It’s the big one, your school formal!
It’s not often that young girls really get to glam up, so it’s only natural to be super-excited about your formal.
With that though can come pressure and anxiety. The pressure to impress your peers, to have stunning photos you’ll look back on for years, or to look amazing for your date.
Not to worry though, our ultimate guide won’t only have you finding the perfect dress, but we’ll give you some tips on dealing with any stress that comes with it.
Whether you’re looking for a classic, elegant look or something more fun and playful, this guide will help you choose the perfect outfit for your school formal or ball in 2023.
- Understanding the Event
- Choosing the Perfect Dress
- Renting Your Designer Dress
- Beauty: Unlock Your Glow
- Enjoying the Night
- Wrapping Up
Understanding the Event
Before you start browsing websites to buy or hire your outfit, it’s important to look at some of the details of your event and set some basic parameters to help plan out what you’re really looking for.
Make sure you find out if there’s a dress code for your school formal. This will normally be laid out in the invitation or advised by your school.
Whilst rules are sometimes made to be broken, you’ll want to know if a particular style of outfit is going to land you in any trouble, or simply leave you feeling out of place. Consider you’ll probably have professional photos taken alongside a bunch of your friends. You don’t want to look back at those and wonder “what was I thinking!?”.
Venue and Weather
The type of venue hosting the formal will determine the level of formality for your outfit. If it’s in a grand ballroom, you’ll be wanting a more formal, elegant dress. At the other extreme, an outdoor beach or park setting might call for a lighter, more casual outfit.
It’s impossible to predict the weather in advance but you’ll have a fair idea of what it’ll be from what month your school formal is in. It can be a long night and it’s all about having fun, so you want to make sure you’re comfortable.
Think about whether you’ll need sleeves or the option of a jacket. If it’s in summer and outdoors, you might want something shorter and pay attention to the type and thickness of the fabric. You don’t want to be showing off sweat patches on your dress!
Choosing the Perfect Dress
To most girls, this will be the most important part of getting prepared for their school formal.
Our biggest advice is to get onto things EARLY, as we know first-hand of so many girls who just couldn’t get their hands on their “dream dress” because they left it too late. It sounds crazy, but we have quite a few girls booking their school formal dresses as much as 10 months out from the event!
These are the most important things to consider when narrowing down your dress options and ultimately selecting “the one”.
Your Body Shape
For some, this might be your first time really dressing up and wearing this style of clothing. You need to know that how a dress looks on an influencer, friend, or other pics you’ve found online, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.
Different dresses and features of the dress flatter different body types & shapes. No matter what yours is, you’ll always be able to find something that flatters you and highlights your best features.
First, work out which body type you are, then work out what kinds of styles suit that body type best. Rather than explain all that here, just jump straight to our guide to dressing for your body type.
Complementing Your Skin Undertone
Choosing a dress that compliments your skin undertone is key to enhancing your overall look and ensuring you feel confident on your big night. To find the perfect colour for your dress, you first need to determine your skin’s undertone.
For a detailed guide, read our blog post: How to Choose a Dress that Complements Your Skin Tone. We summarise choosing the right dress colour below.
Cool Undertone: Opt for colours like deep blues, emerald green, bright purples, and icy pastels. Bold shades of red, such as ruby or burgundy, can also work well. Steer clear of warm tones like mustard yellow and orange, as they may clash with your skin tone.
Warm Undertone: Go for earthy tones like mustard yellow, burnt orange, warm browns, and olive green are great choices. You can also try rich shades of red, such as coral or rust. Avoid cool-toned colours like icy pastels and deep blues, as they can make your skin look washed out.
Neutral Undertone: If this is you, you have the advantage of being able to wear a wide range of colours. Feel free to experiment with a variety of shades. However, be cautious with colours that are too bright or intense, as they can overwhelm your natural complexion.
Popular Dress Styles for 2023
This year, formal-goers are taking some inspiration from the past and giving it a modern twist.
Jasmine Stewart, owner of rental business (and ATD partner) Dressed By Jaz, says formal styles in 2023 “involve modern silhouettes, such as structured corset shapes”. This a great way to add a vintage vibe to your look while still keeping it current.
Jasmine’s also seeing popularity in contemporary spins on the staple slip dress. “Silky slip dresses are as popular as ever, but in 2023 designers are adding cut-outs and unique pattern designers, and most students are loving it.”, says Jasmine.
To give you a better idea, we’ve included some of the most booked school formal gowns & dresses on All The Dresses in the carousel below.
Trending Designers in 2023
Some girls prefer to begin their search by focusing on a particular designer rather than looking for specific dress features or colours. This approach makes sense if you find that the signature style of a specific designer aligns perfectly with your personal taste and flatters your figure impeccably.
