Editor’s note: Last year I had it fairly easy as far as school formal shopping goes because it was my eldest son’s event. We bought him a suit that will get a lot of wear this year at university balls. Now, it’s my daughter’s turn but even that’s turning out easier than I anticipated. We already have the dress – and we got it on sale! But since I know quite a few mums and daughters are out there looking and shopping with the school formal in mind, I’m very excited to have Janet Camilleri guest posting today with her tips for formal dress shopping.
School has only just gone back for the year, but it’s not too soon to start shopping for a formal dress.
That’s what we discovered when my sister and I, along with our two Year 12 daughters, visited the city recently to browse the various formal wear boutiques.
We thought we were getting in early – their formals are not until November – but far from it! According to one sales assistant, some schools have their formals as early in the year as March; while another store advised that it takes four months to have a specific dress ordered.
Shopping for formal dresses is a lot of fun, but we also learnt there are quite a few things worth keeping in mind.
10 formal dress shopping tips
1. Check if you need to make an appointment. Even though it was a quiet weekday, the first store we visited turned us away; shopping is by appointment only. In many ways, this makes sense: it allows for a more personalised consultation, and the time to try a number of gowns on.
2. Make sure the formal attendee-to-be wears minimal or no makeup, so there is little risk of staining the expensive garments.
3. Girls should dress appropriately, in a simple dress and shoes that are easy to take on and off. Don’t worry about taking high heels – many stores have a spare pair you can try on, or a small box for you to stand on, to get the full effect of the dress.
4. Wear a strapless bra. Many gowns are strapless.
5. Do not wear jewellery – rings, bracelets, etc – and make sure nails are neatly filed, so that nothing will “catch” on the delicate fabrics. In fact, at some stores you will be asked to don a pair of white gloves, to again protect the delicate fabrics.
6. Many stores do not permit photos. Although as a doting mother I was disappointed – I would have loved a photo of my daughter looking like a princess in her favourite gown, and to show her father – I can understand that it’s a good idea to keep it a secret until the big day. Also, I’m sure in the past people have taken photos and then had the dress made elsewhere, cheating the store of a sale.
7. Write down the dress details. Once you’ve found a dress you like, ask the staff to write the details – name, colour, price – on one of their business cards for you.
8. Find out if your store has a “dress registry”. This means that no other girl from your school will be sold the dress you have bought – not even in a different colour. We thought this was a great idea – there would be nothing worse than turning up to your formal, only to find somebody else wearing your outfit!
9. Do your research online first. You can save a lot of time by narrowing down the stores or designers you’d like to visit before hitting the streets.
10. It really is a case of you “just know” when you find the right dress. For my daughter, it just happened to be the first dress she tried on. For my niece, it was only at the last store, when she decided to try something a little bit different, that she found a style that was “just right”. You’ll know it’s the right dress when you try on other gowns, and realise that nothing else looks as good.
I’d love to tell you more about the dresses that my daughter and my niece ended up choosing, but I’m duty bound to keep their secrets until November!
Tell me, what did you wear to your school formal or graduation (if you’re game, share a photo in the comments below!)? Have you got any formal dress shopping tips to share?
Janet Camilleri has her own business providing writing, editing, social media, website and marketing services for a number of clients. She also runs the rapidly growing lifestyle blog, Middle Aged Mama. Her work has been published across dozens of magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and websites, and she has released two books for the Christian market. A former teacher, she is supported in her endeavours and constantly encouraged by her awesome hubster of 23 years, and sometimes by her two teenagers.