What to Wear to a Military Ball? (Ask Molly)

I will be attending [my boyfriend's unit] ball this year for the first time. I asked him what to wear, and his response was, “Well, it’s in April, so that’s the spring, so a short dress right?”

Bless his little heart, you and I both know that’s just not how it works. Still, I’ve spent a great deal of time perusing the internet, and I am having a hard time discerning exactly how formal these military balls are.

The general consensus seems to be that a modest, not overly-prom-ish prom dress is appropriate, but then I also see questions/debates over the the style of gloves to wear. I come from a very traditional Southern family, so I’ve been through Cotillion and had my entrance into society, and I really need to know the specific echelon of formality we’re dealing with here. Otherwise, if my grandmother catches wind of a ball in the works, she will see to it that I show up in her elbow-length white kid gloves.

I don’t want to blindly buy a dress; and I know, whether overdressed or underdressed, if I look like an idiot, it will reflect poorly on him.

Dear Reader,

One of the reasons you have a hard time figuring out the protocol is that the formality of dress will vary widely from post to post and unit to unit.

Gone is the day when everyone knew exactly what to wear, unfortunately. Fortunately, though, that means you need be less concerned about violating an obscure rule.

Ideally, he connects you with a wife in the unit who can let you know what she plans to wear.

Another guide is what he has been instructed to wear, which is somewhat complicated by the military’s recent changes in dress uniform. The idea is that now soldiers will only have to maintain one dress uniform (a blue service uniform), instead of having Dress Blues and Class A’s (green service uniform). If his unit has not yet phased out the multiple dress uniforms, that may provide a clue as to the formality of an event. Mess Uniform or Dress Blues with Bow Tie (or Class A’s with bow tie for enlisted men) is the most formal (full-length or ball gown), then Dress Blues with four-in-hand (simple full-length or cocktail length dress), then Class A’s (a more simple dress may be appropriate).

In general, though, a full-length gown is most appropriate, with a wrap or shawl if there is a chill in the air. No ball gown or gloves required, though in some more formal units you may see a few.

You will most likely also see ladies in tea-length and cocktail-length formal dresses.

The biggest faux pas is not the dress length but showing up in something too revealing. I can tell this will not be an issue with you–but that is really the only thing I have seen go terribly wrong.

I personally also have a granny (who passed last year, may she rest in peace) who I can hear guiding me as I select formal wear. She is not Southern, but rather New York Jewish, but she would turn in her grave if I wore leather shoes to a formal event. So, I understand the anxiety.

Really, though, these finer distinctions are no longer in regular practice, even in the tradition-minded military, unless perhaps if we are talking a West Point or other academy ball.

What do you think, dear readers?  What is proper attire for a military ball? Is a full-length formal gown required? Or is a cocktail dress appropriate? Or do you and your fellow spouses go for the full ball gown and gloves treatment?

Photograph by Michael Oh.

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111 comments

  1. Mrs. K says:

    I tend to go with the full length dress for balls. There have always been some in shorter cocktail dresses, though. I agree that the big thing is to not look inappropriate as far as neckline, length, or the way the dress is cut in the back. Remember- You won’t just be sitting down or standing up! You might want to dance and mingle- so be sure you are comfortable and confident in whatever dress you choose.

    Have fun!

  2. Amanda says:

    I have to agree unless the invitation specifically says Cocktail you always go with floor length. I have done 5 Balls in 2 years- thank goodness for EBAY!! Not to revealing is a good rule- you can do a low cut, just remember who you will be introduced to in Receiving lines etc. You are a reflection on your Soldier- mostly go & have fun!

  3. Perfect answer! I would’ve answered the same. Each unit really is different. I have seen infantry and cavalry unit balls go a little hogwild towards the end….all depends on the commander and his personality really. As far as dresses, you see more short and cocktail lengths these days, at least one or two ladies have their boobs hanging out…and then the rest a collection of long formals:-)

    And yes, there are so many nice second hand gowns out there and ones on sale (try looking after the school formals)…especially at major department stores, there is no need to break the bank!

  4. Priscilla says:

    I’ve been to two Dining Outs (similar to military balls) that ROTC had while my husband was in college. My husband wasn’t given too many guidelines on what his girl should wear either, but they were warned that wearing something “too revealing” would not go over well. Basically, no sidecuts, plunge necklines, or extremely low backs from what I remember. I also would be wary of anything to “loud”. It’s an elegant, formal event, not a fashion show. I chose a pale blue floor length gown the first time, though cocktail was allowed too. The next time I wore a fairly simple, but elegant black cocktail with a small jacket. I was watching my spending and ended up sewing both dresses. :) Both fit in with everyone else quite well. I doubt you could go wrong with a simple, but elegant floor length evening gown.

    For my first dining out, being almost completely clueless, I took my cues from another milspouse who had grown up in the military and been married to the military for several years. When she stood I stood, when she toasted, I toasted. :) It worked, and I had a great time. :)

  5. Candace says:

    Olivia: If it is billed as a “ball” and the men are required to wear bow ties, that should be fine…though you may want a shrug or wrap for the receiving line. You will probably see more full-length gowns than ball gowns but a ball gown would work at the most formal military balls. If it is billed as a dance it a formal or you know that the servicemembers will be wearing a lower level of formal wear, I would probably choose something other than a gown with such a full ball skirt.

  6. Danni says:

    Happy I found this post. We have a ball coming up in December, and it’s my first one, and I’ve been a little anxious about what to wear. Now I have guidelines, yay!

