Daily Life


Farewelling your formal dress: a how to guide

See what the rest of Year 12 was wearing on our School Formals 2012 page

Sayonara, formal season. Goodbye, giddy teens. Enjoy Schoolies week with its frivolities and uninhibited shenanigans. Don't worry, we won't tell anyone what you got up to.

The end of school formal season poses the question of the fate of all those gowns. The silk and taffeta and sequin and lace confections chosen with great care and emotion. The pieces that are likely the costliest ever purchased in a teen's young life.

The fellas get to take their tux back to the rental shop or just stash it back in their dad's closet from whence it came.

But assuming you bought your gown, you're bound to now wonder what to do with it.

There's really no limit to your options: charitable donation, perhaps, or maybe DIY flurry of activity in which you shear off the hem to make it a mini, dye it, bedazzle it and walk around in it with swagger.


You could destroy it in a fit of end-of-year high spirits like the "trash the dress" or "drown the gown" rituals now associated with some brides.

You could spruik it on eBay which is positively buzzing this time of year.

You could wheel it out on several other occasions if you find yourself at a formal wedding or if you happen to have a lot of balls to attend: military balls, charity balls, New Year's Eve bashes.

You could put it in one of those archival boxes if your night was in fact so magical - or the gown so costly - it merits preservation for future generations. Also consider this option if you or another talented person in your life actually made the gown.

Depending on what you spent and how humorous you're feeling, it could be a Halloween-friendly staple if you're in the habit of dressing up as Taylor Swift, or a beauty pageant winner, or if you like throwing Oscars parties.

The fate of formal gowns in my day (a pre-Facebook era . . . can you imagine? So quaint), as I recall, tended to be drycleaning and then hanging in garment bags – empty, forgotten, lonely and sad – until they were remembered and discarded with a certain nostalgic ache.

You could destroy it in a fit of end-of-year high spirits like the "trash the dress" or "drown the gown" rituals now associated with some brides.

Generally, such is the fate of once-only occasion wear. Frustratingly, you'll never get the cost-per-wear down as you will with beloved jeans or brilliant jackets.

We assume you're not hot young Hollywood property with the benefit of a stylist who harvests fine designer gowns from showrooms and hauls them to you by the armful from which you can pick your favourite, then toss it aside like a used party-popper.

At Canberra's school formals, cocktail length gowns were popular this year and their relative shortness is a definite plus. Not only on the night were these ladies better placed to dance and prance, the re-wearability factor of something shorter is much higher. The drama of something floor-sweeping is undeniable but so is the impracticality. Some of the shorter pieces worn this year could come out again on a warm evening and not look out of place with more casual accessories. It's all in how you style it.

White frocks were popular this year too. It's a brave choice given how unforgiving white can be to many skin tones and how unforgiving make-up, red wine and any misadventures can be to a snowy palette. Here, the cocktail length is again a good call because too much longer and you veer off into bridal or debutante ball territory.

Bold, solid hues also hogged the spotlight. Nothing draws the eye quite like vermillion or crimson or shades of the sunset sky and nothing is quite as effective at proclaiming the wearer to be anything but a wallflower.

It was ace to see this year's cohort of young dudes opting for some style risks and flourishes. Suspenders, top hats, kilts and dandyish waistcoats added interest and showed imaginative flair.