Formal Etiquette

Formal season approaches, and for those of you whose prom experience consisted of breathalyzers, forced poses, and tuxes that made you look like a cater waiter (that is, all of you), this is an opportunity to recoup your losses!

First off, formal is primarily about your date. Don’t let the House Committees, with their themes and live bands and ballroom dancing lessons, persuade you otherwise. It’s Harvard. If you wanted finger food you’d go to a recruiting event.

So who should you take? A debate that my girlfriends and I have every semester is whether to invite a romantic interest or a good friend. The pros of inviting a good friend are that it’s likely to be less awkward; if you plan ahead you may wrangle a good dancer, and since you’re not too worried about impressing him, you can just re-wear the obscenely shiny gold dress that you keep on hand for Gilbert and Sullivan parties. He’s also probably already friends with your other friends, and all in all, this could be another Saturday night out, with fruitier drinks.

On the other hand, the potential payoff of inviting a romantic interest is much greater. People often use formals as an opportunity to make an explicit move: for girls, due to the structure of the house formals, it is one of the few times when it’s expected, indeed necessary, to ask a guy out. And it makes for a great story. Ten years later at your wedding when people ask you how you guys first got together, you can answer, “yeah, it was at the Adams formal, on the balcony overlooking Plympton Street. We couldn’t hear anything because there was this horrible “Sexy Bitch” remix going on. But it was clear we were meant to be. I mean, we were both drunk off of Mike’s Hard Lemonade!”

That’s the optimistic outcome. Asking a romantic interest can also backfire. He can end up rejecting you, for one, which tends to puts damper on the evening. Or, since you probably have a thing for hapless math majors, he’ll show up in an argyle knit tie and refuse to grind with you.

That being said, these are risks you have to accept. Because seriously, “going as friends” is for underachievers.