Girls Grammar formal at Old Parliament House. Left to right: Alix Biggs, 17 of Deakin, Lachlan Marshall, 17 of Calwell, Elise Bills, 18 of Jerrabomberra and Chris Valencia, 18 of Yass. Photo: Melissa Adams
In Canberra, a town renowned for formalities, kids get a taste for the black tie lifestyle before being old enough to undertake a bachelors degree.
For the next two weeks the nation's capital will resemble the hit TV show Gossip Girl, famous for its sophisticated fashion and fancy teenage parties, because Canberra's well-dressed, well-heeled classes of 2012 are kicking up said heels at their school formals.
''These two weeks are crazy busy,'' vintage car hire operator Ken Herne said as he helped two young couples, fresh from the manicured grounds of Canberra Grammar and Canberra Girls Grammar, out of the 1956 Buick Special they hired for the second formal they have attended at Old Parliament House in two days.
Canberra Boys Grammar formal at Old Parliament House on Friday.
As the teenagers stand at the door of the building where Australian democracy grew up and matured, Alix Biggs and Elise Bills fixed their heavily embellished, floor length gowns while their partners, from Canberra Grammar, 17-year-old Lachlan Marshall and 18-year-old and Chris Valencia, tightened their skinny ties.
''Last night we were the arm candy and tonight it's our night,'' 17-year-old Alix said as the crowds cheered them on loudly while vintage Ferraris, MGB roadsters, the entire 2011 Audi fleet and a BMW with the words ''Too Cheap To Hire'' emblazoned on the driver's door lined King Georges Terrace.
''Tonight we are the accessories,'' Lachlan said, looking like he was born wearing a tuxedo.
Canberra Boys Grammar formal
Guests at the Canberra Grammar School formal held at Old Parliament House. Photo: William Hall
Gone are the days of the '90s shirts with sleeves that clashed colours and challenged good taste, spiky wet gel looking hair and ill-fitting three-piece suits. The boys of 2012 suit up better than How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson and have hair styles inspired by One Direction's Harry Styles instead of Harry Connick Jnr.
''The boys have tended to go for fitted dinner suits this year in blacks and grey with crisp white shirts and thinner ties,'' Anthony Toms of John Hanna menswear said.
''Guys who are around 35 to about 43 would remember those white 'party shirts' with pinks and purples and camouflage patterns on the sleeves but I haven't seen one of those in over 20 years.''
Times, and trends, have certainly changed.
This year ladies are channeling polished princess Kate Middleton instead of Kate Moss and the only Carrie they know wears Manolo Blahniks not pig's blood.
Alix and Elise purchased two dresses for formal season. Alix purchased both in Turkey while Elise picked up a navy number in New York and another online.
While international buying trips and electronic purchases are becoming popular for high school graduates, Canberra formal season is the fashion Olympics for local boutiques and offers an economic stimulus Andrew ''Twiggy'' Forrest would struggle to dig up.
''Some people work on a budget, however some girls come in and fall in love with the big glamourous gowns which can be about $1100 or $1200, then they just have to work their magic on their parents,'' Momento Dezigns manager Mary Snowden said.
''We keep a school formal register. We list the details of the garment and once it's sold we can guarantee if they purchase something from us that it won't appear at the same function.''
Canberra's love for a high school version of high society would give the crowds and paparazzi of Hollywood a run for their money.
Hundreds turned out to see the students of Canberra Girls Grammar ''walk the red carpet'' on Thursday night. Many were standing behind barricades with cameras poised and snarky asides at the ready for those clumsy enough to stand in front of them and their Handycams.
Security grew increasingly nervous when one proud mother was told to ''sit down in the front'' while she took happy snaps of her daughter.
Canberra Grammar's director of co-curricular education Sandy Goddard, who has overseen formals for 20 years, said these events are symbolic and strike a chord with the community. ''Formals are seen as the last chance for the students to come together. It's like the Grammy Awards these days. The kids are looking sharp and more comfortable in these situations these days. These events are filled with elements of pride,'' he said.