Umm, apparently pastels and boofiness is back?

Sunday Sesh: the school formal

Nikki Parkinson Life 26 Comments

I walked into the huge RSL function centre, blinded by the beading, sequins, chiffon and up-dos before me.

All around were young adults, dressed up for their school night of nights: the Year 12 formal.

Umm, apparently pastels and boofiness is back?

Umm, apparently the ’80s pastels and boofiness is back?

So many of these kids have been together at school since Year 1. Many I listened to read in those early years. They’re the same kids. Only taller.

They’re almost through their school days. They can taste what they think a school-free life will represent.

But for one night, it was about following in the footsteps of students before them. It was about the suit, the long frock, the hair, the makeup, the limo (for some) and celebrating with their friends.

And in my son’s school’s case it was about raising money for a charity … not just the glamour.

Yes, last night was one of those milestone nights you have with kids.

And yes, I was one very proud Mama.

Ben school formal

This post isn’t sponsored by Roger David but it should be … top to toe we had him sorted in one hour!

My hair got the pre-formal treatment at Suite Three and I wore a dress "from the vault" - a George velvet cocktail dress bought four years ago.

My hair got the pre-formal treatment at Suite Three and I wore a dress “from the vault” – a George velvet cocktail dress bought four years ago.

Loved seeing these boys have a bit of fun.

Loved seeing these boys have a bit of fun.

Loved that most of the girls had resisted a "tandoori" approach to their skin.

Loved that most of the girls had resisted a “tandoori” approach to their skin. 

A committee of Year 12 students worked on putting together the whole event and sourcing prizes for the charity raffle.

A committee of Year 12 students worked on putting together the whole event and sourcing prizes for the charity raffle.

Now, let’s talk about the frocks … because that’s what I do and quite, frankly this year was a cinch for me with a son to suit up. Next year? Well, that’s a whole other story. It will be my daughter’s turn.

Apparently, I need to start shopping for that dress, like, now. And gosh, horror, it can’t be like someone else’s.

I’m pretty confident that my daughter will make a beautiful choice 😉

I was a little bit taken aback back last night … in an ’80s time warp kind of way … by the number of girls seeking out meringue-style pastels.  I, of course, cannot talk. If you have not seen my formal/grad photo from 1984, check out all my pale-pink taffeta loveliness in the gallery below.

In this sea of ’80s “inspiration”, a quick scan of the room and the stylist in me had picked out a number of faves. All were classically elegant. These girls were wearing their dress as opposed to the other way round. And you kind of know they’ll continue to do the same with their fashion choices as they head off into the world at the end of the year. Wish I could have said the same!

I didn’t get to photograph all those frocks which I loved but here are two that I did manage to capture and I’m so glad I did.

Ellie in a dress that was formerly her mum's wedding gown. Just beautiful.

Ellie in a dress that was formerly her mum’s wedding gown. Just beautiful.

Brittany working the elegance of a navy strapless gown (I've known this beautiful girl since she was born - before that actually, ante-natal classes)

Brittany working the elegance of a navy strapless gown (I’ve known this beautiful girl since she was born – before that actually, ante-natal classes)

So, in the post-formal, post-after-party haze that is today, I hand this post over to you.

Did you have a formal during your Year 12 year? What did you wear? Share your stories and in the comments section below.

And if you’d like your photo included in this gallery, please email it to me: … you know you want to 😉

  • Steph Allen

    I had my formal in 2005. I wanted a full ball-gown skirt (not frilly, just big and tulle) but my mum told me to leave it for my wedding dress (So I did, and I definitely made up for it with the wedding dress!) I think the main reason she didn’t want me to have a big dress was because of the cost. She scoured the sale racks and came up with some hideous finds she made me try on! I ended up with a slinky black, full length halter-neck dress with silver-sparkle edging the low neckline and plunging back (not as plunging as a lot of the other girls!). I still like it now and would wear it again if it wasn’t for the fact that it is now SUPER clingy due to my more womanly figure lol. My parents said I had to pay for my own hair and makeup so I did it myself instead and actually had my favorite teacher who was only about 24 and stylish compliment me on my makeup, without knowing I did it myself! So it can be done cheaper if you want to. I know my sister-in-law (who graduated the year after me) spent $800 on her dress! It was absolutely amazing but it is a lot of money for a wear-once formal dress.

  • I don’t see it as an 80s flashback, more of a “princess” theme. Most bridal shops have similar gowns for either bridesmaids or ocassions such as this. There’s one near me. I also remember a store called Hiltons that used to have dresses like this. I think they look gorgeous! At least they’ve covered up and aren’t flashing bits they shouldn’t be. And thank God they didn’t fake tan.

  • Boys are so easy aren’t they? Mine wore the black suit, black shirt, shiny silver tie combo.
    Having said that, Daughter was surprisingly easy this year. Found her dress after only 3 hours of shopping. And it’s black. (she wouldn’t be caught dead in pastel fluff)
    And since it’s in 3 weeks time, I have a clutch bag to go buy for her…

  • I wore a tight, tiger print full length dress with a thigh high split that cost $35 and borrowed knee high boots… it sounds a LOT sluttier than it actually was. I wanted to make a statement and didn’t want to look like the others in their ball gowns.