  7. jacy says:

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this! I’ll be attending my boyfriend’s Ball in December. It being my first, as well as his, I was completely lost in what to start looking for. Being the typical guy my boyfriend is, he has no idea why I tend to get stressed just thinking about it. (Although I could be stressing for no reason because I am known to do that) Nor can he lead me in any direction as to an idea or dress code. I have looked up a couple pictures from Google but they all seem a bit dated. I have also seen pictures from balls that were in the Spring and Summer. Because the one I am going to is in the Winter is there anything specific that should or should not be worn? I am a fan of strapless but I am not to sure if that would be appropriate…

  8. Jessica says:

    Glad I found this! Getting ready for a ball next month, wondering how this falls on the appropriate scale http://www.nexteve.com/shop/evening-dresses/black-sash-tie-side-F6209.html

  9. MommaP says:

    Just remember that you are only wearing that dress for atleast 4 hours. So don’t waste to much money on something that you may only wear once. I have a closest of formal dresses that I have loaned friends. Some may have to retire, since I started going to Military Balls 22 years ago… LOL… I think it’s funny, cause you would say that a couple of them are antiques now.

    But a knee length dress is as short as you should really go. Everyone is already going to be staring and checking out dresses of other spouses, and your going to feel as if they are gossiping. But what they’re really thinking or saying is ” Man I wish I found that dress”!

  10. Cristine says:

    Military Ball are formal event. And formal event requires formal dresses, too. It would be appropriate if the dress you will be wearing is in full length or ankle length dress. Anything shorter than that would look casual and certainly not fitting for a formal event like the Military Ball.

    Moreover, a little modesty and touch of sexy style on your dress would be fine. But sexy in a sense that will not make you look trashy and modest but not old fashion (sure this is not a problem to you). A classic style dress in dark colors like red or blue is suitable for this event. Classic style dresses will give you the elegance and style which will complement the aura of the occassion and it likewise conceive a respectable image. Dark colors are suiting as it is more formal and mature; and will very well complement the tone of the event.

    In regard to wearing gloves, sleeveless or strapless dresses goes with full length glove. Whereas dresses with sleeves will look good if matched with formal palm gloves.

    See the giant collection of military ball dresses at TheRoseDress
    http://www.therosedress.com/Evening/Military_Ball_Dresses_Gowns.asp

    Their military ball dresses are categorize in a way that meets your personal preference.

    Have fun!

  11. Andrea says:

    True, dresses to be worn on military ball differ per unit but I prefer to wear classic elegant long gown. I have found some at
    http://www.therosedress.com/Evening/Military_Ball_Dresses_Gowns.asp

  12. Sarah says:

    My husband’s unit is having a military ball coming up in December. I’ve heard from him, or through the grapevine, that the wives, girlfriends, etc. are suppose to dress according to their guys’ rank. Is there any truth to that? I’m married to a captain and have no idea how to dress appropriately for his rank. I really have no idea what type/color/fabric dress to choose and want to make a good impression for him, please help!

  13. Candace says:

    @Sarah

    I cannot even imagine what that would mean. 

    Since spouses don’t have rank, don’t really have a direct effect on the servicemembers career, and can’t be given orders, the whole rumor sounds suspect.

    It is, perhaps, more forgivable for an 18 year old private to bring a girlfriend who vamps it up too much than for a married CPT, by virtue of presumed age and maturity … but I don’t think there could be a specific type of garment for each rank. 

    A simple, full-length gown in any formal material should be appropriate no matter what your husband’s rank. 

    Color can be anything–most gowns will probably be jewel-tones or black (though some eschew black because of it’s funereal connotations) but any sophisticated color that looks good on you should be fine.

    If you are going to a branch-specific event, it might be nice to wear “artillery red” or “infantry blue”…but that is by no means necessary.

  14. Sarah says:

    If it’s a “Ball”, a floor length formal dress or ball gown is proper attire. The military dress uniform is approximately the equivalent to a tuxedo- so, no, cocktail dresses or semi-formal dresses are not appropriate. Sure, you can get away with it, but that’s not ball attires. Floor length, and keep the girls under control.

  15. Sloane says:

    I am SO glad I found this! I will be going to my first military ball next month and all he said was that “it’s very formal” …but there’s still so much I don’t know!
    Thanks, this helped a lot!

  16. Amber says:

    I’m so glad I found this site also! I’m attending a ball in Dec and had no clue what to wear.. its my first ball. All my boyfriend told me was that he is wearing his dress uniform. Also I had a question if I have a small tattoo on my shoulder should I cover it? I think I’m going to try to cover it anyways just to be safe then sorry!

  17. Alli says:

    I am really glad that I stumbled across this! I am attending my first ball in a few weeks. Like everyone has mentioned above, my boyfriend has no idea what I should wear. His response was “a dress?”. I do have another question though. He keeps flip flopping on what we are going to. Sometimes he calls it an Army Ball and sometimes he calls it a Christmas party so this is making me even more confused about what to wear! Should I still go with a longer dress or would a shorter one be okay?!

  18. CC says:

    I’m going to my boyfriend’s military ball for the first time this December. He hasn’t attended one before and I’m not sure how to dress. From the posts I see that a floor length dress is suitable. Advice from all, can you let me know if this is an appropriate dress to wear? Thanks.

    Here’s my dress but in the color of navy blue, the picture #259

    http://www.dosformal.com/prom8.html

  19. CC says:

    Also, may I add that he’s using his “blues” uniform? Thanks again.

  20. Katharine says:

    I, too, am a former debutante and a social ballroom dancer. Although my husband is an officer in the U.S. Navy, we do not go to military balls anymore, because the ones we attended in the past were rather dull and not very classy – sorry, but it’s true. I hate drunken escapades, and they are even more out of place at a formal event. The food was mediocre, the music was awful and people could not dance.

