nonbinary genderneutral school formal outfits

What To Wear To Your School Formal, No Matter Your Gender Identity Or Pronouns

School formal season, much like hay fever season, is an inevitable, regular, well-advertised yearly occurrence… that still inevitably takes us by surprise. Year 10 formals, year 12 formals, prom, homecoming dances—no matter where you are or what you’re calling it, the kinda-cringe kinda-fun excuses to dress up are a well-documented rite of passage for high school students. Regardless of how you feel about the spectacle of it all, it’s more than likely you’ll attend one or two school formals during your ~high school career~ and actually figuring our how tf to feel comfy and enjoy yourself at one can make it a ~night to remember~, as opposed to “A Night, To Remember 😳.” One key comfort consideration? What to wear to your school formal.

In and of itself, Australian school formal dressing has come a decent way. Gone are the days of mullet dresses and excessive amounts of crispy polyester suits. There are more options than ever for places to buy formal dresses, including sites that simply let you rent one—more sustainable for both your wallet and the planet!

But what if the dress or suit route isn’t for you? School formals can be nerve-wracking enough just trying to calibrate the amount of definitely not-spiked-punch you can handle without trashing yourself, let alone with the pressure of serving a *look*. Nothing against the classic black or navy suit, but it doesn’t always align with the multifaceted gender identities we’re working with in 2020. So how do you dress for your formal if you’re non-binary, or gender non-conforming or just really flipping queer?

There is in fact A Way. Syrup got the expert advice from the v stylish Tom Simpson, the Fashion Director at THE ICONIC for some key pointers. What we would say though, is that the most important thing is feeling like yourself. And if you also serve some sickening looks whilst dancing to the always questionably song choices from the DJ, all the better.

As much as we love flexin’ our street style and casual looks on the regular, school formals are kind of a unique opportunity to see how everyone scrubs up. “The formal season is the perfect time to have some fun with fashion and to let your personal style shine,” says Simpson. Some of the key trends to experiment with across the SS20 season that he names are:

What can I wear to a school formal if I’m agender or genderfluid, or just want to dress outside the bounds of ~heteronormativity~?

“The most important thing is to dress authentically to who you are without feeling pressure to look a certain way (or wear certain clothing). Who wants to blend in, anyway?” says Simpson. “The perfect outfit is always the one that you feel most comfortable in no matter what that may be! Before your formal, experiment with different shapes and silhouettes that resonate with you. This could be mixing sharp tailoring with soft silk, tulle shirts and a pair of heels, or opting for a skirt with a crisp white shirt and a bowtie.”

What can I wear to a school formal if I’m agender or genderfluid and both dresses and suits aren’t quite for me?

“There are absolutely options outside of dresses and suits to rock at your school formal, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box and express yourself,” reassures Simpson. “I would say that skirts and shirts are always a winning combo. When it comes to inspiration, look to Billy Porter, who iconically mixed sharp tailoring with a princess skirt and created a spectacularly memorable moment at the Oscars last year. You could recreate this look with the Jack London, Tuxedo Jacket and the Princess Highway, Angelina Skirt.

“Alternatively, follow the lead of Harry Styles who often plays with makeup, earrings and scarves to shake up a typical formal look. Tommy Dorfman from 13 Reasons Why has also turned out some amazing looks. Be inspired by their iconic MTV Award look where they paired sharp tailoring with a gathered skirt and platforms. I also recommend checking out the red carpet style choices of stars such as Lachlan Watson, Bex Taylor-Klaus and Jaden Smith who constantly experiment with silhouettes for events, without letting heteronormative fashion play a role in their looks.”

If I need to wear a mask, what are some cute styles I can match to my formal outfits?

“I’m loving the masks by Pilgrim and Ford Millinery, which are available in a range of different patterns and textures to easily complement your look. You can also customise a plain, black, white or tonal mask by adding crystals, trimmings or embellishments. Try styles like the Pilgrim, Tie-Dye mask or Ford Millinery mask, available in 32 different colours and patterns.”

Lead image via Instagram @tommy.dorfman, @lachrwatson, @c.syresmith.

Monisha Rudhran (@monishamay) is a writer and chronic Pisces. Formerly at Syrup, she's now a Digital Content Producer at ELLE and marie claire Australia. She’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.