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5 Steps to Creating the Best Formal Cooler Ever

Congratulations! You were asked to a fraternity formal… now what? 

Attending a fraternity’s formal is a lot of fun and a pretty big deal (especially at these schools), and it’s up to you to make the most of your experience.

Picking out an outfit is the easy part (although, we admit, it’s easier said than done!). Now you get to take on the more difficult part of being a date: creating a cooler to bring to formal. Creating a cooler is a fun way to give back to your date, and bring out your inner Leonardo da Vinci in the process.

1. Keep your relationship in mind

Formal season is a tricky time for Greeks. Friends take friends as “dates” all the time, and blind dates are common. Sometimes you’re set up for formal and left scrambling to figure out how to make the event less awkward.

“Are you just friends or are you something more?” asks Rachel, a junior at the University of Kentucky. “If you’re just friends, keep your letters out of it. Make it only about him.” Rachel says that if you’re in a committed relationship, you should feel free to add your letters and personalize the cooler with cute things that mean something to the both of you!

2. Choose a theme

It’s okay to Facebook- and Pinterest-creep with it comes to cooler designs. Sure, you might want yours to be the best, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get inspired by cute ideas and incorporate elements of another girl’s cooler into your final design!

Choosing a design might be the most fun step out of the cooler-making process. Do you want it to be “fratty” or more sophisticated? Will it represent your date or the formal event? Think outside the box.

You can keep it classy:

… or even make it a little cheesy:

But you can never go wrong with bow ties:

… or anything that has to do with Vineyard Vines:

Erin Mann, a junior from DePauw University, is in the process of designing a cooler for her boyfriend’s formal. “On the four sides, I did the Canadian flag (he’s from Canada), his favorite [drink], a baseball jersey from our school and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ logo (his favorite hockey team),” she says. “The top is the in the works, but it’ll have the Phi Delta Theta seal for his fraternity!”

3. Personalize it!

If your date is your boyfriend or a close friend, the possibilities for decorating your cooler are endless. Incorporate his favorite drinks, quotes from his favorite movie or TV show, and other elements that you know would suit him.

  • Here are a few personal touches you can add if you don’t know your date very well:
  • Paint it his fraternity’s colors and do your research to find more things you could add to rep his organization
  • Add elements from your school like a mascot or school colors
  • Go preppy with bow ties and suits
  • Put his frat’s letters front and center

Whether you’ve known your date for two years or two days, it’s okay to ask him what he’d like to see on his cooler! Ask him for a list of his likes and dislikes, and the rest can be up to you!

4. Incorporate the event

Are you chilling at a beach cottage, going to a ball or attending the Kentucky Derby? Be sure to add design elements from the formal’s theme to your cooler.

“Destination is key,” says Rachel. “If the formal is in the mountains, try the Patagonia logo. If it’s on an island, go for a beach scene with the location or his name.”

5. Get to work

Start early. As soon as you know that you’ll be attending a fraternity formal, start collecting items and getting ready to create your masterpiece—you don’t want to end up throwing something together last minute and ending up with the worst cooler at formal!

First, you’ll have to purchase some supplies:

  • A cooler (make sure to get a size appropriate for the event)
  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Primer
  • Acrylic paint

Then, it’s time to get started:

  1. Sand down all sides you plan to paint until they are smooth. This could take you a few hours depending on how big of a cooler you have. Your paint won’t stick if it the sealant is still there!    
  2. Prime the cooler and let it dry completely. Allow several hours for it to dry before attempting the next step.
  3. Trace your design on the cooler with a pencil to be sure you know exactly what you want to paint before you actually start painting!
  4. Apply multiple coats of acrylic craft paint to fill in the design that you traced in colors of your choice.

Once all the paint is completely dry, use waterproof Mod Podge to seal your creation. There are a lot of different kinds, but make sure you find one that will hold up for the event. You can use 3 to 4 thin layers with a sponge or paint brush and let them completely dry before adding a new layer.

If you do find yourself in a rush, skip the priming step and do only two coats of Mod Podge—it will save you time (and paint!) in the long run. And if you really want to make sure that nothing will happen to your cooler, purchase a water repellent spray to keep the cooler looking nice no matter where you’re going!

TA-DA! You’re done and ready to fill the cooler with your date’s favorite drinks and present your masterpiece to him at formal. Creating your cooler may have been a lot harder than you thought, but all the time you spent painting Lily Pulitzer flowers will be worth it when you finally present your masterpiece to your formal date…

… and make a few of the other formal pairs jealous of your fabulous design in the process.

Lillian contributed to the Her Campus website from 2015-2016 during her time at American University.
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