    However, having said that, we do love balls, and fortunately, we live in a city (D.C.) where there are plenty of balls that meet my admittedly high standards. At the balls I attend, no gentleman would ever dream of taking off his jacket; ladies keep their shoes on at all times; and gentlemen have enough manners to dance with each lady at the table. Oh, and they can dance. When the orchestra plays a waltz, they know the steps and they can lead. Same is true for a tango, swing, foxtrot, polka, etc.

    When we attend such functions during the winter months, I wear a full ball gown complete with white kid or silk opera gloves. I also have a full length black velvet cloak to provide protection against the elements. My husband wears full mess dress (with white waist coat and white marcella bow tie) or his civilian tail coat.

    In the summer time, I usually wear something that is made out of silk chiffon and in a light colour.

    I don’t know if I can post pictures, but here’s a link to a ball last December:
    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/819/16669217805634351051270.jpg/ (I am on the right)

    My husband with a friend of ours at the same December ball: http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/849/imag0133n.jpg/

    From previous year: http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/560/22236133319741123412700.jpg/

    Formal unit dinner this May: http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/525/s5001166.jpg/

  21. Katharine says:

    P.S. I love the Oscar de la Renta Web link at the top of this page. I am just wondering if anybody here has ever bought one of these $5,000 to $6,000 gowns…

    This is my favourite: http://www.oscardelarenta.com/?folderId=/shoponline/readytowear/gowns#/styleNumber=3n016&

  22. Layne says:

    This article and all the comments that were left were all very helpful to me! I, like many others, am going to a ball in December and this articled saved me from a bad dress decision. I now have decided to wear my prom dress. I do have one question: are there any preparations, such as learning certain dances, that you advise?

  23. Katharine says:

    Layne,

    I personally believe that everybody should know how to dance. Grinding is not dancing, and always inappropriate, but it looks absolutely ghastly when wearing formal evening clothes.

    A ball is a formal affair, yes? At least it should be a formal event, and as such requires formal dancing.

    Here are some videos for comparison:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXIZ9FRF2o8 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJRsekCw9Cg&feature=related
    versus

    They are both military balls. You judge what is more formal and appropriate for a ball!

    So, as far as dances are concerned, why not learn a basic East Coast Swing step, a slow waltz, and a foxtrot. BTW, foxtrot and swing are American dances. They are versatile and the basic steps are quite easy to learn. There are plenty of free dance videos on YouTube, as well as inexpensive or even free lessons at local community centres.

  24. Stephanie says:

    I’m in a junior ROTC unit at my high school and we have our Military Ball coming up in April. I have a floor length dress that would work, but I was thinking of making my own dress and going for a vintage style instead. Would the shorter of the dresses in this pattern work: http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v2962-products-8314.php?page_id=850
    Our OpsO is planning on setting a regulation dress length for mid-calf or longer so the length should be okay, but I’m just not sure if they style in general is too informal looking?

  25. Katharine says:

    Stephanie,

    I adore Vogue Vintage patterns! Congratulations to you for knowing how to sew! I think you picked a lovely pattern, and it’s not too difficult to make. I made this dress as a ball gown, and found it quite easy to cut and sew. It’s a fairly simple style, but you can make it more formal by selecting an elegant fabric. I obviously do not know your budget or where you live, but I think a nice silk organza would make this dress very glamorous. I would stay away from very soft, sheer chiffon as this dress needs some body.

    Do you have an eBay or etsy account? If yes, please check their fabric selections. I bought silk organza in the past that only cost me $6 per yard. However, you should also check your local fabric store(s), but please be advised that many stores (especially JoAnn Fabrics and Co.) do not carry a great selection of evening and special occasion fabrics. Most of it will be polyester, and cost between $10 – $13 per yard.
    I think you can do better online.

    Here are some Web sites to start looking: http://www.goldensilks.net/silk-organza.html
    http://www.etsy.com/listing/80232211/peach-silk-organza-half-yard?ref=sr_gallery_2&sref=&ga_search_submit=&ga_search_query=silk+organza&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_ship_to=US&ga_search_type=supplies&ga_facet=supplies%2Ffabric — $8.50/yard

    You will also need lining and haberdashery (i.e., thread, zip, buttons and other notions).

  26. Emily says:

    Can anyone tell me if this dress would be appropriate to wear to a Army Ranger ball? my boyfriend and i (both 21 y.o) are attending the ball for active duty rangers in a few weeks and I am stressing to find a dress I can actually see myself wearing. this is a betsey johnson dress, below the knee, strapless yet higher collared.

    http://www.bellejoliecouture.com/product/betsey-johnson-tea-party-strapless-dress-champagne

    thanks for any help!

  27. Teresa C says:

    Always remember…..as a guideline…….it’s better to be over dressed than underdressed.

  28. Teresa C says:

    To EMILY in ref to the dress for the Ranger Ball……..it’s beautiful and a great choice! I have been to many of these events and think its perfect!

  29. Sierra O'neal says:

    i have never been to a military ball before and have no idea what so ever on what its going to be like and could i wear a black dress to a military ball

  30. Katharine says:

    I forgot to post this, but my husband and I attended the Officers’ Ball in Vienna, Austria last month. http://www.ballderoffiziere.at/index.php
    It was wonderful! Much to my husband’s delight, he discovered that a West Point cadet was part of the opening ceremonies (my husband, despite being a Naval Officer, attended West Point). The photos rotate so you might have to wait a few seconds. The young man had a great time, and loved the atmosphere. It really was a terrific ball, and immediately made me wonder again: Why on earth can we not do such events here?
    Any feedback? Responses? Ideas?

