Missing your high school prom, when you got to dress up in a poufy pink dress and dance the night away with your BFFs? Worry no more; if you’re in a sorority or have a close friend or boyfriend in a frat, your first college formal is right around the corner.Think of formal as the college version of a high school dance (minus the cheesy decorations and teacher supervision). You can forget about homecoming court drama and choosing a dress that follows your school’s strict dress code. This is your chance to have all the fun you want without following too many rules.
Need help deciding what to wear or who to bring? Her Campus is here with all the inside tips for making this event live up to all the hype.
DO choose your date wisely.
Whether you go with your boyfriend, best guy friend, or hookup buddy, you should be careful about picking your plus-one. It’s common for girls to get set up by their sorority sisters, but it’s probably best to meet the guy in advance.“Formals can get pretty couple-y, so it’s important to go with someone who will be a good time and who’s fun to dance with AND chat with,” says Jenni, a Delta Gamma sister from Bucknell.
DON’T be afraid to bring a friend.
If you don’t have a special guy in mind or if being set up with a random guy isn’t really your thing, feel free to bring a (girl OR guy) friend. This way you can enjoy your night without having to worry about entertaining a boring date or keeping track of a date who drank a tad too much. “It really isn’t weird at all to bring one of your girl friends to formal—think of it as a regular night out but with better clothes and better drinks,” says Danielle, a collegiette at Ohio University.
DO make sure you know someone other than your date.
If you’re being set up on a blind date, it’s smart to check if anyone else you know is going to be there in case things get weird. If you’re in a sorority and it’s your formal, you’ll have a full house of sorority sisters there to watch your back. But if you’re not in Greek life, or if you’re going to a guy’s formal, try to ask around and see if some of your hall mates or classmates are going. You don’t want to be stuck in an unfamiliar location surrounded by complete strangers, wishing you hadn’t said yes to the boy who asked you to be his date at last weekend’s frat party—which brings us to our next “don’t”…
DON’T accept a drunken invitation to formal from a frat boy you just met.
He’s not going to date you; he just wants to sleep with you. In his mind, inviting you to formal is an easy way in. You might be tempted to accept his invitation just so you can buy a new dress and brag to your friends that an upperclassman asked you to be his date. But we encourage you to say no and walk away. Doesn’t it seem a little odd that his formal is tomorrow and he still doesn’t have a date? “I once made out with a guy at a party who then asked me to his formal. I actually had a fun time but he ended up being a complete jerk. When his frat’s next formal rolled around, a girl told me her whole sorority got an email saying he needed a date,” says Christina*, a junior at the University of Michigan.
DO take pictures beforehand.
Meet as a group at your sorority or his frat and recreate the pre-prom photo scene you loved so much. This time around you won’t have 20 different cameras flashing in your face. “Bring your camera and your best hand-on-hip pageant pose, because this could be your next profile pic—and, chances are, you’ll be having so much fun later that you’ll forget to take pictures,” says Amanda, former Her Campus Life editor and a sister of Alpha Epsilon Phi at Cornell University.
DON’T wear a floor-length gown.
“Just because they’re called ‘formals’ doesn’t mean you’re actually expected to wear formal attire. They really mean ‘semi-formal’, as in a cocktail party or family affair. Don’t break out the micro-mini skirts and plunging necklines, though—you want to make a good impression on your date and his brothers,” Amanda says. We recommend a classy party dress and your nicest pair of shoes.
DO wear comfortable shoes.
Think about the fashion and the functionality of your shoes. If you’ve always had trouble walking in high heels, you might want to choose low heels or wedges instead. “You do not want to wear super uncomfortable shoes that you can’t walk let alone dance in, because it sucks to be sitting down at a formal all night when the whole idea is to dance and have fun,” says Annie*, a Delta Gamma sister at Harvard.
DON’T do a prom updo.
This will make you look like a high-schooler (something I’m sure you don’t want). Instead, wear your hair straight, in loose waves, or in a chic, loose bun. Turn this into a pre-pregame event and do each other’s hair before you head over to pictures.
DO pregame with classy drinks (if you’re going to drink).