  • Amy

    I really hated my year 12 formal dress and hair and make up…

    I love fashion and always have but I was so *not* interested in dressing up for a bunch of people who, for most of my teenage life, had called me ‘fatty four eyes’ (which had changed by that point, I was ‘only slightly chubby four eyes who mostly wears contacts’… But it wasn’t the point. I wore a brown dress which drained my of colour and made me look slightly pregnant. The only thing I really like about it was the lace straps. My Mum did my hair and makeup. I wanted a chignon but ended up with a bun and my make up looked like I dipped my face in a pot of soot (in her defence, it was what I asked for).

    The minute we were allowed to escape I ran up to my hotel room, change into a short 40’s style Leona Edminston pink dress, let my locks out (curls) and took off my make up and partied hard for a few hours with the people who actually meant something to me. 

    However, I have to say Nikki, the girls at the prom looked far more elegant than the girls I went to school with. I am very jealous! And your son looks very dashing!!! 

    (and as always, you look just fab!) 

  • I was pleasantly surprised by the length of the dresses – it’s lovely the “formal” was taken seriously and there wasn’t just a lot of hoochie mama skirt belts on display.  I guess the 80s are back, hey?!

    I attended a formal in fourth form, fifth form, sixth form and seventh form (I only attended school for a week – went to business college instead!).  I think that equates to Year 9, 10, 11 and 12?  I was 15, 16, 17 and 18, if that helps?!  I borrowed a ruched purple satin number the first year, and had my dress made by a family friend the following years.  A delightful black skirt with black bodice and a green-lined black mullet skirt over the top, with a massive green bow in the middle of my waist. 

    I wore it one year with straps, then twice as a halter.  I really, really wanted the green to be tartan, but was talked out of it, because my dressmaker couldn’t be arsed buggering about with matching the tartan.  Her words.  It was modelled on a picture of Brooke Shields and I found a pattern exactly the same.  Dear gods!

    I’ve found photos but my scanner isn’t working, so please bear with me! 🙂

  • She’s Sonic

    Oh wow this takes me back (10 years – eek!!)…Ben looked great, what a stylish guy. Bravo Brittany, a gorgeous choice of dress. I wore a dusty purple number, had a sleek middle-parted blowdry and was the pioneer of the spray tan in my year level. If you were to look back at the photos, you would not recognise me at all – my fiance certainly didn’t. xx

  • Adrienne

    Hey Nikki, Ben looked so handsome and grown up! Can’t believe these guys are almost going to uni. As you know Chel had her formal earlier this year. With the Rachel Gilbert frock, hair nails, spray tan, makeup, shoes and accessories it’s a big night for the girls. We had 4 girls and their partners at our place with their parents and siblings for pre formal photos and drinks. It was such a lovely night for all the kids. I can’t believe how grown up Brittany is too! I’m as scared as u for the next formal as I think miss N will be a diva 🙂 . It’s all fun xxx love A

  • Lisa Mckenzie

    What a beautiful night it must have been and Yes Nikki start saving your pennies for next year ,your daughters one,a boy is easy,compared to the girls ,I know I did it that way around too first my son then my daughter ,she changed her mind twice and we had to take back the dress and she had her hair done,nails ,no spray tan ,I did a home job,The clutch bag she picked and I payed for was gorgeous a black and silver seduce one,very timeless too for mummy to share and then she had special underwear, makeup and the convertable car and the list goes on and on.
    The memories are priceless though and those girls you took pics off sure do have style already ,That’s lovely to see that they can be unique and chic at 17 or 18.Love Ellie”s and Brittany’s dresses and you looked stunning as ever and I”m glad you shopped from your wardrobe .

    • Thanks so much Lisa … and yes, next year will be so much different but beautiful. I’ll enjoy it!

  • Annie

    Your photos are gorgeous Nikki.  I’ve had two girls go through their senior year – very expensive exercise but they did look and feel beautiful – am looking forward to my son going through, but not for many years yet.  For my formal I wore my mums chiffon blue/green dress and I looked just as daggy as the curtains I was standing in front of. 

  • Paula


    My year 12 was black and classic – I could wear it now, 2 decades later and you wouldn’t pick it as my formal dress!!

    I do have the blue version of your dress, a bridesmaid outfit. Mine has a big bow on the butt….

    • Oh, Paula … you stylish minx! And gee, everyone needs a bow on their butt, don’t they?!

  • I was a very early 90s graduate. I wish I could say I had style back then and wore a classic, elegant dress….but NO. I wore an electric blue dress with electric blue lace sleeves and the worst hairstyle ever. Those photo’s will never see the light of day again :/

  • Wow, that’s early in the year for a formal! Your son looks very spiffy – wish I had a pic like this of my boy. He refused point blank to attend his senior formal last year :-(.

    I wore pale pink to my senior formal too, back in 1983; and lavender to my grad ball in 1986. Biggest fashion blunder – lavender blush to match. Ewww. Yes, it was the 80’s!

    • Oh, Janet … yes, it was a lovely moment to get those photos. Boys!! Love your pastel ’80s choices!!

  • Karen

    You look gorgeous and your soon very handsome.

    I finished school in the early 90s and I don’t think there was a girl in the room in anything other than black. I was one of several wearing a knock-off of Demi Moore’s Indecent Proposal dress. I guess it could have been worse.

  • I wore a similar dress to yours – big puffy sleeves.  Wish I had worn something a little more classic. Oh well, the photos make for a good laugh now.

  • Janine Fitzpatrick

    No need to send you a photo of my 1985 Formal dress – you are wearing it – exact same dress! To think you grew up to be stylish and me, well I took another direction!