  31. Haley says:

    I am so happy, a long with many others I see, to have found this post. This March is an upcoming ball and is my first time attending with my boyfriend. He, like many others, is clueless as to what the dress code would be for me and is not much help. Would this dress be to much? I would like to stand out and make him look good without appearing as if I am trying to hard, if that makes sense.

    http://www.dressilyme.com/prom-outfits/in-stock-dark-purple-beaded-long-prom-dress-80353-pd-8437/

  32. Katharine says:

    Haley,

    The dress is nice, but trains are a hassle. I am a social ballroom and swing dancer, with excellent balance and very good coordination (20 years of ballet will give you that), and even I struggle with trains. I have exactly one ball gown that has a train, and my husband hates it, because I have to pick up the loop of train in my left hand (the hand that would normally go on his upper arm) to hold the dress. I attend approximately seven or eight formal balls per year, and I have seen people fall and take others down with them because of trains. As a matter of fact, at every single ball I attended in the last five years, the people who fell wore dresses with trains.

    Also, when you walk the fabric tends to roll up into a fabric sausage. Trains look lovely in photos or when you have bridesmaids carrying them (think of the Duchess of Cambridge), but they are simply not practical. The trailing fabric sweeps up dirt and debris, which will damage your dress. Oh, and other people will step on it, because they are simply not used to being around ladies wearing floor-length gowns with extra fabric in the back. Last month, a young lady with whom I am acquainted had the fabric of her dress ripped (8 inch tear), because somebody accidentally stepped on her train.

    Now, if you say you will not dance, will only wear this dress once, don’t care if it gets dirty/damaged/ripped, don’t mind holding the train for every step you take, and consider this to be your dream dress, then by all means, please make yourself happy. My advice? Find something else or have a seamstress remove the train. If you have a sewing machine, you can do it yourself, as it is not very difficult, and will save you a bit of money.

  33. TMcAndrews says:

    Ok so I am looking for a dress for my husbands post deployment Gimlet Military Ball and I have found a dress I love but it is print and I am hearing that is a faux pa. Would this dress be acceptable even tho it is a print?

    http://www.simplydresses.com/shop/viewitem-PD602418

  34. Haley says:

    Katharine,

    Thank you for the advice, I will look for a different dress that will not be such a hassle. I love dancing and agree that only problems come along with a train and the dance floor, I did not think that far into it.

    -Haley

  35. Katharine says:

    Haley,

    You’re very welcome. I am sure you’ll find something lovely. Do you have a Syms or Filene’s Basement where you live? Depending on how much time you have, I’d also recommend a trip to some local bridal boutiques that have a nice evening wear selection. They frequently have store samples available for purchase. In some cases, these dresses were never even tried on, but kept on a rack or in the back room.

    If you live near a major city, browse the Web for local upscale consignment stores and pick one or two for an in-person visit. A lot of socialites wear their dresses once (or even never), and then consign them. Bargains galore for the savvy shopper! I managed to buy a $5,000 Romona Keveza silk duchesse gown for $200 — tags attached. The person who bought it never even wore it!

    Katharine

  36. Michelle says:

    If you are a military spouse you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do in the first place.
    The best policy is to wear something you feel comfortable in that will best reflect your personality and taste. All the information about dresses and gloves is suitable and useful. Most of us have made our own way in this life and don’t need to feel less than if the correct steps to a dance are a mystery. Go, have fun, enjoy yourself and your escort. Have a great time!

  37. Katharine says:

    Michelle,

    Nobody is forcing anybody to do anything. However, it must be assumed (otherwise people would not post) that they want to go to a formal event, and with a formal event come specific rules. This isn’t about knowing 15 different steps for a slow waltz or 10 East Coast Swing figures. Although it’s lovely to dance with a man who does. While I am completely in agreement that you cannot strongarm anybody into attending something, I disagree that a military spouse (or any random person for that matter) does not have to do anything she does not want to do. I certainly did not want my family to go to certain duty stations, let my husband go on deployments and be left to handle everything by myself. Am I capable? Of course, I am, as are most women. I have a successful career, two graduate degrees, a mostly happy (she’s a young teenager, hence the qualifier) daughter, and a good marriage. Life often forces us to do things we may not want or like.

    However, I digress. If you attend a formal social event, there are certain rules of etiquette and decorum. I work for an international nonprofit, and when I deal with diplomats and dignitaries, I have to follow strict protocol. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like the person or even the country this individual represents. I have been to events in the U.S. and overseas where people were refused entry or asked to leave because of improper attire and/or behaviour. Dress codes exist for a purpose. Otherwise we could all wrap ourselves in blankets in the winter, and wear fig leaves in the summer, right?

    I think it’s wrong to advise somebody to just wear whatever you like best and feel most comfortable in, just like it’s wrong to say: “Act however you like!”. I have been in situations where I very much would have liked to tell DC parking enforcement officials to rid the world of their stupidity and ignorance, but I didn’t. Likewise, you cannot just show up at a white or black tie event wearing your favourite pyjamas – even though that may be what you like most. If you do, you risk certain repercussions, and these may include refusal to participate in the festivities, social ostracism. All societies have rules, so it really shouldn’t be anything new.

    Cheers!

  38. Kate says:

    I’m attending the Army Birthday Ball in DC and wondering if this dress would be appropriate:

    http://www.zappos.com/laundry-by-shelli-segal-one-shoulder-sleeveless-gown-w-side-sequins-deep-neptune

    Or is it too simple? Should I look for something a little more ball-gown-esque?

