Formals: Dos and Don’ts

Make the most of formals this year

Make the most of formals this year

Formals are undoubtedly a highlight of our time at Durham University. Throughout the year, we regularly don both our best and craziest outfits whilst relishing a specific theme. Champagne is free-flowing, speeches are delivered and there is always some very enthusiastic (and mildly inappropriate) chanting. Whether they be college or society, formal or fancy dress, winter or summer, here is a brief guideline of how to behave and what to avoid at these spectacular balls.


Get a table!

The rest of this article is completely void if you haven’t been successful in getting a table for your formal. Ensure that you plan a suitable group of people well in advance so that you are ready to submit a request as soon as applications open. University is one of the few times in our lives when we are able to regularly attend formal occasions with our best friends and, quite literally, have a ball!

Apply early for a better chance of getting a table

Apply early for a better chance of getting a table

Plan your outfit

Arguably one of the most important aspects of a formal is deciding what to wear. Whether this includes choosing a stunning dress, selecting a quirky bow-tie, or embracing a fancy dress theme, preparing your outfit is essential if you want to impress. Shopping trips to Newcastle and visits to Durham’s fancy dress shops are a must.

Embrace fancy dress themes

Embrace fancy dress themes

Make the most of the entertainment

Each formal has so much to offer, so make sure that you capitalise on the entertainment provided. This can include riding every fairground ride (numerous times), getting glitter tattoos, tucking into the food stands and dressing up for the photo booths.

Fairground rides are just one example of the entertainment on offer at formals

Fairground rides are just one example of the entertainment on offer

Get to know new people

Formals are the perfect opportunity to get to know people in your college or society that you haven’t previously been acquainted with. Mingle at the champagne reception; start a conversation with the adjacent table at dinner; chat to the person whose position you’re fighting for at the bar.

Attend the Champagne Society Ball

Attending one of the notorious Champagne Society balls seems somewhat of a staple Durham experience. After all, who doesn’t want to be pictured in Tatler showered with fizz? Tickets are like gold dust, so make sure you arrange a table and apply as early as possible in order to increase your likelihood of obtaining one.

Get lots of group photos

Getting your entire friendship group together whilst all looking somewhat presentable can be quite an achievement, so formals are usually the best bet for a group photograph that everyone will approve of. I recommend taking photos early in the night, before lipstick is smudged and bow ties abandoned.

Durham Cathedral is the perfect backdrop for a formal photograph

Formals are your best opportunity to update your Facebook cover photo


Peak too soon

Having learnt from personal experience, drinking too much alcohol during a formal meal does not end well. Despite delighting neighbouring tables and creating infamous anecdotes to be endlessly retold, certain behaviour is just not beneficial for your health or your reputation. I’d especially advise against heckling during the speeches, knocking over furniture, and falling asleep in your dessert. Professional photographs aren’t quite the same when you have custard in your fringe.

Pre-drinking is not recommended

Pre-drinking is not recommended

Forget to submit your dietary requirements

Ending the formal in hospital with a swollen throat and an angry rash is no one’s idea of a good night. Don’t forget to check the menu and report any dietary requirements you may have.

Bring your own alcohol

Although the rules may vary depending on colleges, most licenses do not cover students bringing their own alcohol to formals. Just embrace your college bar’s selection of beverages whilst, of course, remembering my previous advice.

Trophy or damage college property

In the intoxicating environment of a good formal, trophying or vandalising college emblems may seem like a legendary idea. However, it’s best to leave the memorabilia alone and refrain from punching those ceiling tiles, especially as some colleges are introducing criminal charges for damages incurred.

College artwork does not make an appropriate blanket

College artwork does not make an appropriate blanket

Interfere with name cards

Although it may be tempting to ensure you’re sitting with your friends, swapping around the name cards at formals just dampens the fun of getting to know new people.

Avoid rearranging your table's seating plan

Avoid rearranging your table’s seating plan

Go clubbing and destroy your outfit

To many, a night of clubbing is the only fitting ending to a good formal. However, remember to take off your gowns and change out of your heels; the damage Klute can inflict is irreversible.

Photographs have been provided by Polson Photography.

One thought on this article.

  1. dankbreh101 says:

    yeh, totally agree. it reeeally gets me when people move around the name cards… some people right?

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