So which designers are on fire this year? We can’t go past designers such as Lia Stublla, Albina Dyla and Sonya. There’s a quick overview below, but for the full story, and for the full list of designers to check out, read our blog post: The Top 16 Designers for School Formal Dresses in 2023.
Lia Stublla’s gowns are renowned for their feature splits and trains, leaving you feeling like a new-age princess.
Each Albina Dyla piece is crafted with the finest crystal detailing or exquisite fabrics, exuding high glamour and commanding attention.
Sonya was without doubt the hottest label in its category in 2022 and they haven’t slowed down this year. With luxurious fabrics and innovative designs, Sonya pieces are perfect for warm weather events.
Renting Your Designer Dress
We get it, the perfect designer dress can be really expensive. That’s where renting comes in! There’s really no more perfect occasion to hire your dress rather than buy it.
A lot of designer styles are going to send you (or your parents) broke, so we definitely recommend you rent your formal dress (obviously!). It’s the clear choice for a one-off occasion when you know you probably won’t be attending any similar types of events any time soon. It’s always good to be eco-conscious as well – one dress rented is one less dress that had to be produced!
Here’s our top 4 reasons to hire your school formal dress:
Save That Cash
Renting a dress can save you anywhere from 70 to 85%. Look a million dollars, without spending it!
By renting a dress, you’re taking a step towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle. You’re not buying something that you’ll only wear once, and you’re helping reduce the demand & production of new dresses.
The Most Sought-After Styles
The hottest designer dresses sell out at retailers or on the designer’s website pretty quick. Through their relationship with designers, or just by being professionals at buying the best styles quickly, rental companies offer dresses that you just can’t find elsewhere, even if you were willing to buy it.
No need to worry about cleaning, storing or selling your school formal dress after the event. Just throw it in a return satchel and post it back. Most rental businesses take care of dry-cleaning as part of the service. All of the rental partners on our marketplace do. All you have to worry about is having an amazing night!
So how do I go about Hiring a Dress?
There’s so many avenues for renting a dress in 2023. There’s boutiques, online rental companies, Instagram businesses, marketplaces and more. So what’s the best way to do it?
Searching for Style
Well first of all, we recommend you do your research online before heading to a store. The professionalism and amount of information provided by dress hire companies online has come a long way.
The best part about it is that dress hire businesses LOVE sharing real customer photos on their websites. By comparison, many designer websites or online retailers prefer to use campaign photos of models, which can be hard to relate to.
On All The Dresses, not only do we feature customer photos in a section underneath the dress details, but we tell you exactly which size that customer booked and in many cases we tell you that customer’s height. Our amazing customers are so happy to help future potential customers, which we think is awesome.
Trust the Pros: Dress Hire Done Right
We strongly recommend you hire from a professional dress rental business, whether that’s online or a physical store. We’ve heard too many horror stories not to stress this point! For most, it’s too important an occasion to take chances.
Professional rental businesses have extensive experience with booking management, postage delivery times, cleaning and how to package items so that they arrive in the best possible condition.
Conversely, someone renting out their closet on Instagram or on a peer-to-peer marketplace, lacks this experience and in many cases won’t care about ensuring you’re looked after because they have less riding on it. Giving you the best experience might not be their highest priority as their reputation isn’t on the line in the same way it is for a professional business.
At All The Dresses, we only partner with trusted professional rental businesses. Every item available to book on our website is owned and fulfilled by one of these businesses and we have a close relationship with all of them. We don’t allow individuals or just any business to list items on our site. All The Dresses is the only Australian dress hire marketplace that operates this way. For more on this, read our blog post, The Problem with Peer-to-peer Dress Rental Marketplaces.
There are some potential downsides to renting and one of those is that an issue might occur with the dress you’ve booked, prior to your booking. It might come back damaged or ruined from a prior customer or they might return it late.
It’s not common but it can happen. The benefit with a professional rental business with a large range is that they will usually go over and above to make sure you’re offered a selection of alternatives that could work for you.
With All The Dresses, we go one step further, not only are you offered alternatives from the ATD rental partner you’ve booked from, but we’ll help with swapping it for any available dress from any of our trusted suppliers. We might even be able to get you the exact same style, just from a different ATD rental partner!
Compare Pricing (but also Terms!)
Once you’ve decided on the perfect dress, make sure you’re getting the best deal. You could try just Googling the designer + dress name with the word “hire”.
All The Dresses is the only dress rental marketplace with true price comparison. On the dress page, we show you all of our rental partners offering the same style, along with the rental fee and the shipping fee.
