17 September 2020

The business of formals: dancing outdoors and reduced mingling

| Alex Rea
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Tracey Chatto standing among formal dresses at Eve's Place Fashions in Moruya.

Tracey Chatto’s store, Eve’s Place Fashions, stocks a large range of formal wear. Photo: Alex Rea.

School formals are more than just an end-of-school dance for Year 12 students. They may be the first time some young adults get to really dress up and go for broke (literally) with their gowns and suits, hair and beauty, corsages and smart cars.

There was a collective sigh of relief from businesses last week when the NSW Government declared that school formals could go ahead, reversing an earlier ban due to COVID-19.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Year 12 students have shown incredible resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and deserved to celebrate an important life milestone.

“We will always rely on the health advice, which recommends COVID-19 safe formals and graduation ceremonies take place from 12 November, after the final HSC exam,” she said.

This rite of passage also has huge implications for small businesses which buff and polish many teens into glamorous young adults for the night.

Businesses such as function centres, caterers, DJs, beauty parlours, dressmakers, shoe shops, hairdressers and car hire companies have suffered from the cancellation of all sorts of functions.

In Moruya, Eve’s Place Fashions has been one of the go-to places for women’s formal wear for years.

Sign at front of Eve's Place Fashions in Moruya.

Eve’s Place Fashions on Vulcan Street in Moruya. Photo: Alex Rea.

Tracey Chatto bought the business in December 2019. She says the store has gone from selling one gown a day to one a week – an 80 per cent decrease. Some lay-by customers have wanted to return their purchases.

“It’s not just formals,” says Tracey. “Few weddings have been conducted this year and those that have may not have had all the trimmings such as a suite of bridesmaids.”

Clients used to come from Wagga Wagga, Goulburn and Wollongong because of the large range of dresses at Eve’s Place Fashions.

The store even keeps a register of dresses and clients so no two girls end up in the same dress at their formals.

Since the announcement that formals can go ahead, Tracey has seen business pick up.

Ella Grant standing with her formal dress next to mannequin.

Ella Grant, from Moruya High School, with her formal dress. Photo: Alex Rea.

Ella Grant, from Moruya High School, has worked at Eve’s for three years and has helped many girls pick out their dresses. She has had plenty of time to think about her dress for her formal as she had just purchased it when the announcements came that formals were cancelled.

Ella says her year at school “already had a really tough time in 2020 and everyone had really been looking forward to the formal”.

She was still holding out hope that some celebration would be held before Premier Berejiklian announced that formals have the go ahead.

Tracey Chatto standing at counter among display dresses at Eve's Place Fashions.

There’s a formal dress for everyone at Tracey Chatto’s Eve’s Place Fashions in Moruya. Photo: Alex Rea.

While school formals and graduations can take place from Thursday, 12 November, 2020 – the day after the last HSC written exam – there are some guidelines that schools are being asked to put in place:

  • Reduce mingling and attendance, where possible.
  • Locate dance floors outside or in well-ventilated areas.
  • Only allow dancing with partners from outside the school community if those partners are from the same local community, have an established relationship, and normally socialise with the student cohort.
  • Ensure the capacity of the event does not exceed four square metres for each guest.
  • Restrict tables to 10 people.
  • Ask students to bring their own pens for yearbook signing.
  • Follow and promote good hand hygiene practices.
Woman's hands adjusting flower on suit being worn by man.

A Year 12 formal may be the first time some young adults have the opportunity to get really spruced up. Photo: Supplied.

The guidelines also suggest mingling before and after events should be avoided; private transport options be considered; and existing restrictions on catering be followed.

NSW Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said it is important to reduce disruption to final exams, and it is great that students can still celebrate once exams have concluded.

“Students should restrict the number of guests they bring to graduation events, and schools are encouraged to livestream these ceremonies for anyone not able to attend,” she said.

This year started in an unprecedented way due to bushfires and COVID-19, and the class of 2020 will at least get to have a fun closure of their school years, even if it is in a slightly restrictive and unusual way.

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