A tomboy’s guide to formals

 Although formals can be stressful with deciding on your dress, shoes, and date, in the end, it's really about having fun. ( BC High /Flickr)

Although formals can be stressful with deciding on your dress, shoes, and date, in the end, it's really about having fun. (BC High/Flickr)

April is here, which means that while classwork is ramping up and the weather is (hopefully) getting warmer, formal season is nigh. Whether you’re in a frat, a theater group or a bunch of people who like to dress up and be fancy, there’s no avoiding the onslaught of invitations.

Many ladies (and dudes) relish the opportunity to put on nice clothes and makeup and get their hair done. Of course, you could be like me and own a grand total of one dress that you wear to every fancy event, refuse to even touch mascara and whose “fancy” shoes are a single pair of flats that you wore to your high school choir concerts.

If you’re looking to rock a new style this formal season and don’t know where to start, I’ve got you covered. Conquer the makeup aisle, solve the footwear conundrum and preserve your booze budget with this handy guide.

The dress

Which doesn’t have to be a dress. Plenty of women opt for pant legs, “faux” skirts or other options that don’t require bare legs or nylons. Your options are pretty open here.

If you like your leg freedom, I highly recommend a Georgette Style Dress (http://www.eshakti.com/product/CL0056652). They come in a variety of styles and patterns, are easy to find because they’re coming back into vogue and allow for plenty of legroom so you can rock the dance floor. I also like them because I don’t have to wear a strapless bra – the sleeves cover my shoulders.

If skirts aren’t your thing, not to worry. Lady tuxes are becoming easier to buy and, like the Georgette, come in a variety of styles, from a more formal black to metallic sparkle (think Ruth Wilson.) Nothing says “class” like a bowtie, no matter what gender you identify as.

The hair

I have a confession: My sister did my hair for prom, partly because I had only an hour to prepare (thanks, College Board, for your screwy AP test schedule) and partly because I was cheap.

You have a few options here. You can opt to go to a hairdresser (which is a nice way to treat yoself), outsource a friend or just do it yourself.

If you take the third option, here’s a few tips: Give your hair a bit of time before you style it. Freshly-washed hair is a little more finicky. Wash it the morning of the formal, let it settle and recover all day and then get to styling it that evening. If you want easy curls without a curling iron, you can try Michelle Phan’s paper bag trick or sleep with wet braids the night before. If your hair tends to “snap back” like mine, use a little hairspray to keep it set.

Hair accessories are also a good way to accentuate your hair with a low amount of effort. Feel free to have them complement your dress, though it’s nice to have a more general one that you can use to mix and match. Hair clips (http://www.kantora.info/wedding-flower-clips-for-hair/wedding-flower-clips-for-hair-wedding-flower-hair-combs-wedding-hair-accessories-bridal-hair-ideas/), flower crowns and styled hair bands (https://www.amazon.com/DRESHOW-Headband-Goddess-Headpiece-Branch/dp/B075ZRH5QY) are all viable options.

If you tend to pick at or fiddle with your hair, try to pick a hairstyle that’s hardy, or that looks even cooler when it’s mussed up, like a messy bun. Or just let it loose and go wild at the end of the night – it makes for great pictures.

The shoes

If you can wear heels, all the power to you. I can’t even stand up in them without wobbling. This section, therefore, is for the non-elevation inclined.

My go-to is plain black flats. They’re cheap, plain, universal and I can wear them to a party or a job interview. Of course, you can be non-boring and get something with a bit more zest, like formal sandals or Doc Martens which are great for doing power stomps in.

Get your shoes well in advance, and break them in a week or more beforehand. Walk in them. Dance in them. Jump up and down in them. Make sure they’re comfortable, or you’ll end up with blisters, which are no fun.

The makeup

This can be the most intimidating part for many just coming into the scene, because there are so many options and styles available to you. If you don’t have a makeup kit assembled yet, E.L.F. has a pretty good set of basics – foundation, cover up, blush, brushes and so on – to get you started, especially if you’re on a budget.  Bring a makeup-inclined friend when you go, in case they have suggestions or recommendations.

When it comes to getting the makeup on, YouTube is your best bet. There are tons of tutorials at your disposal, from basic techniques to making your face look like a Hunger Games newscaster. Practice and get comfortable with your kit beforehand, so you don’t end up in a last-minute panic the night of a formal. It will also give you a chance to see if any of your makeup gives you a negative reaction.

The shopping

I hate clothes shopping. I hate spending money, I hate maneuvering tiny little dressing rooms and I hate the cheesy music that’s played in every soulless, windowless department store that exists.

Avoid these. They are filled with screaming children, overpriced clothes and the overwhelming sense of despair that comes with corporate retail. Instead, go for consignment stores; the clothing there is usually in excellent condition and reasonably priced – some dresses may have only been worn once, if at all. Consignment shops are often smaller, more intimate and offer more unique styles. While it’s more hit-or-miss than a large store like Dress Barn, it can be less stressful and impersonal. Also, it’s more environmentally friendly – you’re rehoming some clothes instead of buying something you might end up wearing once.

Like I said before, take a friend. You’ll have someone to help you zip up the back of your dress, a second opinion when you’re conflicted and a drinking buddy when it’s all over.

If you’re severely shopping averse, you can try your hand online at shopping. This is riskier, since sizing varies widely across retailers. Know your hip, waist and bust measurements so you can get a sense of what sizes will fit and which outfit you should buy.

The fun

Prepping for formals shouldn’t feel like a slog. Take the time to appreciate yourself in a different light. You don’t have to wear makeup, a fancy dress and sky-high heels to have an amazing time at a formal; however, you can use the opportunity to try something new.

A key thing to remember is, even if this is all new to you, you should never try and hide your true style. Don’t wear a skirt if you want dress slacks. Don’t submit yourself to eyeliner if the sight of the pencil makes you cry. Find a hairstyle that you love, a set of makeup that works and wear your Timberlands with a maxi dress. Who cares if it isn’t in season? The only style you should care about is yours.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.