for hidden gems!

If your dress is form fitting or strapless, you may need to buy the right underwear for the job. Shops like Bras & Things have wide range of options and staff that can help you if you’re unsure of what you need.



The general rules for accessories are that your bag matches your shoes and your lipstick matches your nails. These are guidelines, however, and if you want to make a statement, don’t let anyone stop you! My only advice here is to make sure you don’t go over the top with too much jewellery or heels that are too high.

High heels are fun but make sure you can walk in them. You will look and feel better if you are comfortable and trust me, it is easy to stack it in platforms. Try on some pairs in Wittner, Betts For Her, FSW and Windsor smith.

If your dress has a lot of detail or decoration, pair it with simple jewellery that won’t take away from the eye-catching features. If your dress is simple, bring it to life and make it yours with accessories like a clutch, hair pieces and jewellery from Collette, Lovisa, Sportsgirl, or Witchery.

Investing in a bangle, earrings or pendant that you will wear for many years can be a symbolic reminder of the finishing high school. Pandora, Prouds and Michael Hill have some lovely simple rings and necklaces that won’t go out of style.


Hair and makeup

There are so many more hairstyles than up or down. If you’re really good at doing your own hair, why not do it yourself? No-one but you knows how you like your hair but braids and buns can be tricky. If you decide to get it done at a hairdresser, book well in advance and come prepared.

Do your research and make sure you know what sort of thing you want BEFORE you get to the hairdresser and take a photo of your outfit along so your stylist can give you advice.

When choosing your dress, go for a colour that suits your complexion. If you feel tanning is necessary, make sure you don’t over-do it. You do not want to look back on your photos in a few years and realise you looked orange, or not even like you!

Try a gradual tanning moisturiser like Dove Summer Glow for a day or two beforehand for soft and even skin on the day. If you are self-tanning, use a mitt to reduce staining on your hands.

Bondi Sands and ModelCo offer some natural looking tanning foams and creams, but practice makes perfect and if you are new to the art, don’t do it yourself the day before! Professional spray tans can be a safe option, but again make sure you don’t opt for anything too dark or go heavy on your face.

Book far ahead to get your makeup done somewhere like Mac, Napoleon or Mecca. The staff are super friendly and will make sure all the makeup suits your skin tone. If you are doing your own makeup, make sure you choose foundations and colour palettes that match your complexion and don’t try anything risky like a winged eyeliner for the first time on the day (it is so much harder than it looks).

Try following a makeup tutorial online for practice and make sure you avoid a cake-face, it can be easy to overdo it!


Have fun!

If you decide to go to an after party, be responsible. It is a great opportunity to spend time with your friends and celebrate your achievements but remember that you have more responsibility than ever now and you need to make sure you look after yourself and friends.