Get ready for a night of drinking something other than cheap handles of vodka. Usually the guys will pitch in and buy higher quality liquor or even champagne (how thoughtful of them!). “Mixed drinks are the way to go,” says Dana, a TriDelt sister at the University of Michigan, “Vodka tonic is a good drink choice because it won’t stain your dress.” But be careful, especially if you’re under 21. If you show up to a formal visibly inebriated, you could be ushered right back on the bus.
DON’T bring a fake ID or a flask.
This is a risk you don’t want to take even if your fake works at every bar in your college town. Formals are usually held off-campus at places that are stricter on rules. If you’re underage and plan on drinking, be smart and safe about it. You do not want to get caught by the staff and sent home with your date—or worse—be sent to jail. “I went to a formal sophomore year and the guy at the door took all the underage attendees’ IDs away from them. I thought I would be fine to sneak a drink, but after I took a sip of my vodka cranberry, I was approached by a bartender and told I would be kicked out if he caught me drinking again,” says Tonya*, a junior at Central Michigan University. According to Amanda, the staff usually checks bags too, which is why you should never try sneaking in liquor in a flask.
DO remember to eat.
The food is part of the deal so eat up. “Often formals are buffet style and the food isn’t out for too long, but you don’t want to be starving for the rest of the night—or worse, get sick from drinking on an empty stomach,” Amanda says. Follow the same dinner protocol you would at a normal date: enjoy your meal, but don’t forget to practice good table manners.
DON’T get blackout drunk.
It’s a widely known fact that drinking will occur at formal, but you don’t want to be the girl who pounds shot after shot with the guys and then ends up on the bathroom floor the rest of the night. Know your limits and stick to them; slurring your words isn’t sexy. “A girl in my house got so drunk at the pregame last year that she didn’t even make it to formal,” says Melanie, a Alpha Chi Omega sister at Michigan State University. “She woke up and asked her date how it was, and he said, “we didn’t make it; you were too drunk.’” You do not want to be that girl…
DO hit the dance floor.
It is a dance after all. Show off your hottest moves and have a good time dancing with your date. Sarah, a collegiette from the University of Michigan, offers a word of caution: “Be careful dancing in your heels because the floors can get slippery if people spill their drinks.”
DON’T cause drama.
No one wants to start a battle of the sororities. Who cares if you’re in Sigma Kappa and the rest of the guy’s dates are in Alpha Phi? Leave the catty drama at the door and learn to be civil with one another. Unless you’re like Jenny*, a junior at Florida State University who left her date to go to the bathroom and came back to find him making out with another girl.
DO stay with your date.
If you come with a date, you should leave with the same date. “I went with this great guy to his formal and we were really hitting it off, and then he got too drunk and decided to leave. I later found out he’d ditched me to go to another sorority’s date party that was happening at a nearby club,” says Karen*, a junior at UCLA. That’s just rude and uncalled for—if you have no desire to be a certain someone’s date for the night, just say no in the first place.
DON’T get freaky on the bus.
We’re talking about super sloppy PDA right in front of everyone. “No one wants to see that stuff,” says Ally, an Alpha Phi sister at the University of Michigan. “It’s kind of a given that you and your date will make out at some point in the night,” says Michelle*, a sophomore at SVSU. But you should at least keep it in check until you get home.
DO make post-formal plans.
It’s going to be a late night, but don’t feel forced to sleep at your date’s place. As soon as you return to campus, he’ll probably invite you back to his frat house or apartment for “after-party drinks” or to chill and watch a movie, but if you’re tired or feel uncomfortable you don’t have to partake. “Freshman year, I made the mistake of not setting up a ride. By the time we got back, the bus back to my dorm had already stopped running for the night so I got stuck sleeping at my date’s place,” says Kylie*, a junior at the University of Michigan. Don’t let your date drive you home if he’s been drinking. Instead, call a cab or have a trusted friend pick you up.
Follow our foolproof guide and have a fabulous time at formal. We’d love to hear your own dos and don’ts for this big college event, so share away collegiettes!
*names have been changed