Favourable rental terms can be just as important as a good price. Things to look out for are cancellation policies, damage insurance options and returns process. As we’ve all experienced in recent years, a lot of factors outside our control can impact an event, and it’s best to make sure that doesn’t mean money down the drain.
We’ve mentioned it already, but booking early is imperative when it comes to renting for a school formal. There’s two main reasons… Firstly, there’s a lot of school formal goers and limited quantities for the most in-demand dresses, and secondly, by booking your dress (and making that known to your friends & peers) there’s less chance another girl at your formal will book the same dress.
Consider a Backup Dress
If you’re renting online and haven’t been able to try it on yourself beforehand, an option some dress rental businesses offer is a “backup dress”, which is at a very large discount.
At All The Dresses, a large part of the collection has this offer available. You can book a second dress for 75% off the normal hire fee. It can either be the same style in a second size or a completely different style. For more details, click here.
This can also have another, lesser-thought-of benefit. In the unfortunate case that something happens with your first dress preference, such as it getting damaged beyond repair by a customer booking it prior to you, you’ve still got another selection that you like and that is already reserved for you.
Now that you’ve nailed the perfect dress, let’s move on to one of the most fun parts – accessorising!
They say accessories can make or break an outfit, and they’re not wrong! Accessories have this magical power of transforming your look in ways you never thought possible. So let’s dive into this all-important part of your school formal outfit prep: the shoes, the jewellery, and the bag.
First off, shoes! Cinderella is proof that a pair of shoes can change your life, but we’re not suggesting you need a fairy godmother.
Your shoe choice should complement your dress but also be comfortable. Remember, you’ll be on your feet for a large part of the night, between photos, dinner, and dancing.
Heels are a glamorous choice. Think stilettos, block heels, strappy sandals or peep-toes.
Just be careful – if you’re not used to wearing heels, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise on the night of your formal. Whilst you might be tempted to go for the tallest, most striking stilettos, this could end in disaster. Consider a pair of sparkly flats or stylish wedges if you’re not used to wearing heels.
If you do go for heels, we suggest packing a pair of foldable flats for later in the evening. Maybe buy some stiletto stoppers, especially if you’ll be spending any time on grass or unsealed surfaces.
Remember, the key is balance: if your dress is elaborate, go for simpler shoes and vice versa.
Classic Stilettos: A go-to option for many, and it’s no surprise why. With their sleek design and sky-high heels, they can instantly elevate your style and give you a flattering, elongated silhouette. They’re especially perfect for body-con or sheath dresses, as they help maintain the streamlined effect.
Chic Block Heels: If you’re after a mix of style and comfort, block heels might be just what you need. These are particularly great if you’re going to be on your feet a lot during the event, as the wider heel offers great support. Choose from sandal to closed shoe designs. Block heels pair beautifully with flowy maxi dresses or a-line formal dresses, balancing the volume nicely.
Elegant Ballet Flats: These are an excellent choice for those who prioritise comfort but don’t want to sacrifice style. They can be just as chic as heels when you choose a pair in a luxe material like satin or embellished with details like bows, sequins or pearls. They suit shorter dresses, where the shoes are more noticeable.
Sophisticated Strappy Sandals: In warmer weather, a pair of strappy sandals can be both stylish and comfortable. A metallic pair (gold, silver or rose gold) can add a touch of glamour to your ensemble. They work exceptionally well with dresses with higher hemlines or slits, allowing the sandals to shine.
Timeless Wedges: Wedges offer the height of a heel but with greater stability, making them a great option if you’re navigating outdoor surfaces. They pair effortlessly with a range of dresses, from mini to maxi length.
Next on the list is jewellery. When it comes to bling for a formal outfit, less is often more. The key is to choose pieces that enhance your dress, not overshadow it.
If your dress has a detailed neckline, you might skip a necklace and opt for statement earrings instead. On the other hand, a dress with a simple design can be paired with a delicate necklace or a chunky bracelet.
Pearls, clear gemstones (diamonds, cubic zirconia, crystals), and coloured gemstones are all good choices. Remember to match the metal of your jewellery with any detailing on your dress for a cohesive look.
Angelina Alvarez and Christie Nicolaides create some amazing earrings which you can hire for a reasonable price, whilst Aje offers a range of beautiful gold and pearl studs, hoops and sculptured earrings. At the high-end, we love Oscar De La Renta’s creations.
Some of our favourite jewellery pieces for school formals are below.
The Finishing Touch: The Handbag or Clutch!
Finally, let’s talk about your handbag.
For formal events like this, a clutch is your best bet. It’s just big enough to hold your essentials – think phone, lipstick for touch-ups, and maybe a few safety pins (just in case!). Choose a clutch that matches or complements your outfit.
