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School formals: the new wedding?

Josie Gouvoussis

Is the school formal the new wedding? We asked 16-year-old Josie Gouvoussis.

There is a colossal anticipation that comes with the arrival of The Big Day. Everyone discusses options days, months, even years in advance.

One attempts to glean inspiration and advice from social media, the internet, magazines, family and friends; to merely guarantee everything is styled and timed to absolute perfection. Dresses must be arranged, makeup, hair, accessories, transportation; the list is endless (and usually contains a hint of obsessiveness).

What is this exclusive and lavish event you ask? Why, it is none other than a formal. Simply a formal. Not a wedding. Nor the birth of a human being coming into the world, but alas, a one-night-only insanely awkward and cringe-worthy social event organised by the ‘trendy, cool and hip’ staff of a high school.

Members of Generation X can surely remember their school formal and are reminiscing the puffed up shoulder pads Madonna-like sleeves of their gowns designed and created by their mothers, or, their permed hairdo which could have been mistaken for a small furry animal. Good food, friends and music were all that one once needed to have that warm feeling of delight at a formal.

However, as technology advances and with new style icons like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner promoting and ultimately dominating the fashion industry via social media, easily influenced young teens are willing to follow expensive trends by any means necessary.

Don’t look your best, look the best

There is an unfortunate stigma relating to formals, particularly in Canberra, which is the cause of much anxiety amongst teens. The acceptance of the idea that one must not be content with their personal appearance but must compete with everyone else to BE and look the best leaves little more than a self-doubtful and exceedingly hesitant teenager in its wake.

Attempting to replicate these unrealistic standards of both body image and fashion identity and what is now considered ‘aesthetic feminine beauty’ (Victoria’s Secret models); is completely unachievable. In this mad race to purchase and wear a branded dress which is sure to ‘impress any onlooker’, be the most ‘unique’, and ‘accentuate one’s BEST features’, individuals are hyping the formal night in its entirety to the extreme.

Empty your pockets and invest, parentals

Researching where to purchase or much rather ‘invest’ in formal wear in Canberra is increasingly difficult as options are more limited than in larger cities and the chances of another person wearing the same outfit are exceptionally high. Several boutiques offer a gorgeous range of dresses, jumpsuits and two pieces which are suitable for both formal and semi-formals. These include Rebel Muse and the Designer Op Shop in Braddon, Momento Dezigns in Manuka and Mussen in Civic. However, one must be prepared to pay top dollar for brands such as Alice McCall, Zimmermann, Asilio and Camilla. According to Fairwork Australia, the minimum wage for a 16-year-old is $7.98 and investing in affluent, designer brands will leave not only parents emptying their pockets but their children with an internal conflict as to whether one item of clothing is truly worth 32 hours of work.

David Jones and Myer are both suitable options as they regularly have sales and a wide range of brands and labels. With the extra addition of layby, the convenience is purely irresistible. Those who find themselves empty handed must resort to purchasing from everyone’s new best friend: online shopping. Websites like Asos and The Iconic are ideal for formal wear as shipping is free.

The real question is whether or not you are willing to invest. By invest, I’m referring to spending a considerable amount of cash dollars (that’s right: moolah), on an item that will only possibly bring you one night of elation with nothing else certain in return.

To dance or not to dance?

Gone are the days where one could attend their semi-formal at a school hall where a meagre string of balloons and streamers were what adorned the walls and vinyl floor. It has become the norm to pay a large sum of money to attend your own semi-formal at either a hotel, sporting club or association or at convention centres. Venue is arguably one of the most important features of a formal whether, for Year 10 or 12, nevertheless in hindsight makes little to no difference whatsoever. Sitting down for three hours and eating a three course meal is just as uncomfortable and stressful as standing around tables full of Homebrand lollies and Costco pizzas as one must engage in face-to-face verbal conversation regardless.

For those socially inept few, this is one of the most taxing events of their brief lives so far. In order to avoid these painful conversations, dancing is the most effective way to let loose and enjoy yourself. Once someone has started dancing to catchy pop tunes, it becomes very difficult to stop. This ultimately leads to a red faced, profusely sweating youth left with little more to do than remove their exceptionally high heels and continue to party to the paramount of their abilities on the dance floor.

Most people cannot even remember the minor details (such as what they wore, the venue and who they took) of their formals but can recall whether or not they had a smashing good time. In preparation for The Big Day, it is vitally important to not lose sight of the main purpose of a formal: have an incredible night and celebrate your final years of secondary education.


Josie Gouvoussis

Josie Gouvoussis is a 16-year-old intern, currently in Year 11 at Radford College, studying Ancient History and English Literature. Born and bred in the nation’s capital, Josie is an aspiring journalist and hopes to one day write her way around Europe. She enjoys meeting, learning from and writing about local Canberrans and the extraordinary lives they lead. She is a low key (by low-key meaning fangirl obsessed) book lover who will read anything from politics and history to gore, crime and fantasy. Usually one can find her lounging around deeply immersed in a fiction novel or swimming with her friends. More about the Author

  • Maddie

    I wore a black 1950s halter dress to my Year 10 formal (it had tiny pink polkadots on it). I felt like a movie star, and it cost about $85 from the Hyperdome! That was in 2005. One of the other girls in my year arrived in a horse and carriage and had a ballgown with so many layers of tulle that it was rumoured to be able to stand up by itself.

    Ah, the memories.

  • Yanna

    We had at least 3 girls with custom made designer dresses costing a whopping $1000 a pop, and that was over 8 years ago! Obviously I attended a private school….

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