Getting through your first major work event

I’ve attended formal events for work before, but these major functions have different demands per industry. Events hosted by my previous company, which was in the consumer goods industry, dealt more with product launches and mall activations. Formal events were mostly reserved for corporate parties. Since moving to my position as Editor of, the digital home of MEG magazine, I’ve observed that the events I attend are of a different scale and nature; there are campaign releases, press conferences, photo shoots, interviews, and, as I learned recently, there are BALLS.

Left: my daily work uniform. Right: fish out of water at the Colours Gala.

Events of all kinds are now part and parcel of my job, so why I usually feel more than a little awkward at the grandest, most formal ones? Recently, I attended the Colours Gala honoring London-based designer Lesley Mobo; this was my first major straight-up dressy event. As much as I wanted to be that mysterious, swan-like creature that glided through the crowd, I’m afraid I was pretty much the opposite. I’m not usually this ungainly. I think it might be the combination of being out of my comfort zone (I traded in my blazer and glasses for a full-length gown) and being in the presence of designers I’ve long admired from afar. I lurked, not lingered, I stumbled, not sashayed, and tripped over a few things, including my own dress.

Talking to my friend and colleague Dazzle Ng later on, I mused that embarrassing moments that come with fish-out-of-water experiences like these aren’t at all unnatural. Feeling out of your element is a good thing. It means you’re navigating unchartered territory, possibly moving further along your career, and there is a lot of insight to be gleaned through quiet observation from the wallflowers’ side of the room (presumably near the wall).

If you aren’t feeling your best at a major event, like someone’s wedding or a friend’s party, take heart and remember that you’re probably not the only one feeling jittery. Try to fake your confidence so well that you end up believing it, too. Above all, don’t let your nerves or self-doubt keep you from attending these functions and missing out on what could be critical moments in your life. You have to start somewhere. Below are seven things I learned about attending these kinds of functions:

Have a fairy godmother (or be your own)

MAC’s Raf Mañosca created my beauty look for the evening.

When Cinderella’s evil step-family ruined her dress, her fairy godmother stepped in to loan the princess that iconic ball gown. With only hours to go before my own event, I had no dress and no hair or makeup appointment, but I did find fairy godpeople in Mr. Raf Mañosca of MAC cosmetics and Norlie of Basement Salon, who very kindly did my makeup and hair for the evening. You might want to ask a friend who’s handy with a makeup brush or flat iron to help with your beauty look. If all else fails, head to a salon for a quick and easy blowout; if you’re doing your own makeup, stick to a more dramatic version of your basic look by incorporating a bold lip or eye color.

Look for a dress you can rinse, wear, repeat

If you’re on a very limited budget, your go-to dress for formal events shouldn’t be a poufy ball gown that will make it evident that you’re wearing the same thing over and over. It should be a basic, modern piece with clean lines in a solid color, and it should fit you perfectly. My dress’ rich shade of navy could absorb both warm golds and cooler silvers, making it the perfect versatile piece to last me for years. I won’t be buying a new gown any time soon.

…but don’t overspend in the name of the occasion.

It’s tempting to justify dropping ten grand on a gown because the event is so special, but remember that you’ll be living in the real world the day after. You don’t want thoughts of your looming credit card bill to mar your otherwise lovely evening. My asymmetrical navy gown from Trois was going for Php1,699, a good price for a full-length gown; it’s proof that you don’t have to spend a fortune to acquire an event-appropriate dress. We can all dream of a designer gown that’s worth tens of thousands, but until that’s available to us, there are tons of options out there. It shouldn’t take you too long to find one–I found mine within thirty minutes at Rockwell.

Spanx yourself in

If you know there are going to be photographers everywhere armed with deadly, heavy-duty cameras, prepare accordingly. If your dress is fitted, invest in one (or two, or more) pieces of shapewear like Spanx to smooth over any bulges and highlight your curves. Make sure they don’t fit so tightly that you can’t breathe! If your dress is a light color, go for nude undergarments, and buy seamless all the way so there won’t be photographic evidence of any wardrobe malfunctions.

Find a friend in the crowd

Even if you look fabulous, you’ll only perform as excellently as you’re feeling, and I know there are few things more intimidating than having to navigate a room filled with people you don’t know.

Thankfully, I spotted college buddy Aren in the crowd.

I arrived very early, so I was by myself for quite a while, but I think that was a good learning experience that pushed me to socialize. Luckily, I spotted a college friend, Aren Pe, in the crowd, which immediately improved the potentially awkward situation.

Speak up and introduce yourself

What if you really, really don’t see anybody you know? At times like these, you have to hang in there, fight through your nerves, and maybe even spot an opportunity to talk to someone new. I know I became really star-struck when I came face to face with Mr. Jojie Lloren, whose work I’ve admired for years. I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him, and he could not have been more gracious and witty! Push past the awkwardness and dive in.

A peek at the Lesley Mobo Spring-Summer 2013 collection

No prince necessary, but you’ll need your friends

Cinderella had her prince, but no one could help me at this event better than the One Mega Group team (Meryll Yan, Suki Salvador, L.A. Ferriols, Cat Triviño, Rain Dagala and Patrick Galang); their presence did a lot to calm me down at my first major formal work function. I remember thinking to myself, you’re at a ball. In a full-length dress. Watching Lesley Mobo show his latest collection. I think I pinched myself a couple of times, hardly able to believe my luck. Despite the mad scramble for a dress, my unfortunate stumble, and way-too-early arrival, I’d made it here anyway. I was witnessing the unveiling of a collection that was so viscerally compelling that it would later provoke reflection on the reason I fell in love with fashion in the first place. If that’s all I had to get through to be here, I know I’d do it all over again.

All photographs are by Rinse, Wear, Repeat

Update: This piece was republished on on November 6, 2012.