10 more formal outfit tips

10 more formal outfit tips

Nikki ParkinsonBeauty, Everyday Style, Fashion 54 Comments

Miss SY isn’t a girly girl. Don’t get me wrong, she loves clothes, wears some makeup and likes to spray on some perfume every day but generally she’s not about the frou frou.

Thank goodness.

We’re just on the other side of The School Formal and I don’t think I would have coped “working” with a frou-frou and frills kind of girl.

More than six months of thought and preparation came to a beautiful conclusion on Saturday when she put on her heels and walked into the pre-formal gathering and photo session with her 14 girlfriends.

Yes, there were tears (mine, not her’s). Yes, I couldn’t have been prouder.

Not because she looked so incredibly beautiful (she did … but I’m biased); not because she looked all grown up … it was more looking at her and seeing that she felt confident in all that she was wearing and how she looked.

So many of us – many years older – strive for that feeling, yet often fall flat.

To see that confidence on the face of my 16-year-old daughter? Priceless.

Here are some formal outfit tips I learned along the way that might come in handy should you find yourself in formal planning mode (for more tips, check out this earlier post).

10 more formal outfit tips

1. Let the outfit creation process be lead by your daughter. It’s important that it’s about her style – not yours.

2. Set a budget for you both to work within. Or come to an arrangement where she is paying for some of the formal outfit and other costs; you the others.

3. Start the dress hunt early. This is not a rushed purchase and securing the gown early will enable you to pull together the accessories with consideration.

4. Do encourage a style of dress that is timeless. If your daughter is heading to university, there’s a big chance she will need gowns for balls hosted by faculties and colleges.

5. It’s rare that a dress will fit “off the rack”. Factor in quality alterations to your budget and you’ll be able to create a gown that was made for your daughter.

6. Have hair styled to suit your daughter’s dress and personality style. Talk about it ahead of time with her hairdresser and share ideas long before the day.

7. Ditto with makeup. Even if your daughter wears makeup every day, this will probably be an amplified version of that. You still want it to look like her, only more dressed up and photo-ready.

8. Avoid being matchy-matchy with accessories. They should complement each other and the dress but don’t have to come as a “set”.

9.  If your daughter is not a regular heels wearer, then opt out all together (why not ballet slippers?) or don’t spend too much on said heels as she may not wear them again.

10. Beg or borrow. Not every part of your daughter’s outfit has to be brand new. Let her look in your accessories collection. Maybe you’ve got a vintage dress collection that with the help of some clever alterations could become a stand-out on the night.

Beauty steps

We’d already been working on getting her skin ready for the big day with monthly facials and a more regular skincare routine.

Beauty preparation on the day started at 11am, which I understand from others was a lucky late start for us.

I managed to slip in my own hair appointment while she was having her nails done, so that cut down my prep time as well. Strategy all the way, I say.

11 steps to school formal hair and beauty

1. Nails: Essie Ballet Slipper | 2.  Toe-nails: Essie Chinchilly with a layer of clear glitter on top | 3. Dry hair was packed with mousse and blow-dried | 4. & 5. Hair was sectioned out and curled using a ghd | 6. & 7. & 8. A loose waterfall braid was added from the left side through to the right | 9. The braid sat in the side-swept curls for a relaxed, youthful style | 10. & 11. Makeup started with creating a flawless canvas on the face, a smokey eye based on browns and taupes and Burt’s Bees gloss in Sunny Day.


In keeping with the simple, yet classic style of the gown, the accessories were bought and borrowed to complement that style.

School formal accessories

1. Mimco studs (borrowed from me) | 2. Juicy Couture necklace (borrowed from me) | 3. Mimco bracelet (borrowed from me) | 4. Witchery clutch $99.95 | 5. Novo shoes $79.95

The gown

Miss SY found this Me Too by Matthew Eager gown online at Eve Boutique back in January. There was only one left, one size larger than her size. We went in store to try it on and see whether it could be altered.

It had been reduced to $300.

It could be altered (we took it to a bridal alteration specialist and it now fits her like it was made for her, including bra clasps to keep straps from slipping).

What’s more … Miss SY loved it.

Right there I knew we’d escaped A LOT of dress shopping dramas and a potentially hefty price tag.

The extra win? I know she’ll have this one in her wardrobe for many years to come. Unlike my pale pink taffeta number from 1984.

School formal outfit | Me Too by Matthew Eager gown

My outfit

At my daughter’s school, parents are invited along for the first 1.5 hours for drinks and official photos so that requires dressing the part.

Don’t think a jeans and tee would cut it next to a formal gown ;).

Mother and daughter school formal outfits

I didn’t mean to play twinsies with my colour choice. The colour of my dress is more indigo than cobalt but in the afternoon light we did indeed look matchy-matchy. Guilty as charged.

Keeping it Real mother of the school formal daughter outfit | Leona Edmiston dress | Samantha Wills earrings | Country Road platforms

Leona Edmiston Ruby dress (purchased on sale last month on a two for $150 offer with this dress) |  Samantha Wills earrings (purchased 18 months ago) | Country Road heels (purchased four years ago)

The transport

Apart from the wonderful fundraising aspect of my daughter’s school formal – they even call it a Benefit Ball and raised thousands of dollars for Bloomhill Cancer support – there is not a “necessity” to have a partner for the event.

