10 Style Tips for Your High School Formal

You don’t want to be looking back on the photos of you high school formal in ten years time and wonder to yourself, ‘what the hell was I thinking?’, do you? Fortunately, if you follow these 10 style tips, you’ll probably think to yourself, ‘damn, I looked good’, and wonder if you can find the names of some of the girls that were hanging around you all night.

1. Think formal, not fancy dress – I cannot stress this enough, you don’t want to be the guy who shows up to the formal in a top hat and a bright red suit. Pastel colours have their place, but not in a formal suit. Think black tie, or a three-piece suit and tie; if you aren’t sure what is appropriate, ask one of the event organisers.

2. Get a haircut at 1 week before – This is good advice for any event; getting your haircut the week before gives you time to get used to it, and that means you will be less likely to mess it up on the big night. As for hair product: less is more.

3. Don’t be matchy-matchy with your date – don’t try to match the colours of your outfit with those of your date; instead, wear a pocket square or boutonniere that compliments her colours.

4. Shine your shoes – Sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact; it is not possible to overstate the value of a pair of well shined shoes.

5. Tie your own damn tie – Oscar Wilde once wrote “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life”. Clip on ties are for children and waiters, you are neither; and don’t even think of asking you mother to tie it for you.

6. Steam and press your clothes – just like shining your shoes, having clean and crisp clothes is one of those little things that makes a massive difference, especially with formal wear.

7. Don’t rent – the option to rent your formal wear can be tempting, but I urge you to reconsider. Rented suits will never fit as well as as an off the rack suit tailored to you, and may even cost you more. At around $150 – $200 to rent a suit for the evening, you are better off heading in to Target and buying a suit (~$150 for a wool/poly blend charcoal suit); at least then you will have a suit when you need it (until you grow out of it).

8. Tailor your suit – It’s well worth paying a little extra to have your suit tailored; it will look exponentially better. The three main alterations are the sleeves (showing about 1/4 – 1/2 inch of shirt cuff), the waist (slimmed, but not tight and pulling), and the trouser length (covering the shoe, but not bunching). It will probably cost between $40-$80 to get it done (depending on who you ask), but it is worth it.

9.Don’t use body spray – this is one of the ones that applies to life in general; body spray in general is overpowering, and most of it smells awful. Instead, go with a roll-on antiperspirant, and a spritz of cologne. If you need help choosing a fragrance (and you probably will), go to a store that specialises in fragrances (or a department store with a fragrance section), and ask for help; the people who have to stand next to you will thank you.

10. Have fun – this night is meant to be fun, so enjoy it. It is one of the rare occasions that you will be able to socialise with all your classmates (and some of your teachers) outside of a school environment, so make the most of it, and enjoy yourself; and make sure to get lots of photos.


Matching Your Shirt & Tie

Solid on Solid

A solid tie on a solid shirt is the easiest to match, you just have to understand a bit about colour. The best options are to choose a tie that complements the colour of the shirt, or one that is in the same colour family (analogous colours) as the shirt. Let me explain.

Colour Wheel
Complementary Colours

Complementary colours are ones that are opposite each other on the colour wheel, i.e Red/Blue, Violet/Yellow, Green/Pink-Mauve.

Complementary Colour Shirts

Analogous Colours and Shades

Analogous colours are the ones that are side by side on the colour wheel, i.e, a blue shirt with a dark green tie, or a violet shirt with a dark blue tie. You can also pair a light colour shirt with a darker version of that colour (light blue shirt with navy tie); using these combinations isn’t as eye-catching as complementary colours, but can provide a more subtly sophisticated look..

Analogous Colours

Solid on Pattern

Using the same theory as above, select the colour of the tie based on the one of the colours of the shirt. So, on a white shirt with a blue check, match your tie to the blue. If the shirt has two colours (like light pink with a blue stripe), pick the more subtle one; the tie will bring out the colour more. Complementary colours will stand out the most, but analogous colours can often work better.

Solid on Pattern

Pattern on Solid

Patterned ties on solid shirts are also pretty easy; just match a colour in the tie to one in the shirt, the same as you did above.

Pattern on Solid

Pattern on Pattern

The rules of pattern on pattern matching are a bit more complicated;

First – vary the patterns; avoid check ties with check shirts, etc.

Second – have the size of the patterns contrast – narrow striped shirt with a wide check tie, large check shirt with closely spaced dots, etc.

Third – match a colour in the tie with the primary colour of the shirt – if a blue check shirt looks blue, have part of the tie be a shade of blue.

Pattern on pattern


The major thing to remember is to not go over board with the patterns; you should be able to tell the difference between you shirt and your tie from a distance, and people shouldn’t be getting a headache trying to figure out where one ends, and the other begins. When in doubt, remember KISS – Keep it simple, stupid.

The Only 5 Essential Ties (and a few more)

I was sorting through my ties the other day when a thought occurred to me; I have way too many. While the variety is nice, there are really only a few that I would consider essential, so I thought that I would share them with you. Here is my list of the only five essential ties, and a few that it would be good to have as well. All images are from The Tie Bar; if you haven’t already, I definitely recommend checking them out. 5 Ties


No.1 – The Navy Tie

Of all the ties I have owned, this is my favorite; dark enough for most formal occasions, but colourful enough to add tasteful interest to a sombre outfit.

No.2 – The Power Tie

Your power tie should be bold and colourful, but not whimsical or cartoonish; it should say “look at me, I’m in charge”, and should work equally well when you are on stage giving a speech as it does when you are sitting in job interview. Red is an excellent choice for a power tie, particularly when paired with a navy suit; my power tie is usually either plain red, or red with white and blue stripes.

No.3 – The Striped Tie

The striped tie is an excellent way to add a bit of extra colour to your outfit (great for coordinating with your pocket square), or to signify membership of certain groups (school ties, British regimental ties). Stick with something conservative for your first striped tie, like the navy/white tie pictured, and progress to bolder patterns later on.

No.4 – The Silk Knit Tie

The black silk knit tie is one of the most versatile ties that you can own; it pairs as well with a casual suit as it does with a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. The literary James Bond was known for wearing his knit tie with his formal city suits, but you would be better off wearing them with more casual attire. When in doubt, try pairing it with a navy blazer, a pair of dark jeans, and a plain white shirt.

No.5 – The Burgundy Tie

Bolder and more memorable than the navy tie, the burgundy tie is perfect for when you are trying be noticed, but still look professional.

Not Essential (but good to have)

No.6 – The Plaid Tie

Combine with a navy blazer (gold buttons), white chinos, boat shoes, and a white shirt for a perfect outfit for an afternoon on your yacht. If you don’t own a yacht, it also works on land as part of a warm weather casual attire. This tie is great to own, but not essential because it can easily be substituted by a silk knit tie, or a casual striped tie.

No.8 – The Black Bow Tie

The Black Bow Tie is essential for every Black Tie event, but if you don’t attend Black Tie events, then you don’t need to own one. I’m fond of the diamond tipped tie, but choose a shape that suits you.

No.9 – The Patterned Tie

I like the fleur-de-lis motif, but you could also go with a subtle paisley pattern; if you are only going to have one patterned tie, pick something that isn’t too ostentatious. When done properly, a patterned tie can be a great accessory; but you can definitely live without one. All the ties pictured can be found at The Tie Bar, along with hundreds of other patterns, so go and check them out. Coming soon is my guide to pairing ties and pocket squares, so keep an eye out for that.