With the end of every semester comes final exams, final papers and most importantly, formals. Many student organizations at Tufts host social events known as formals where members pull the fanciest outfit they brought to college out of their closet for a special night with friends or maybe even a date.
Tufts junior Petey Lemmon is the Green Dot representative and former risk manager for the Tufts chapter of Delta Tau Delta, and has attended many formals hosted by the fraternity.
“Usually, we’ll hold a full formal at the end of the winter semester. … We do a semi-formal halfway through the spring semester as well,” Lemmon said.
The way these formals are thrown can vary widely, as student groups select different venues based on their budget and resources.
The Tufts women’s lacrosse team holds their formal in the basement of one of the team member’s off-campus houses. Sophomore Pascale de Buren is a goalie for the team and enjoys the atmosphere created by this casual environment.
“People mingle and make conversation, and overall, it’s just fun listening to good music and hanging out with friends, and just being dressed up in a basement, which is kind of a fun contrast,” said de Buren.
Despite having the option to host their formal in the DTD fraternity house on campus, DTD usually chooses to rent out a nightclub venue.
“The last two out of the last three were at Big Night Live,” Lemmon said. “Every semester, we get charged a certain amount to host events like this. The funds also go to philanthropy and a lot of other stuff that we do, but you know, some of it is also allocated for these formals, which are always a lot of fun.”
The Chinese Students Association hosts their formal at 51Winthrop, which suits the more structured atmosphere of their event, complete with dinner, performances and a humorous charity auction of members. Unlike some other formals, it is a strictly alcohol-free event due to the on-campus venue location.
Megan Dacey-Koo, a junior studying community health and co-vice president of the Chinese Students Association, has played an integral role in planning the CSA formal in recent semesters.
“We have some sort of performances, which are usually put on by our club members. … There’s also lots of announcements, lots of community building,” Dacey-Koo said.“Our club members should come and get dressed up, maybe bring a date [and] hang out with friends.”
For organizations with a large number of students, it can be difficult to accommodate the entire group while taking into account venue limitations.
“We had an RSVP form if you wanted to come to formal and then our list was over our cap of 150so we had to weigh the people who signed up to come versus their meeting attendance,”Dacey-Koo said. “We didn’t want to reject anyone, but unfortunately we had to be like, ‘Oh sorry, yeah you haven’t come to any meetings.’”
DTD is also more strict with their guest list for formals than they would be for other social events.
“Usually for our social events, we get two to three invites, sometimes less, sometimes more,”Lemmon said. “But for formal, you get one invite, and that’s usually your date, but it could be anyone who you just want to bring.”
Despite the name “formal,” which typically suggests black tie attire outside of college, most formals at Tufts follow a ‘cocktail optional’ dress code. This often indicates short dresses and suits. Sometimes, the formal may have a theme with a dress code to match.
“This past fall, our theme [for the CSA formal] was [Lunar Gala: Shunan Forest], and the dress code was black and white,” Dacey-Koo said.
Often, attendees are unsure of the right footwear to pair with their outfit, weighing considerations of comfort and style.
“It’s either heels or sneakers … I would say normally heels for formals, but sometimes people change into sneakers just to be more comfortable,” de Buren said.
Besides the attire, another major aspect that differentiates formals from other parties is the presence of “mystery dates,” where each member of the organization can choose to be paired with another attendee.
On the women’s lacrosse team, it is the responsibility of the upperclassmen to select mystery dates for the rest of their teammates.
Mystery dates can refer to someone outside of the organization specifically invited to be a date. Larger organizations will sometimes choose to pair up members within the organization instead of inviting external guests, which is what the CSA did last fall.
“People submitted a matchmaking form if they wanted to be match-made with their preferences, what their personality was, did they have any red flags that they didn’t want in a partner, etcetera. And then we matched people based on those criteria,” Dacey-Koo said.
Lemmon explained that DTD seeks potential mystery dates online. “We usually send out a form [that] just says, hey, what’s your name? Your year? … And then we start pairing based more so on what your year is,” Lemmon said.
Mystery dates can relieve the stress of having to find someone to bring to formal.
“My view is the top tier date you can bring is someone that you know, whether it’s in a romantic context or not. ... I think as long as you have a date that’ll show up to do all the formal date things, as in dance, have a good time, be social, that’s the ideal date,” Lemmon said. “If you can’t find anyone like that on hand, mystery dates [are] a perfectly great option.”
When mystery dates arrive at the event, they often find a name tag customized with a specific word that’s part of a phrase. Their job is to find the person with the other half by walking around the room and talking with everyone.
“Sometimes they do the really fun tag thing where they think of dynamic duos. So there might be a Mario to a Luigi, there might be a peanut butter to a jelly or something. … I think my most recent one was Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg,” Lemmon said.
Although attendees are encouraged to socialize with their date, it is alright to part ways during the formal if it isn’t a perfect match.
“If you don’t vibe with your mystery date, you can go hang out with a teammate or go hang out with other friends that are there,” de Buren said.
Lemmon agreed, though added that it was polite to stick through with the assigned mystery date especially if they seem to be putting in effort to socialize.
“It depends. If you have a mystery date that doesn’t seem like they want to socialize or that they, for whatever reason, aren’t interested, I don’t think it’s on you to keep trying,”Lemmon said. “However, if you have a mystery date that is trying very hard, I think it’d be common gesture to keep trying to be social and talk.”
Formals are casual social functions after all, so it is the full right of the attendees to choose how to spend their time. “Overall, I think it’s all about your personal comfort as well. If you are personally for whatever reason not comfortable in the situation anymore, you have the full right to withdraw,” Lemmon said.
The lead-up to the formal can sometimes be as enjoyable as the formal itself.
“The night before formal, we stayed up pretty late with friends making egg tarts that we served at formal,” Dacey-Koo said. “I think it’s just a fun way to bond with people. … You get to talk with people more and you hear more about their experiences with the way they interact with the culture.”
Ultimately, formals are simply a chance for students to dress up and have a memorable night with a community they have spent the semester with.
“It’s cozy and fun. It’s not like your Met Gala, but my teammates have a lot of fun decorating [the basement],” de Buren said. “They put a lot of effort into the guest list … and try to make people feel as welcome as possible.”