Formals at Oxford are a fun opportunity to dress up and have dinner with your friends in college, and most colleges have them at least once a week. They are often a three-course meal with wine, and you can usually invite guests from other colleges or from home. Sometimes one of the weekday evening sittings will be more ‘formal’ than the others, with candles and gowns worn.
The level of formality and cost can vary quite a bit at different colleges. For example, at some formals I’ve been to, everyone stands up as the Principal/Provost/Head of the college enters and sits down at the ‘High Table’ along with fellows. This is sometimes followed by Grace spoken in Latin. Yet at other formals, there has been no High Table, and the atmosphere is more relaxed and less traditional. Also, at some colleges, gowns are required to be worn over your clothes (which you wear for matriculation when you join the college), whereas at others this is not the case.
Some colleges have formals for rowing and different sports events, and some also have formals for charity, like Pink Week at St Anne’s which raises money for breast cancer awareness. Another type of formal is one put on for ‘Scholars and Exhibitioners’, who are students who’ve done well in exams and have been awarded a scholarship by the college, and these are usually free which is nice!