    Thank you!

  39. Mrs. C says:

    Having attended 22 years’ worth of Army balls, I’d like to offer some words of encouragement to those of you searching for the perfect dress: Never once have I seen anyone “socially ostracized” for wearing the wrong one. Good heavens, no wonder you’re all worried! Threats like that cluttering up the internet are enough to give the most chic woman a complex.

    Here’s the truth: The Army community boasts some of the nicest, classiest, most supportive women I’ve met in my life, the majority of whom will either be very complimentary or too busy worrying about their own ensemble to notice yours. Granted, there are always a few petty, bad apples who adopt a holier-than-thou attitude and have nothing better to do than obsess over every social faux pas, but these women generally don’t matter. Please don’t listen to them – usually, no one likes them. Those you do care to impress – your date’s superiors and their spouses, for example – will more than likely be incredibly welcoming and gracious.

    It’s hard to make a poor selection if you stick with a full-length gown in a conservative color, so long as it’s appropriate. Truly, the only way to make a poor impression – for yourself or your date – is to wear something too flashy or revealing. Your goal should be to look as classy as possible, not as “hot” as possible. Think “pretty”, not “sexy”. As fun as it is to attend a ball (doesn’t it sound like a fairy tale?), keep in mind that there are some serious notes to the evening, such as honoring the fallen. Be respectful in your outfit choice. When in doubt, ask yourself: would Grandma approve?

    As other commenters have stated, you’ll also want to think about your own comfort for the evening. As you’ll be mingling and dancing, I do agree that a train or a too-full skirt is quite a hassle. (This is really for your own sake; no one else will likely mind.) Also, keep fabric choice in mind: a strapless gown in a heavy fabric will always feel as though it’s slipping down. In summer, a lighter or more breathable fabric will keep you from overheating on the dance floor.

    When all is said and done, enjoy the evening! Be nice, polite and jovial and everyone will love you. Personality counts more than fashion.

  40. Mrs. A says:

    Dear commenters,

    Please remember that this site is a forum to assist those who may have questions about selecting their attire for a military ball, not a venue in which to prattle on endlessly about your personal breeding and “talents”. Those who have deemed themselves too lofty to attend our humble balls due to the trifling fact that we may lack rhythm should not comment on this forum. Please select an alternate venue on which to flaunt yourselves. May I suggest Facebook?

    In addition, such commenters prove themselves to be the type of superficial, petty women Mrs. C. referenced, as well as to be without grasp of the significance of the evening. Please remember, the purpose of the Military Ball is to celebrate, commemorate and honor the successes and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Dress with class and you’ll be just fine.

  41. Jessica says:

    Thank God someone finally said that! Thank you, Mrs. A!

  42. Candace says:

    I believe only one commenter (out of 42!) mentioned the word ostracism as a consequence and that was in reference to the extreme showing up at a black tie in pajamas. I agree with the commenters who say just don’t veer towards over-exposed and trashy and you’ll be fine. In that commenter’s defense however, she is right that “just be comfortable could be interpreted by some woman as yoga pants and flip flops…and that is hardly honoring our heroes at a formal event.

    I hope we can stick with the original intent of easing any anxiety and reassuring girlfriends and spouses who want to dress appropriately, which I think everyone here is trying to do in her own way!

    Thank you for the reminder that the focus should be on our soldiers!

  43. TMcAndrews says:

    TMcAndrews said:

    Ok so I am looking for a dress for my husbands Military Ball and I have found a dress I love but it is print and I am hearing that is a faux pa. Would this dress be acceptable even tho it is a print?

    http://www.simplydresses.com/shop/viewitem-PD602418

  44. Mrs. J says:

    Hi TMcAndrews!

    That’s a beautiful dress! However, for a military ball you might consider either a more “conservative” print (i.e. tone-on-tone rather than multiple colors, or flowers or damask rather than animal print), or go with a solid. I have seen print done well at these functions, but it tends to be a little more subtle.

    Also, from my experience, you may wish to select a dress that is more covering in the back, or plan to wear a wrap. Some attendees may find the dress a little revealing, since it’s cut lower on both the front and back sides.

    Hope this helps! I’m sure you’ll look beautiful!

    Mrs. J

  45. monica willams says:

    it is a good eperience

  46. cassidy says:

    when does the army usually hold these formal balls

  47. Tatiana says:

    Hello ladies,
    I will be attending the Submarine Ball this April with my husband. He will be in dress blues, with the short jacket, gloves and bow tie. I am hoping to wear this dress
    http://www.whitehouseblackmarket.com/store/browse/product.jsp?maxRec=9&pageId=1&productId=570033937&viewAll&prd=Strapless+HighLow+Gown&subCatId=cat4749277&color&fromSearch&inSeam&posId=6&catId=cat210002&cat=Dresses++Skirts+WeddingWedding+Party&onSale&colorFamily&maxPg=1&size

    I love the dress, and am struggling with how to accessorize it without loosing my spunk while complimenting my husband. Any advise is appreciated.

