Military balls are full of traditions, some of which even date back to the US Revolutionary War. Each branch of the military has its own set of traditions that attendees must follow at the ball, and as a civilian, it can get confusing. Each branch has a main ball of its own, but these celebrations take place in military bases around the world. It’s extremely important to gain a proper understanding of etiquette and appropriate dressing style before you attend. You don’t want to show up in a prom dress with feathers at something so formal, after all!
Here’s all you need to know:
The night usually starts around 5 or 6 pm when guests and service members mingle. A professional photographer might be available to take formal pictures, so strike a pose and enjoy your drinks!
Before heading towards the receiving line, leave any extra garments, umbrellas, food, and drinks near the check area. You’re allowed to bring your purse with you. When walking with their partner, women should walk in front of the men in a single line, even if the man is the accompanying guest. You’ll encounter the announcer as you walk into the event—don’t shake their hand, just introduce yourself with your last name. It’s appropriate to give short greetings to others as you go through the line.
When it’s time for dinner, you’re going to hear a horn. That’s your cue for taking your seat—seating arrangements are determined beforehand. Introduce yourself and your date to the other people at your table and try to open a line of communication. You might find a program available on the table that lists the details of the events, along with any responses that you’re expected to give during speeches and toasts.
One major concern that people have when attending a military ball is what they’re going to wear. Every formal event comes with some level of anxiety when it comes to your wardrobe—you don’t want to look obnoxious and overdressed, but being underdressed is a huge faux pas. Your outfit should radiate sophistication, class and elegance.
Military balls are usually white-tie events. Civilian women should wear full-length gowns or dresses since their dates are going to be in a formal uniform with medals and ribbons. You can go shorter, but not above-knee length.
Your gown doesn’t have to be boring! It’s not often that you get the chance to wear a ball gown. Make sure that your dress is tasteful without being too revealing—the military culture revolves around respect. Stay away from dresses with glittery, loud embellishments such as rhinestones and sequins. Also, try not to wear busy, loud, or bright patterns—keep things toned down.
Most military balls will provide you with a formal dress code. You can try matching your loved one’s uniform—red ball gowns are very popular with Marine partners and spouses, while black is a timeless, classic color that works perfectly at any event.
Your hair and makeup should look classy, but you don’t have to go the extra mile to get it done professionally if you don’t want to. Since these events tend to go on for a long time, and you’re probably going to be doing a lot of dancing, wear comfortable clothing and shoes so that you can have a fun night. If you have any doubts about your outfit choice, ask your date’s CO about the rules of the event before attending.
Make sure your hands are well-groomed since you’ll be greeting many people by shaking their hands. If you’ve decided to wear gloves, you’ll need to follow the proper protocol by removing your right glove and keeping it in your left hand while greeting people.
Your first military ball will be an exciting experience, but a lack of planning and a little too much fun can leave you with regrets. If you’re going to be drinking, make sure that you’ve made transportation arrangements beforehand. Book a Lyft or Uber around the time that you expect to go home instead of trying to drive home by yourself. Many events even offer discounted or free shuttles to help you get home safely.
You should also practice drinking in moderation—going overboard can lead to some disciplinary actions since you and your date are supposed to represent the military branch at the ball. You wouldn’t want yourself or your date acting irrationally just to be punished for it the next day. Pace yourself throughout the evening, drink plenty of water, and keep nibbling on some snacks.
You’ll also need to prepare for a lot of formalities—you’ll need to meet important people, there will be speeches, a presentation of the country’s flag, and many other events focused on the guests of honor. Be ready to stay on your feet for a while, and make sure that you act respectfully.
Regardless of the branch, military balls are grand, exciting, and an excellent opportunity to enjoy your time with family and friends. If you’re planning on attending a military ball with your significant other, be ready for a classy night of fun!
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