Instead Miss SY and 14 of her girlfriends had pre-formal drinks and photos at one of the parents’ homes … before getting into their transport for the night.

A hummer. OF COURSE.

The Hummer | school formal

This week it’s back into the business of the year. Year 12 is almost over.

My baby girl is growing up by the second. Didn’t I just bring her home from hospital?

Have you got any more tips to add for parents heading down the school formal path this year or next?

PS. After my son’s formal last year, some SY readers shared their own formal photos. You can check them out here. If you’d like to share yours, just add it to the comments section below by clicking on the “photo” icon.

Comments 54

  1. Both just gorgeous.
    Very timely post for our household, going to bring out my Leona E dress for those pre drinks too.

  2. What a stunning daughter you have! I borrowed my friends ball dress and makeup & only paid for hair & makeup for my school ball. Mainly because it was a last minute decision and I was very lucky to fit a friends ball dress….even though it looked like a wedding dress! haha

  3. It’s so great to see a teen dressing with confidence and class. She looks beautiful and I am sure a FAB night was had by all. Just lovely.

  4. She is just gorgeous! You both are! You already have two of my formal photos from the mid eighties! I managed to wear both frocks a number of times – I fantasise about getting into the black one again as it is a classic number! Glad you had a beautiful night.

  5. You both looked so stunning Nikki. It’s hard to believe in a few years I’ll be helping my own daughter get ready for her formal!

  6. She looks so beautiful in that Matthew Eager dress. I love that it flows to the floor, and isn’t that blue stunning on her? X

  7. What a special, special moment in history for you two! I wish I had a similar experience at my formal but I’m gonna be dang sure to follow such examples as yours when it comes to my own daughter. She (& you) looked gorgeous, xx

  8. My girl found her dress months ago. And it suits her so much. Now, as everyone else gets theirs she is falling out of love with it. Like your daughters Nikki, it is classic, simple, and beautiful. I’m hoping that once we have it altered she will fall back in love with it.

  9. I love your daughter’s dress – what a fabulous, timeless, classy choice. She looked gorgeous. Much better than my formal, if you can picture Madonna’s Material Girl video that was me – bright pink satin, giant bow and lots of fake bling!

  10. Last month we had my daughters Year 12 formal in Melbourne and I wore jeans to the Pre drinks. So did the other 20 or so mums. I dont think this is a bad thing – it keeps the focus on all the beautifully dressed girls. After all, its their special occassion not ours.

    1. Hi Janine … not a bad thing at all. Our formal is a bit different, I think. Parents were invited to attend the actual formal for the first 1.5 hours so dress code had to be met for that. Could have worn anything for the pre-drinks but we were heading straight there afterwards so no time to change then. Also during that 1.5 hours there were official family photos.

  11. What a darling young lady!
    And her sister!

    Oh my god, is that you?
    Seriously, it is good to see a 16/17 year old dressing their age, but stylishly.
    You are a cool mum xx

  12. I read your blog but this is my first comment. I think your daughter looks wonderful and I agree that this is a perfect dress. Simple classy age appropriate but also modern. It does sound like fun night – with two boys aged 11 and 8 it is worlds away from the clothing decisions I have to make for them

  13. I love Miss SY’s dress! I had my eye on it for a wedding I am going to next year but was too slow (have been waiting for the save the date so I know exactly what temps I am dealing with.) Yours is absolutely gorgeous too Nikki.

  14. She looks stunning as do you Nikki,I agree about the girl picking the dress and it being true to her own style,otherwise she will feel uncomfortable and I don’t think that is a good thing.My daughter was not and still is not a girly frou frou kinda girl she chose a dress that suited her personality and what she was comfortable in and I also agree about the “borrowing” of accessories and bags etc,great idea.I loved your daughters makeup,some girls just go over the top ,my daughter is not a regular makeup wearer either and she just went with what highlighted her best features.I love the idea that the parents are invited to the first part of the formal ours wasn’t like that ,though we did go and look at everyone arriving and there is such a diverse range of outfits isn’t there?
    Thankyou for sharing these gorgeous pics of you and your daughter and her friends I will see if I can find a pic of my daughters later and show you.
    You are allowed to get teary Nikki, this is the start of your baby growing up and starting her own life!

  15. I wore a satin pencil skirt with an overskirted bodice. It was peplum length in the front and floor length in the back and black and green with a GIGANTIC waist bow. I wore it for three formals, one with shoulder straps and twice as a halter. I still love it even though it is quite vile!

  16. Stunning. She looks so fresh and pretty and age appropriate but also classically beautiful. She will not regret this outfit choice 20 years later! That dress will work for years and years and could even be shortened eventually. A belt over the top can change it up, and even a pretty overskirt to give it another look.

  17. Beautiful girl, beautiful dress! Some girls like yours can just roll with it and are a huge relief for their parents with no dramas!! What a great idea to have a fund raiser too. Our kids here do lots of fundraising, but its mostly to knock the price down on their own tickets.

    1. The fundraiser idea is brilliant – and keeps it community focussed. This year it’s particularly meaningful as two of the much-loved teachers on staff are battling cancer to they’re supporting a local cancer support group.

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