School formal on a budget

You don’t need to spend thousands to enjoy the biggest night of the school year.

From the limo and dress to makeup, hair and heels, the expenses associated with the Year 12 formal can quickly add up.

Here are some suggestions for creating a memorable formal experience without breaking the bank.

The dress (or suit)

Hiring a suit is common for a range of formal events and is an increasingly popular choice for dresses too. 

Dress hire sites, such as Dress For A Night and One Night Stand, mean you can hire a designer dress for a fraction of the purchase price, with a number of options available for less than $100. 

Some companies allow you to have dresses posted out to try on before booking your favourite for the date of the formal.

Buying a second-hand formal outfit is an ethical and sustainable option but requires a bit more planning.

Many people sell their formal attire when the event is over so scouring op shops, Gumtree, Facebook groups or eBay can be a cost-effective way to find the perfect dress. 

You can even resell the dress online after the formal.

Keeping an eye on the sales can also help you to bag a bargain. 

Formalwear boutiques often have rack sales and online retailers like Asos and The Iconic have a small formal range.

Things to consider:

  • The dress will probably only be worn once.
  • Bodies and tastes change, so don’t choose a dress too early.
  • Check the school’s guidelines for “acceptable” formal attire.

Hair and makeup

With the number of tutorials available on YouTube, it’s possible to DIY formal makeup and hairstyles. Start learning early so there’s time to perfect the look. 

Talented siblings or friends could also lend their skills (and makeup collection) to achieve picture-perfect hair, makeup, manicures and spray tans.

If you’d rather have a professional take care of the makeup, stores such as Mecca Maxima or the Mac counter in Myer allow you to redeem the cost of the makeup service in products. 

A budget option for professional hair and makeup are training colleges, such as the Brisbane School of Beauty and TAFE training salons, where fully supervised trainee hairdressers and beauticians provide services at a fraction of the normal cost.


Just like the dress, accessories like a tiara, blingy jewellery and shoes that match the outfit are unlikely to be worn again.

Stores like Asos and Lovisa are perfect for budget-friendly event accessories. 

You may also be able to borrow jewellery from friends or family members who have attended a formal in recent years or have a jewellery collection.

eBay and Facebook marketplace are also great places to look for near-new shoes and event accessories as many people sell them after their event is over.


All eyes will be on the outfits, so it won’t matter if you arrive in a stretch limo or the family SUV.

If you’d like to arrive in style, call in a favour from an aunt with a sports car or a family friend with a lovingly restored vintage vehicle for a no-cost transport option. 

Splitting a ride in an Uber Premier with friends is another way to enjoy a luxury experience without the price tag of a limo hire. 

Have fun

Remember, the school formal is an important coming-of-age event, but it’s just one night. 

Enjoying a night out with friends is priceless.