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These Frat Formal Coolers Went Viral On TikTok. Here’s What It Cost To Make Them

Formal season is officially upon us, and with formal season comes cooler season. As a longstanding college tradition at many schools (mainly in the South), when asked to a formal by anyone in a fraternity, dates will buy and decorate a cooler for the one who asked them. It’s unclear exactly how the trend began, but many college students have come to expect the process of sanding, priming, and painting once formal season rolls around.

For a first timer, making a frat formal cooler can be a daunting task — especially if you’re on the frat cooler side of TikTok like I am and your feed has been bombarded with beautifully crafted coolers. It can be a lot of pressure to make a design just as good as the ones we see on our feeds.

Cooler designs are far ranging, but there are some common staples, like fraternity seals, beer brand logos, and school stadiums. There’s also a lot of room for customization depending on the interests and tastes of the person who receives the cooler — that could be anything from a painted-on DJ deck to a portrait of his dog. The possibilities are pretty much endless!

I am personally not an artist at all, and I’m lucky that I’ve never been expected to make a cooler for frat formal. The cooler tradition is big at my university, though, and my curiosity is always spiked by the process when I watch my friends work tirelessly on their masterpieces. Most importantly, I’ve always wondered about the price of it all. Between buying the coolers and investing in materials like primer and paint, the costs can really stack up if you’re not careful. I mean, how much does it cost to make a frat formal cooler, really?

If you’re a cooler newbie (or just super fascinated by the whole thing, like me) and want to know what to expect from the process — in terms of the cost, labor, and final product — here’s what six students (whose cooler creations have gone viral on TikTok for being so fantastic) have to say about their cooler-making experiences. 

Brenna Dodson, East Carolina University

Brenna Dodson, a student at East Carolina University, made this cooler for her boyfriend in Phi Kappa Tau. Dodson bought an Igloo 48 QT cooler for $38 and about $20 worth of paint. Along with additional materials including spray clear coat, Mod Podge, primer, sandpaper, and spackle, Dodson estimates the total cost coming out to about $100.

“The process was definitely difficult but I really enjoyed it as I love painting and being artistic,” she tells Her Campus. “I definitely recommend taking your time on the sanding and getting it as smooth as possible to make your life easier later.” Dodson estimates around 12 hours of work going into the cooler, but from her boyfriend’s reaction in the video, it seems like it was worth it. 

Total hours spent: 12 hours

Total cost of supplies: $100

Koko Obetz, University of South Carolina

Koko Obetz created this cooler for a beach weekend with Pi Kappa Alpha, but as someone with a cooler-making side-hustle, she’s made many more. “I think the total amount of coolers I’ve made is somewhere around 40-50 my freshman year,” she says. “It was a way to make a little bit of cash on the side while doing something I love.” Since Obetz creates coolers regularly, she already had a bunch of supplies on hand to make the cooler in this TikTok, so her only purchase was the cooler itself, which she estimated to be around $30. From there, she utilized paint, painter’s tape, and Polycrylic she already owned.

The cooler in the video was for a client of Obetz’s, and it came out s. “Painting coolers is such a fun experience because each one is different and is tailored to the boy it’s being made for,” she said. “I loved every second of painting frat coolers because it’s something you only get to do during college!”

Total hours spent: 12 hours

Total cost of supplies: $30

Angelina Arguelles, University of Florida

Angelina “Lina” Arguelles shares a lot of the same sentiments as Obetz. “Personally, I love tackling DIY, artsy projects, so this initially excited me.” she says. “Even with the occasional frustration when something didn’t turn out exactly as I envisioned, I had an overall really fun experience!”

Arguelles spent 25 hours on her project, which she admits felt like a lot, but she was making a cooler for a close friend who eventually became a boyfriend after the formal they attended together. “Seeing his reaction was priceless, and truly made the whole experience worth it.” she says. “I think the cooler sealed the deal on his decision to ask me out.” If that’s not a fun (and artsy!) start to a love story, I don’t know what is. 

Total hours spent: 25 hours

Total cost of supplies: $60

Channing Willhite, University of Alabama


probably 30 hours of my life are gone but… NOLA SZN!!! (thx @😼 FOR ALL UR HELP) #fratcooler #nola #bama

♬ Do You Believe in Magic – The Lovin’ Spoonful

Channing Willhite found the project both fun and challenging, despite not being artistic. “The painting part of this project took me a super long time,” she says. “I ended up putting on a television show or music and just tried to let it be something fun. It ended up being super therapeutic for me.”

Whillhite used paint, sealant, sandpaper, and an electric sander her dad already had to make her cooler for her date, who loved the end result. “It ended up being a super fun process and gave me a lot of joy to see so much positive feedback on something I worked so hard on!” she said. (Funny enough, Willhite’s date also became her boyfriend after attending the formal together.)

Total hours spent: 50 hours

Total cost of supplies: $70

Ramsey Taylor, University of Tennessee


Pack my BF’s frat cooler with me… see you soon NOLA! 🎷🎭⚜️💜 #fratcooler #nola #cooler

♬ Keg In The Closet (Live) – Kenny Chesney

Ramsey Taylor started on her cooler a lot earlier than most would to ensure she could put in the love and care she wanted into her design. “I … started in January with the cooler for the event that wasn’t until April,” she says. “I had planned what I wanted to do and had made previous sketches of inspiration I wanted to follow, so that did help a lot with the process.” Overall, she estimates the cooler took 35 hours. She kept it simple in terms of the materials, as she loves crafts and already had a decent amount of supplies on hand, so her only major purchases were the cooler and some extra paints. The cooler was for her boyfriend, who was thrilled with it. “Overall, I loved it and loved seeing my vision come to life,” Taylor says. 

Total hours spent: 35 hours

Total cost of supplies: $75

Chloe Dillion, University of Kentucky


A little rough around the edges but im still proud of them nonetheless #fratcooler #fratformal #frat

♬ THE 2024 Summer Song – Stan :)

Like Obetz, Chloe Dillon has made coolers a business to bring in some extra cash. “I loved making the coolers mainly because I love doing projects like that and I was able to have fun with it and customize them,” she says. Dillon has designed coolers on behalf of others and herself, as she has been to two formals during her time at the University of Kentucky. Both of the coolers in her video were personal projects for Dillon, and the process took her about five days total for both. “I think it’s a really cool way to thank the guys for the trip and give them a lasting memory of the trip itself!” she says. 

Total hours spent: 30 hours

Total cost of supplies: $60

In the end, everyone’s cooler process looks different. Referencing TikTok for inspiration is extremely helpful, and learning from others’ experiences can be inspiring and useful when tackling your own cooler creation process. Happy painting!

Addie Whightsil is a Public Relations student at the University of Oklahoma. Beyond academics, Addie's interests extend to the simple pleasures in life. She has an undeniable affection for juice, savoring every drop of its fruity goodness. Her fondness for Jellycats, those irresistibly huggable stuffed animals, adds a touch of whimsy to her daily life. However, what she really loves is sharing personal stories and life lessons for the internet to read.