  48. Heather says:

    @ Tatiana…I think that dress is Stunning….it brings the formal of old and the ‘show your legs’ of new together in a classy yet elegant way!!! I TOO AM navy and attending the sub ball. I think this dress will match his Blues ( which are really black) Beautifully! One thing I see as a plus, is that since he is wearing the short white gloves, perhaps to accentuate His ensemble ….you too could wear Long white gloves so it would be the feminine version of his and will also be very appropriate, since this gown is strapless. Furthermore, I think a shawl is Definitely in order to begin the evening….however, not neccesary toeep it on while indoors;-) I believe the classic Pearls would look beautiful and elegant with this gown, however if that is not you – than silver/white gold and diamonds(rhinestones) would look equally Amazing! The Digest question I see you having g though is how to let your personality show through a bit….We’ll,Well. The Dress is a Huge start to that – fun-flirt-flashy(for black) yet not losing Any style or Class….Bravo Zulu!!!! If you don’t know that term, ask your hubby;-P So my final piece of advice for you is this, YOU have bravely chosen to draw attention to your legs, so let that be your personality….Shoes?? Classy -Flashy, its your call but remember this, they must tie in with your dress, or your accessories…ie Black or Silver or White with sequins???? Your style without clashing….the higher the heel the shapelier the calves and ankles…but comfort and stability is important as well….show your legs off by a sheer darker hose…not fishnet and not all naturale either……but the accessories can also extend to your ankles….don’t forget the Jewelry their….all Jewelry (necklace, earrings and bracelets would be complimented by a Matching Anklet and would draw that attention downward as well as a Good pedicure;-) Hope this Helps…..and Not that you or any of you will be ostracized, but it is rather annoying if you are running around Barefoot (so keep the shoes on) Also, the language in check as well as, No backing up or grinding especially with the Captain ‘yes I have seen it . before, BUT – NO it did not stop me from attending or thinking myself better of it after 15yrs, still going and Loving it! YOUR Men do have to return to work with these Guys on MONDAY however – so NO Drunken embarrasing tales to live down…Seriousely, as long as you all act like ladies, than you will be fine and Have a Blast;)

  49. Tatiana says:

    @Heather
    Thank you for your response. I appreciate your advise and I promise that being a preachers daughter, my shoes never leave my feet lol. Your advise was right on point and matched what I was thinking. I am so excited to celebrate with my husband!

  50. Wow, that was so awesome, having those type of attire and the event, it was probably one of the greatest things in life.

  51. Mrs. Baumgartner says:

    I will be going to my first ball with my husband this weekend…feeling dress anxiety. http://www.gownsbysimpleelegance.com/Merchant2/graphics/00000001/Alyce6612f.jpg here is the dress I purchased. I got glitter gold shoes and gold earrings. Kinda feeling nervous that this is too bright. I am seeing online and on the posts here that most dresses seem to be black, reds, navy/blues, dark purples… I am hoping this isn’t too flashy. Not that there’s anything I can do about it now! Still I am nervous. I have heard conflicting things. That you want to be classy, and I’ve been told to be showy and sexy because your husband gets to show you off big time. (not meaning sexy as in hoochie of course…) Not really knowing what to expect. This is also my husbands first ball as well. I am glad I went with my gut. He totally downplayed it and told me to just get a little black dress. SOOO NOT a little black dress occasion! Glad I researched it! They are wearing the new blues and a bow tie. I did read that the shorter the tie, the longer the dress. However I am now nervous about lookind 10 years younger and like a prom high school girl! Gah!

  52. Jackie says:

    Thank goodness for this site and all the helpful comments!! I will be attending my son’s first Air Force ROTC Military Ball soon and these posts have helped to determine what I will wear; but what is appropriate for my husband to wear–suit & tie or tux??

  53. Blusimari says:

    So here’s the thing, my fiancé is graduating on may and I have no idea what to wear, as ussual I asked him what should I wear….. He has the same clues as me…. None!!

    I have a dress

    http://www.google.com/search?q=trajes+de+formals&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=06eYT4LxIYeW8gToztiUBg&biw=1024&bih=672&sei=48SYT_PyCoSu8ASe3_SLBg

    Is the first one (in the middle) that is black and white… Is it appropriate???
    Please be honest!!

    Blusimari@aol.com

  54. Mrs. V says:

    Hello ladies! I am attending my first military ball as well when my husband returns from this year long deployment. Seeing as I am PCS’ing in less than 6months to another base I choose to spend a little money on a gown that I felt I would be able to wear at a formal event at the new base and would be breathable for the summer weather, covered the front (I’m well endowed by God’s grace) and would give me the sense of being secured without constantly having to feel the need to pull up on my dress like I would be if I was in a strapless or lowcut dress. However the dress I have chosen has a slit up the front and a semi exposed back. I figured less cleevage was better than a slight slit up the front. Here is a link to my dress that I have ordered.

    http://www.simplydresses.com/shop/viewitem-PD813422

  55. tatiana says:

    Hi Ms V
    I think the dress is gorgeous. If when you try the dress on the slit is too high it can be altered. While I love the back my only concern is whether you can wear the support you will want. Bra straps will show and possibly even strapless maybe difficult. I’m not blessed as you, but my mom and sister often complain about coverage. Trust how you feel in the dress with under garments and you’ll be fine. There’s nothing wrong with looking hot next to your partner :-)

  56. Mrs. V says:

    @Tatiana
    Thanks Love! Being 8 yrs younger than my soldier I often feel I’m supposed to underdress in regards to my age. I’m 25 and he is 33. However, I have found a super supportive almost suctioncup like bra that VS offers. I used one when I was a SR in HS for my prom and I’m still the same size. Just very excited for this. I kept looking for a “classy” yet “sleek elegant sexy” look and when I saw this dress I just knew it was it for me. This forum definitely helped me!

  57. Mrs. V says:

    @Tatiana
    Thank you love! I am 8yrs my husband’s junior and sometimes feel that I have to dress older and I feel less sexy. I felt the need to grasp this opportunity to show my husband my recent weightloss and that i was still sexy being a mom of 4. Being 25 I sure don’t feel my age. When i stumbled upon this dress i just knew this was the one for me.

