10 Dos and Don’ts of College Formals, from Picking a Dress to All the Rest

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10 tips for college formal season, from how to pick a dress to how to calm your nerves.

woman in formal red gown

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If you joined a sorority this year or have been invited to a frat party this spring, you’ll need to get ready for the college formal season.

College formals are the equivalent of the high school homecoming dance where you’ll get to dress up in a glamorous dress, get your hair and makeup done and look forward to a fun night of parties, socializing and snapping Instagram-worthy photos.

Here are some important dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you put together your outfit and get party-ready…

Dos and Don’ts of College Formals

1. DO get the details on the dress code.

Every school has a different dress code for different events so you might need to check in with the planning committee to find out what to wear.

If they’ve chosen a formal dress code:

You’ll want to avoid short and midi dresses in favor of a long and elegant gown.


If it’s a semi-formal dress code, think classy cocktail dresses and shorter styles.

college formals group posing for a picture

2. DON’T dress like you’re going to the prom.

Even though you’ll want to look glamorous and elegant at the college formal, this isn’t the event to wear a prom dress.

Many stores are already carrying prom dresses during this time of year but you’ll want to skate by that department to check out the latest collection of simpler evening gowns and cocktail dresses.


You can’t really go wrong with a little black dress or another timeless style, so plan accordingly.

3. DO check social media for ideas.

Here’s where a little Facebook stalking can pay off:

Don’t be afraid to go through the archives of your sorority’s Facebook Page or even the school events page to get an idea of the themes and styles of previous college formals.

You’re bound to find at least a handful of posts from attendees on social media and these can give you some style inspiration for your own outfits.

At the very least:

You’ll have a better idea of what the dress code is and what types of styles are acceptable.

4. DON’T forget about accessories for your college formal!

The great thing about formal gowns and dresses is that they don’t have to be the focal point of your outfit.

You can completely transform your look with statement jewelry, like a bracelet stack, a layered choker necklace or even a gleaming cuff on your upper arm.

Pick out some sparkling earrings and a matching necklace when you’re wearing a low cut or strapless dress for an elegant look. Be bold with stacked jewelry or jewelry made with colorful gemstones.

The goal is:

That the accessories will accentuate your best features and also show off some of your personality and good taste.

5. DO carry the right bag.

You’ll want to leave the oversized tote and bucket bag at home on college formal night.

So that means:

You’ll have to be creative with how you carry the bare minimum—your keys, driver’s license, credit cards and maybe some cash. Everything else will either have to stay in your car or be left at home.

Take some time to pick out a pretty clutch or miniature handbag that works with your outfit so it doesn’t look out of place.

You could even:

Consider carrying a small wristlet that you can leave hanging on your wrist while you’re eating or enjoying a drink. This will help you avoid misplacing your valuables while making your rounds.

group of women in dresses holding hands for formal

6. DON’T let your nerves get the best of you.


This is probably someone else’s first college formal as well, so they’re equally as nervous.

Give yourself enough time to get ready for the big event and make sure to get plenty of sleep the night before. Eat some healthy food and drink lots of water throughout the day so you have plenty of energy to get through the night.

You want to make the most of this da:

You only get to go to your first formal once, after all—so a little planning ahead can help you do just that.

7. DO shop for dresses online.

While you can find some beautiful dresses and gowns at your local department store…

You’ll have an even BIGGER selection to choose from at online retailers.


Many offer free shipping on the purchase and easy exchanges if you end up with something that doesn’t fit just right.

Give yourself a few hours or an entire day just to shop online catalogs and explore the latest trends. You’ll be surprised by what you find and how easy it is to get it to your door!

Just try and shop early:

Ideally, at the beginning (or earlier than) college formal season— or you risk the chance of missing out on your size and the best selection.

shoes for college formal season

8. DON’T wear brand new shoes to a formal.

No matter how pretty those stiletto heels that match your dress perfectly may look, the college formal isn’t the day to wear them for the first time.

You’ll want to choose a pair of shoes that are super comfortable because it’s going to be a long night and you might need to walk quite a distance just to get to the event venue.

Take some time to think about your footwear and at least break in a new pair of shoes if you can’t see yourself wearing anything else.

Pack a pair of comfy flats or sandals to change out into and out of if your feet get tired. That little extra effort will pay off when you realize you can dance all night without pain and actually enjoy the party.

9. DO loosen up with friends before you go out.

Whether you’re going to the college formal with a date or flying solo:

It’s a good idea to loosen up with people you know with a pre-party.

Play photographer and carry a camera around to snap some pictures while everyone’s still looking fresh and put together. You can get together with friends for champagne or light cocktails while you all get ready or host a gathering that ends at a specific time before everyone takes an Uber or car ride over to the event.

This can help you feel less anxious about the event and ease you into a fun night ahead.

10. DON’T forget to eat.

It’s easy to skip meals when you’re so busy getting ready for a big event and don’t want to look or feel bloated in that beautiful dress.


You’ll want to eat a small meal or snacks throughout the day to keep your energy up.


If you plan on drinking, you don’t want to do it on an empty stomach. Make eating a priority even on college formal day so you make the most of the event!

College formal season is an exciting time and the perfect excuse to get glammed up for some fun with your date and good friends.

Use these tips to make the most of your special night.

Are you attending any college formals this season?


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