Heidi Cathels, in the middle, is rocking a couple of popular current trends: the racer-back dress and the elegant top-knot bun. Much love for Georgia Comensoli and Annabel Lloyd in jewel-tone gowns and loose waves flanking her, at the Canberra Girls' Grammar School formal, on November 29, at Old Parliament House. Click for more photos

Canberra formals in the fashion spotlight, part I

Heidi Cathels, in the middle, is rocking a couple of popular current trends: the racer-back dress and the elegant top-knot bun. Much love for Georgia Comensoli and Annabel Lloyd in jewel-tone gowns and loose waves flanking her, at the Canberra Girls' Grammar School formal, on November 29, at Old Parliament House.

  • Heidi Cathels, in the middle, is rocking a couple of popular current trends: the racer-back dress and the elegant top-knot bun. Much love for Georgia Comensoli and Annabel Lloyd in jewel-tone gowns and loose waves flanking her, at the Canberra Girls' Grammar School formal, on November 29, at Old Parliament House.
  • Props for achieving the perfect fit, Louise Rush and Elise Bills at the Canberra Girls' Grammar formal. Props, too, for avoiding the fake tan.
  • Here's someone who understands that covering up can be as appealing and dramatic as a flesh flash. Looking great in those sleeves with a simple clutch. Canberra Boys' Grammar formal at Old Parliament House on November 28.
  • There's nothing like a daring dose of red-hot fire-engine scarlet to ensure eyes stay firmly on you. A gown like this was made to party. Canberra Boys' Grammar formal.
  • We're into this young lady's bold choice of high-neck lace detail which provides a fresh point of contrast to her white mini dress. Superb red platforms give her the extra height she needs while posing next to her tall partner. Canberra Boys' Grammar formal.
  • Now this is just positively enchanting. They all look like the cast of an old-time film set in an English manor house. It's a little bit Brideshead Revisited. Never change. Especially the young fellow with the cane, top hat and jaunty air. Kudos, young friend. Trinity Christian School formal, at Rydges Lakeside, on November 28. Tim Fulton, Emily Eades and Daniel D'Abrera.

Ah, school formal season. The smell of hairspray, cologne and youthful exertion are in the air.

And if we believe the American prom film, this is the evening when dreams come true. Mena Suvari falls for Jason Biggs, Molly Ringwald floors everyone in a pink dress, Julia Stiles can yell, ''Am I a bet?'' at Heath Ledger and still get together with him.

The class of 2012 has the advantage of being 17 or 18 (or even younger if they are one of the year 10s) and therefore bound to look gorgeous in the proverbial sack of potatoes.

Nevertheless the preparation is epic. Like a Hollywood starlet at a premiere, or a socialite at the party of the season, the ladies hope like mad no one will show up in the same dress. Boutiques keep lists of who has bought what to prevent this happening. You get to be all fluttery with excitement because that science class cutie asked you to go with him or her, or your teenage boyfriend whose commitment is as unwavering as the sentiments in a Rick Astley song is to dangle from your arm.

This reporter's own memories include teaming a leather bodice from eBay with an $11 shot-silk skirt and asking a hairdresser to recreate Nicole Kidman's Moulin Rouge hairstyle. Wind back the clock further and I recall being scandalised at the DJ's choice of Marcy Playground's Sex and Candy at a year 10 formal.

Whatever the musical choices, it's pretty hard not to have the time of your life at a school formal. You can put on a tiara, pose for dozens of pictures, and gyrate to top 40 hits.

Congratulations, class of 2012!