  58. Aaron says:

    I have my very first ball coming up in July, I was wondering has anyone ever showed up wearing the same dress? And what would you do in a situation like that?

    I already found and bought my dress but the website I found it on was handed out at the last FRG meeting, its making me nervous and I dont have any friends in my husbands unit and the FRG leader said I dont know, just pick something and hope someone else dosnt pick the same one. When I asked the other women at the FRG meeting today, no one was forth coming on the dresses they had picked out. Please let me know if this has ever happened to anyone.

  59. Cat` says:

    First THANKS YOU FOR THIS SITE !! It’s a life saver.
    I’m attending a summer ball with my son whose with the 4th Army Infantry. They’ve just returned from Afghanistan.
    My problem: he told to wear something that I would “wear to a nice restaurant” ???!!
    I’m still trying to contact the FRG but really ~~~ It’s a ball !! Is his unit that informal ??
    I’ll take a long gown and a short one, too, just in case.
    Thanks again for everyone’s input.

  60. [...] bird catches the worm, so I feel you on wanting to prepare months in advance. I took some cues from Army Wives Lives on how to properly dress for the occasion. The key is to be elegant without being too [...]

  61. [...] bird catches the worm, so I feel you on wanting to prepare months in advance. I took some cues from Army Wives Lives on how to properly dress for the occasion. The key is to be elegant without being too [...]

  62. Natasha says:

    Hi, I really need help, I’m a first time ball attendee for my husbands return from Afghanistan and so far the general idea is to wear a full length gown but not show too much skin but now I’m stuck on colour choice.
    Are colours like lilac and soft pinks, cream or just light colours appropriate? & in terms of adornment (some dresses have beads or jewels sew in) is is ok to have a little or is it none at all? The dresses I’ve looked at have very little adornments on them like only the waist is decorated or only the bust or strap if it’s a one shoulder.
    I’m Australian so I have no friends in my husbands units and cant ask them or the FRG and I’m flying to the US for the ball in January 2013.

  63. Rebecca says:

    I am so glad I found you! It is also my first time attending a military ball with my boyfriend and I am really scared to wear something inappropriate. I am German (my boyfriend is stationed in Germany) and I am only 18, so I feel like I already have a target on my back, and I don’t have any experience with military obligations or anyone to ask. I’ve already figured out that none of my dresses (mostly prom and homecoming dresses) but I also don’t want to feel like I am putting on a costume.
    I want to order this dress:

    http://shop.mango.com/DE/p0/mango/artikel/kleider/maxis/kleid-mit-pailletten-und-perlen/?id=73423554_93&n=1&s=prendas.vestidosprendas&ie=0&m=&ts=1346861385828

    Is it appropriate? Thank you guys so much for helping!

  64. Stephanie says:

    Hey everyone! I totally understand the anxiety here! I went to my first military ball two years ago and my boyfriend told me “more formal than business casual but less formal than prom”… i went in a cocktail dress and was COMPLETELY underdressed. Everyone was dressed like Cinderella with gloves and tiaras and the works… i was tempted to spend the whole night in the bathroom. Last year’s ball was much less formal. A simple floor length gown was fine. But the one major faux-pa is wearing red! ESPECIALLY if the ball is taking place shortly after or before a deployment. Red is reserved as a colour of remembrance for fallen soldiers and a lot of people get very offended by wearing ostentatious colours like that. Gold is fine, lots of greens and browns and blues… but try to stay away from reds and pinks. Military balls tend to be a little sombre.

  65. Candace says:

    Red is not a faux pas in an artillery unit ;) Honestly I have never heard of that before–it may vary depending on unit, etc.

    I think, in general, the best thing is to talk with a wife in the unit…each ball will vary in formality.

    In general, a simple floor-length gown will work in a range of situations and would be my go-to unless I am specifically told (by a woman ;) that it is a full formal ball or a more casual cocktail-type party.

  66. Sarah says:

    Dear Rebecca,

    I think that your dress is appropriately modest and has an understated elegance. I would be comfortable wearing it to my husband’s military ball. It’s still a good idea to ask a military wife from your bf’s unit.

  67. Anna says:

    We all have anxiety about finding that perfect dress. It could be your first Military ball or your 15th you will still wonder and worry. As for the lady who is worried about wearing the same dress as someone else. If you see the same dress walk up and commend their excellent taste. I had this happen to me with an Admirals wife. I walked up and talked to her and we still laugh about it. I personally will be attending my 10th ball in November. My greatest recommendation to anyone would be make sure you are covered appropriately. You do not want to be the girl everyone is watching and taking bets on how long you will be on the dance floor until you expose yourself. Typically there are several of these girls. You will be talked about and your boyfriend or husband will be talked to about your dress. Remember this is his work function, his boss will see you. No colors are off limits. Remember to have fun and act like a lady. Wear comfortable shoes there will be lots of standing. Drink in moderation do not get drunk, save that for the after party. Have fun and if you have any questions just ask.

  68. Cassie says:

    My boyfriend and I just began dating. He’s just gotten back from his deployment in Afghanistan and has invited me to his homecoming ball. He asked around and the only response he was given as to what I should wear was “think prom”, so helpful, right? I was looking at these three dresses. Any and all advice/comments/suggestions are much appreciated!
    http://www.modcloth.com/shop/dresses/enchanting-moment-dress
    http://www.modcloth.com/shop/dresses/fall-in-love-with-me-dress
    http://www.modcloth.com/shop/dresses/the-local-muse-dress

  69. April says:

    I am going to my first military event a formal dinner (for chiefs getting their anchors) Im not sure what to wear?!