It’s a good idea to coordinate your clutch with your other accessories. For example, if you’re wearing gold jewellery, you might want to choose a clutch with gold hardware.
Embellished clutches can add a pop to a simpler dress, while a sleek, satin, silk or metallic clutch could pair well with a more embellished dress. Leather clutches can give your look a modern edge. It’s all about creating harmony in your outfit.
Saint Laurent clutches are definitely a favourite of school formal-goers, but a more budget-friendly option can be just as gorgeous, such as the bejewelled stylings of Olga Berg. We also like Alexander McQueen’s simple, but gorgeous crocodile-embossed clutches.
Beauty: Unlock Your Glow
Creating the perfect look for your school formal is not just about the dress and accessories – it’s also about the finishing touches that tie everything together. So let’s delve into the world of beauty to ensure you feel confident and fabulous from head to toe.
Hair and Makeup
Choosing the right hairstyle and makeup look for your school formal should be based on your personal style, the style of your dress, and the overall tone of the event.
When it comes to hair, consider whether an updo, loose curls, or a sleek straight style would best compliment your dress and its features. If your dress has a detailed neckline or back, you might want to consider an updo to show off those features. On the other hand, loose, flowing hairstyles can add a romantic touch, especially to more minimalist dresses.
For makeup, think about what will best enhance your features and what you feel most comfortable wearing. You could go for a classic look with a smoky eye and nude lip, or perhaps a bold red lip for a pop of colour. Remember, makeup should make you feel like the best version of yourself, so don’t feel pressured to wear more than you’re comfortable with.
Nails might be a small detail, but they can make a big impact. A manicure can add that finishing touch to your look, whether you opt for a clean, natural nail or something more eye-catching. Consider a colour that complements your dress or accessories, or even a French manicure for a timeless, elegant look.
Skincare and Fragrance
Good skincare is the foundation of any great beauty look. In the lead-up to the formal, make sure you’re cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturising regularly. This will help your makeup sit better and give you a natural glow. On the day, ensure your face is clean and moisturised before applying makeup.
Last but not least, don’t forget about fragrance! A spritz of your favourite perfume can make you feel extra special. Just remember to avoid spraying directly on your dress to prevent any potential staining.
The beauty aspect of preparing for your school formal should be fun, so take some time to experiment with different looks and styles ahead of the event. Above all, choose something that makes you feel beautiful and confident, because the most important thing is that you enjoy your night!
Enjoying the Night
Alright, so you’ve nailed the outfit and you’re looking fab. But it isn’t just a fashion show; it’s about making memories, celebrating milestones, dancing and having an awesome night. Here’s a few tips to help you make the most of the event.
Dance Like Everyone AND No One is Watching. Sometimes, it’s the goofy, off-beat dance moves that steal the show and get the biggest laughs. Own your moves – or your lack of them! Just try to respect the dance space – no one likes getting bumped into, or heaven forbid a colourful drink spilt all over their dress.
Dive into conversations. Compliment someone’s wild shoes, chat about that hilarious class moment, or bond over that insane test last week. Chat to people you might not have had the chance to talk to much during the regular school year – you might even form some special new bonds.
Memorable Over Meme-able. It’s tempting to keep that Snapchat streak going, but try putting the phone away for a bit. You don’t want the only memories of the night to be your story highlights. Make sure you get a few snaps with each of the people important to you, but also try to be in the now.
Live the Night. From group selfies to spontaneous sing-alongs, embrace it all. Laugh hard, sing louder, and dance hardest. It’s your night, and it’s about the good vibes and memories.
Bottom line? Dive in headfirst, chuck out the rulebook, and make the night yours. Let’s make it legendary!
As we wrap up our ultimate guide, let’s go back to where the magic begins – the dress! No matter what your unique style is, it’s all about feeling fabulous and owning your look.
Remember, the perfect outfit is a blend of trend, comfort, and a sprinkle of your personality. From the shimmer of your dress to the twinkle of your accessories, every detail paints a part of your formal story.
While you revel in the banter, dance moves, and everything in between, let your attire be the shining armour that boosts your confidence and reflects your essence.
School formals aren’t just about showcasing that killer outfit – they’re a canvas for expressing yourself, creating memories, and of course, having fun. Dancing the night away, revel in captivating and hilarious banter, or simply soak up the ambience. Own every moment. After all, it’s not just a celebration of your high school years, but also about stepping into the future, a little bolder, a little brighter, and with a bunch of unforgettable stories in tow.
So, button up, zip tight, and step out with flair. Here’s to making a statement, capturing hearts, and ensuring that the night (and your dress) are remembered long after the last song is played!