Formal Etiquette: How To Make It Through The Night

And so it is upon you, a night of drinking, dancing, and debauchery all in the dress attire you pulled together last minute. Formals happen in all shapes and sizes, but the most common is the sorority/fraternity formal.

Winter, homecoming, and valentine’s are the biggies, but all are really just excuses to get dressed up, sloppy-drunk, and hopefully to go home with that certain gem you’ve had your eye on. And if not, there are plenty of other stragglers around.

Why does this night perpetuate itself? We lose things, important things, like keys, cameras, and expensive jackets we can barely afford. We get rowdy, demolish glass and dinner wear, and sometimes wake up in a pool of blood, or food, or puke. What happened to the old days of classiness, of courting your woman to the ball for a slow dance? Well, we evolved, probably for the worse, and now face a whole new set of formal rules.

This should be information you already know:
Get a date early on – don’t expect your formal to be the only one happening.
Buy your own wine. Boxes are okay.
Upperclassmen can and will try to steal your date.
Don’t bring your own camera. Others will, find and Friend them now.
Wine stains happen, know where the club soda or shampoo hides.


Get your shit together. Make sure you look classy, but don’t try to conform to how you think you should look. I’ve seen suit t-shirts, bow-ties, red jackets, and more. It works, just jack up your swagger a bit with two shots of whiskey and you’ll pull through. Have a shower beer while you get ready.

Stay focused during the pregame. Yeah, there will be 15 opportunities to take shots, but you only need a couple of them. Keep an eye on your date, and be a TG. Also, work your angles. Introduce your date to your best friend and their date. Often times the girls won’t know each other beforehand. Them hanging out will give you an excuse to go sneak a cigar.

You won’t win the swagger award, so don’t try. Stealthiness always wins over loudness. Especially in a large group of alpha males, aka AMOGs, aka chumps, you just won’t win. Be the suave guy pouring a few damsels in distress a drink they’ve never heard of, not the goof jugging “slapping the bag” of wine.

Have plans post dinner. I cannot stress this one enough. You think you’re coasting, dinner tastes great, you’re laughing, corking others, then dinner is all of a sudden over and your date would rather run off with the girls to the bar than hang out with you and your buds. Make a plan. Play some pong. Go open another bottle upstairs, or jeez, smoke some hookah. Keep your date occupied!!

If things aren’t working, don’t be afraid to jump ship. There are plenty of other friendly squirrels around, and once this pressure of having your date on you is gone, you’ll be amazed how much your game improves.


I know a vodka cranberry tastes all lovely, but branch out a bit at formals. Try a shot of Jack or some Goldshlagger, it won’t kill you. The man will respect. Keep it in moderation though, because there is little worse than the date that pukes at dinner. Formals become a free for all after about 1-1.5 hours, and unless your date is your boyfriend or Good Guy Greg, you’ll find yourself getting stuffed into a cab home by the sober monitor. Brutal but honest truth.

If you are with your boyfriend, then get wild. He has to look after you, and you probably have a bedroom or room of some sort near by to duck back to. Get on that table and shout at the younger class-men.

Make SURE you stuff your jacket and purse somewhere safe. Losing this is the easiest way to botch a formal. Can’t tell you how many drunken tears I’ve seen over lost jackets or cameras. Find a friend’s room, lock it up, and get it the next day if you need to. That shot of whiskey earlier will keep you warm anyways.

Lastly, eat something! Dinner is probably good as heck! Eat that steak, and bread, and sauteed chicken. Guys like a girl that eats, and he’ll feel uncomfortable if you don’t. Even though drunken madness might be ensuing, enjoy your time at that dinner table.

Formals are anything but formal, but if you prepare yourself, you can come out with a good night to share the next morning. Let the other person make the mistakes – some will- just let them do it. Another decent motto to live by.

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4 thoughts on “Formal Etiquette: How To Make It Through The Night

  1. The dinner at formals is so delicious! Keep in mind if it's not your fraternity/sorority, they dues they pay are so high that you better enjoy this meal! Bring a tupperware container to bring back what you don't eat to your dorm. I'm kidding (but not).

    Also, don't get sent home. Your date gets in trouble, and that is not cool. Furthermore (and this is sad, I know) ladies do not accept an invitation to an overnight formal if you don't plan on hooking up with the guy. Those are the expectations.

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