Whether it's your first school ball or your umpteenth 'red carpet' event, a 'formal' is one of those inescapable times when your appearance really does count.
Whether you aspire to looking glamorous or fashion-forward, at the very least you want to look neat and well-groomed. Here's how to look your best.
Take care of your skin in the lead-up to the big night. Well before you start your makeup, cleanse and lightly moisturise, and remove any stray brows. Make sure your teeth are clean.
Unless you are very confident with makeup, it's a good idea to run your own makeup rehearsal. At the very least, have all the products and applicators you need, ready and laid out before the night.
It's safe to borrow most products, as long as you use your own brushes. Avoid sharing lipsticks, balms or glosses (especially gloss if the applicator lives inside its tube), mascara and eyeliner.
Australian makeup artist Michael Brown has done his share of red carpet makeup, helping stars like Gisele Bundchen, Juliette Binoche and Miranda Kerr be camera-ready at big events.
Brown, who was in New Zealand recently to promote Inika mineral makeup, says multi-functional products can be your saviour when on a budget."Think like a makeup artist - most products can be multi-purposed. It's more about the texture than what the product states it can be used for.
He says good prep, with a lightweight, hydrating moisturiser and primer, will improve the staying power of your makeup. The right techniques help too.
"Use dabbing techniques to lock products into the skin," Brown says. "When concealing, when applying foundation over problem areas, or even eye shadow - when you dab, you create a buildable texture to create higher pigment and if the skin is hydrated underneath, the textures will lock together making the look last all night."
While a little translucent powder will stop you looking shiny in photos, don't go overboard.
"Do not over-use product in areas of the face with lots of expression," Brown says. "Five hours later you want your skin to look real and fresh, not creased and made up."
Ball makeup doesn't have to mean looking overdone. Brown says the nude trend is great if you don't want lots of colour on your face.
"Try to contour and structure the face so you still have some 'glam' points to lift the face - use bronzer to shade areas like eye sockets and under cheekbones, and a creamy highlighter to dab on frontal bones to catch the light.
"It's all about bold lashes and brows. If you are not big on dark or colourful eyes with makeup, define your brows with shape and colour and then add big lashes and instantly you have a defined, feminine approach.
"For a winter 2013 edge, you can add shades of red to the lip, but a deeper red, not bright - especially if your overall look is fresh and clean on the eyes."
Brown says it's important to consider your dress when planning your makeup - a dress in a loud print needs softer makeup, while a dress in a block colour can take a more colourful face.
Showing some skin? If you're planning on fake tan, allow plenty of time for the colour to settle. Moisturise at least an hour before you get dressed.
A little body shimmer on your shoulders/decolletage can be very pretty, but don't go overboard.
Many fragrance companies recommend you layer scent to make it last longer. If you like a really light level of fragrance, you can spray into the air in front of you and then walk into the mist. Otherwise pulse points are the usual spots: on your neck to the back of your ears; on your wrists, behind your knees. Don't rub the fragrance as you will 'bruise' it. Less is more
This is definitely a job to do the day before. Natural nails are fine but make sure they are well groomed (cuticles pushed back and moisturised, filed if long, painted with a coat of clear varnish if you possibly can).
If you get your nails painted professionally, use a colour you own so that you can fix any accidental chips before the event. If your toes are going to show in your shoes, you will need to paint them too.
WHAT TO TAKE WITH YOU
Slip a lipstick or gloss and some translucent powder into your evening bag, along with a tiny nail file and some spare bobby pins. Whatever you do, don't forget beauty's two key accessories - your best posture and a smile.