A guide to dressing appropriately - and stylishly - to formal events

A guide to dressing appropriately - and stylishly - to formal events

Going somewhere special and need to make a good impression? Make sure you dress to impress, not embarrass yourself

If you've never been to a formal function before, it's natural not to know what to wear to it. What you need to remember is to respect that it's a formal event, and dress to show that respect. 

Not only does this show you're mature enough to value the importance of the event you're going to, but it also shows you respect yourself - and others at the same event - enough to put in your best effort to dress the right way. So whether it's a high-table dinner, a wedding, a ceremony or an interview for a summer job or internship, here are some things to keep in mind.

Tips for girls

  • If you don't want to wear a full suit, that's OK, but buy a good quality blazer that fits you well. You can wear it over a simple dress and instantly look more professional. Just make sure the dress underneath isn't too tight or too patterned. A simple shift dress in one colour is always safe, but also stylish.
  • A miniskirt may be fine when you're out with friends, but don't wear one to a formal event. Your hemline should never be any higher than 5cm above your knee, because, remember, your skirt hikes up further when you sit down.
  • If you're wearing a collared shirt, don't undo more than two buttons. Even if you're wearing a blouse or plain-coloured T-shirt instead, your neckline shouldn't be lower than 2 to 3cm from the base of your throat.
  • A very loose outfit isn't flattering and can look a little lazy, but a very tight dress or ensemble is also not acceptable. Wear clothes that fit well, but aren't so snug that they hug every part of your body. Ask yourself: do I constantly have to readjust it? If the skirt rides up your thighs as you're walking, or if you need to keep pulling your top up, it's probably too tight.
  • Wear little to no jewellery. A simple necklace or earrings is fine, but don't wear everything you own. And avoid big statement pieces, especially if you're going to an interview or taking part in public speaking or a debate. You want people to pay attention to what you're saying, not the huge dangly earrings or palm-size pendant you have on.
  • If you can walk in 10cm platform heels, great. But they're not acceptable for a formal setting. If you haven't found a skirt long enough yet, definitely don't wear high high heels with a too-short skirt! Stick to smart and stylish flats, a kitten heel, or a heel that's no more than 5cm high. Also, make sure the heel isn't too thin. Stiletto heels are best saved for your BFF's birthday party.
  • Maybe your mum tells you wearing a little make-up is a sign of respect, and she's right. Just don't go OTT. A little mascara or thin, basic eyeliner across your upper eyelid, paired with a sheer pink lipgloss, is more than enough. Maybe a touch of tinted moisturiser or BB/CC cream if you feel your skin needs evening out. But that is enough!

Tips for boys

  •  If you're wearing a suit, make sure it fits you well. A suit that's too big on you looks sloppy, and one that looks too tight is unacceptable.
  • To tell if your suit is the perfect size, use the sleeves as an indicator. Let your arms hang by your side, and if the cuff reaches the knuckle that connects your thumb to your wrist, then it's the perfect length for you. Any shorter and the jacket is probably too small. If the sleeves are so long it almost covers half your palm, it's too big.
  • The shoulders of your suit can also help tell you if it fits well. If it's so tight around your shoulders that it makes lifting your arms above your head difficult, it's too small. If it's so loose that the seam of the shoulder extends beyond your actual shoulders, it's too big.
  • Wear a neat white buttoned shirt, and make sure it's ironed. Make sure it fits you comfortably without being too tight. If it comes untucked from your trousers throughout the day just from moving around, it's too small. If it's so big you have to tuck a lot of the shirt into your trousers, you'll look messy.
  • If you have to keep pulling up your trousers, or use a belt to cinch in enough of the waistband for it to bunch up, go out and buy pants that fit! And the hem of your trousers shouldn't be so long that it touches the ground, or so short it reveals your socks as you're walking. If the hem sits 1-2cm above the ground while you're standing still, that's perfect
  • Don't wear white socks. Wear black, grey, or navy socks instead. White socks belong in sports
  • Invest in one pair of nice, black dress shoes. And they should always be polished before a special event.
  • If the event you're going to is only semi-formal, a pair of nice dark jeans will still be appropriate. Wear it with a neat dress shirt and jacket.

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