  70. April says:

    oops I forgot to say its for the Coast Guard!

  71. Denice says:

    Is there such thing as a casual ball?? My boyfriend asked me to go to a ball with him in December and said the dress was casual (he will be in his uniform) is there such thing? all the research i’ve done shows nothing like this, and I’m nervous of what to wear? i dont want to be underdressed or overdressed… Help please!!

  72. April says:

    Denice. I never got an answer from my post mid october but i ended up wearing these to two different functions that my boyfriend said “wear whatever”
    from Dillards

    Jessica Simpson Woman Ribbon Drawstring-Waist Dress Item #03796667

    Jessica Simpson V-Neck Pleated Dress Item #03735595

    I hope this helps

  73. AbsolutelyDC says:

    My friends and I got together and created a little guide of what to wear and what not to wear to a military ball. We learned quite a bit over the years (via trial and error). Hopefully, this saves some other gals some time.
    http://www.absolutelydc.com/blog/what-to-wear-for-a-military-ball.html
    http://www.absolutelydc.com/blog/what-not-to-wear-to-a-military-ball.html

  74. Denice says:

    @April
    Thank you so much for your help!! So from what you saw after going to both events did you think the “casual” wear is ok? i just feel that if he’s dressing in his blues i should buy something that compliments that… i dont want to make a fool of myself if i wear the wrong thing

  75. Candace says:

    If it is a ball, I would not go “casual” — I would wear a cocktail dress at the least and would probably wear a tea or full-length dress. If it is a “dinner” or a “picnic” or a “barbecue” that’s obviously different … but if it is at night, there’s dancing, and it has been described to me as a ball, I would go with a full-length dress.

  76. April says:

    @Denice

    Exactly you don’t want to be embarrassed and you don’t want to embarrass him!

    I guessed and decided its like a wedding there’s gonna be less dressed and fancier. I went with those two dresses (hopefully you were able to open those links) I figured as long as I didn’t embarrass him I’d be okay haha I did my hair and makeup nicely simple elegant jewelry a simple formal appropriate purse and high heels( a pair that was fancy but I wouldn’t have to take off) its frowned upon to take off dress shoes!

    What kind if “casual “ball event are you going to? Has he given you any insight?

    What service is he in?

    Of you have done dresses I’d be happy to look!

  77. Denice says:

    @Candice
    thats what i was thinking if its a ball then you have to dress formal, but since ive never attended any event with him before and he said “casual” i wasnt sure…

    @April
    I waa able to see the links thanks!! and its a Marines Ball in December not sure specifically what the event or reaaon for the ball is I’m too new at this haha

  78. April says:

    My friend has gone to many marine balls she wore a long black dress and a blue long dress

    Same things though you don’t want to be pulling up your boobs, showing cracks lol etc I would get something from the formal section at Dillard’s likely a long dress

    Ill get back to you with some item#’s!!

  79. Emily says:

    Help! I am going to my first military ball with my boyfriend. It’s a first for both of us. He wants me to wear a gold (closer to champagne) cocktail dress. Its rouched up the sides and very flattering. From what I am reading, should I ditch the dress and go for the floor length gown or stick with the cocktail dress?? The ball is in less than a week!

  80. Cassie says:

    Hi! I just went to my first military ball and I could not believe how many different types of dresses girls were wearing! I saw anything from a short, almost skimpy dress you might wear to a club to the most elaborate prom gowns. I wore a floor length green dress that wasn’t too low cut and simple jewelry. I would definitely wear shoes that you don’t mind standing and walking in because it was a lot of standing and small talk with the others there. I would also be careful how much you show, don’t want to make your date look bad in front of everyone. I’ve attached a link to the picture of my dress so you can compare. Good luck! :) http://www.modcloth.com/shop/dresses/enchanting-moment-dress

  81. Jane says:

    I think you can act opposite of what is expected here. You can wear the most elegant long dress you can find at some boutique shop near your place.

  82. Doan says:

    I’ve been asked to go to a military ball and not sure what to wear. I am in between my prom dress which is cobalt blue chiffon strapless gown or a knee length little black dress. Please help!

  83. Candace says:

    Without seeing them, I would say the blue floor length…with a shawl.

  84. Kk says:

    Is it possible to wear a short layered dress

    Like on the top it’s black and then the bottom is short and layered with black polka dots is that something good to wear?
    Please reply!!!

    • Candace says:

      If it is a ball or formal, you will probably mostly see people in full length dresses. If you are buying a new dress or borrowing one, I would go with full-length. However, I have seen women in fancy cocktail length dresses at these events before and they were not out of place. As long as your dress is appropriate (does not show too much skin) and is formal enough (not a day dress), you are not going to embarrass yourself or your soldier. At the same time, for balls or other formal events, most of the women will wear full length dresses. If it is important to you to fit the tone of the event, your best bet is to check with another wife in the unit.

  85. Ashley N. says:

    I will be attending my first military ball with my boyfriend and was curious as to if the following dress is appropriate?

    http://www.aliexpress.com/item/Long-Sleeves-Open-Back-See-Through-Black-Lace-Mermaid-Evening-Dresses-Prom-Gowns-2014-New-Arirval/1535897842.html

  86. Melanie says:

    I am will be attinding a JROTC Military Ball at my high school March 22. My friend has invited me to come with him & I was wondering if these same rules apply to us. My dress is gray w/ black elegant patterns and is about knee length. We are freshman, so he & I don’t know much about it. Does my dress fit the attire, or do I have to buy a new one? (Hoping I don’t, seeing as I have little money to buy a new one).

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