School formals in 2022: Where the ticket costs more than the dress

Students let loose at the St Clares High School formal at Curzon Hall.
Students let loose at the St Clares High School formal at Curzon Hall. Credit: Brook Mitchell


High school formals, complete with 360-degree cameras for Instagram and custom dessert bars, are costing up to $250 a head as students compete for venues with weddings and corporate parties.


Tickets to Sydney’s Year 12 formals have reached record prices this year, with many attendees opting to rent their dress to keep the cost of the end-of-year party down.

Elliot Kleine, director of operations at formal planning service Prom Night Events, said the average ticket at the premium end of the market – about 10 per cent of formals, generally those of private schools – was between $150 and $170.

“That’s up on what it was pre-COVID, and the venues are the culprits there,” he said, adding that hotels which had lost money over the pandemic and were now contending with packed scheduled of mid-week weddings and corporate parties had raised their prices.

At some private schools, tickets have passed the $200 mark. Kambala’s Year 12 formal, held at Doltone House Hyde Park, was $225 a head, with parents offered a $45 ticket to attend a drinks event for the first hour.

Kincoppal-Rose Bay’s graduation ball, held last Friday night at ICC Sydney, and the Cranbrook formal, at Point Piper’s Royal Motor Yacht Club, each had a ticket price of more than $180.

Students begin to arrive at Curzon Hall for the St. Clares School formal
Students begin to arrive at Curzon Hall for the St. Clares School formal. Credit: Brook Mitchell.


The rising cost of tickets, as well as concerns about sustainability, is leading more students to rent their outfits for the night.

Brittany Wheeler, owner of Bondi’s One Wear Only Hire, said there was booming business in the school formal market, with young women conscious of their environmental footprint opting to hire Australian designers such as Aje, Bec & Bridge and Shona Joy for around $100, rather than spend $400 to buy new.

Cronulla High School student Jeorgie Brown attended her formal in a rented Bec & Bridge dress at Doltone House Jones Bay Wharf earlier this month.

The 18-year-old, who has early entry to study a combined creative arts and communications degree at the University of Wollongong next year, hired the dress for $100, while the event’s ticket cost $110. She also spent $150 on makeup and nails, and did her own hair.

“I chose to hire because I was only going to wear it once,” she said.

For 17-year-old Charlotte, whose surname has been withheld, the decision to rent her frocks was also based on keeping costs down: the Bellevue Hill school-leaver attended two eastern suburbs private school formals on back-to-back nights last week.

Charlotte gets ready for a formal in Bellevue Hill, Sydney.
Charlotte gets ready for a formal in Bellevue Hill, Sydney.Credit: Janie Barrett.


“To get a really nice dress for the Year 12 formal is already like hundreds of dollars, to get more than one would be insane,” she said. She opted for a Shona Joy dress, and another from upmarket Los Angeles-based brand Aya Muse.

At St Clare’s Catholic High School at Hassall Grove, students opt for a mix of hired and purchased dresses, while there is also a growing trend of students wearing cultural dress to reflect their family’s heritage.

Teachers have a laugh checking out their photo-booth pictures at the St Clares High School formal at Curzon Hall
Teachers have a laugh checking out their photo-booth pictures at the St Clares High School formal at Curzon Hall. Credit: Brook Mitchell.


Year 12 coordinator Anthony Pope said the ticket price for the school’s event, held at Curzon Hall at Marsfield, was factored in to school fees throughout the year, so families were not faced with a large cost just before Christmas.

Year 12 students at St Clares High School gather at Curzon Hall for their Year 12 Formal on 18 November 2022
Year 12 students at St Clares High School gather at Curzon Hall for their Year 12 Formal on 18 November 2022. Credit: Brook Mitchell


“In my years working with year 12s, I think the formal has gone out of and come back in to fashion,” Pope said.

“There was a period maybe 15 years ago where it wasn’t expected that every student would want to come, maybe only 60 per cent did, but now virtually everyone does.”

Kazvaana Piho, a year 12 student at St Clares High School, gets ready with mum Deb at home
Kazvaana Piho, a year 12 student at St Clares High School, gets ready with mum Deb at home. Credit: Brook Mitchell


Sal Navarra, CEO of Navarra venues, which operates Curzon Hall as well as other popular formal venues including Lilyfield’s Le Montage, said it had kept its school formal and university ball prices the same in 2022 as in 2021 “in good will” despite rising costs.

St Clare’s student Kazvaana Piho said she had been excited all year for the formal. She considered wearing a dress to reflect her Cook Islands heritage, but instead spent about $200 on a contemporary gown online.

Her mother and aunty did the aspiring actor’s hair, and she booked a makeup artist to come to her house ($125) before she headed off with the rest of her cohort for photos at Doonside’s Nurragingy Nature Reserve.

Sosefina Setefano, a year 12 student at St Clares High School, arrives at Nurragingy Reserve before her Year 12 Formal
Sosefina Setefano, a year 12 student at St Clares High School, arrives at Nurragingy Reserve before her Year 12 Formal. Credit: Brook Mitchell.


“It’s like the hotspot for schools in the area to take photos at, that’s where we all go to,” she said.

Attendees prepare to enter the formal at Curzon Hall.
Attendees prepare to enter the formal at Curzon Hall. Credit: Brook Mitchell


As for what is on offer once students arrive at their formal festivities, Kleine said he was increasingly being asked to book red carpet-style 360-degree cameras, which film a slow-motion video of attendees sent straight to their phone for an easy Instagram upload. Neon or box light signage and custom dessert bars are also trending.

Students prepare for a big night ahead at Curzon Hall.
Students prepare for a big night ahead at Curzon Hall. Credit: Brook Mitchell


But, after watching the end-of-school celebrations of grades above them be disrupted by pandemic concerns, just being able to celebrate together seems to be enough for the class of 2022.

Kazvaana Piho with St Clares High School school friends during their formal at Curzon Hall
Kazvaana Piho with St Clares High School school friends during their formal at Curzon Hall. Credit: Brook Mitchell


Brown said funny class awards voted on by her peers were the highlight of her night. While Piho said it was simply a relief to reach the end of a much more normal year than she anticipated.

Students let loose at the St Clares High School formal
Students let loose at the St Clares High School formal. Credit: Brook Mitchell.


“I was in Year 10 when COVID hit. And ever since then I have sort of been wondering: will I be able to experience my senior year like I imagined? It’s great that the answer is yes.”

Students wind down following the St Clares High School formal
Students wind down following the St Clares High School formal. Credit: Brook Mitchell