Military Ball
January 23, 2013 8:27 PM   Subscribe

In a couple months I have to attend my first ever military ball. I do not know much in the way of social expectations of such an event, I guess I'm just supposed to go and look pretty.. which leads to the real question, What do I wear!!!? . Or how I should dress exactly, what are the "norms"...
posted by misformiche to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Marine Corps Balls (of yesterday) were very formal affairs. Ladies wore gowns and we wore dress blues. I am going to guess/hope it is still the same.
posted by notreally at 8:31 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have never been, but all of the pictures I've seen from friends who have gone to military balls, it's always been the equivalent of black tie. So, tuxedo on men, fancy ball gowns/dresses for women.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:32 PM on January 23, 2013

Lovely daughter wears ball gowns to her husband's military balls, while her husband wears dress blues, considered the military equivalent of a tuxedo.
posted by Lynsey at 8:41 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ball gown. It's black tie; definitely full-length and go a bit conservative: strapless is fine, but make sure your boobs aren't going to fall out. It's more the occasion for something stunning and classic than something boundary-breaking and exciting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:48 PM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Is there a formal invite? Or are there photos from the ball in past years? I agree that most of the ones I've seen have been American black tie-- i.e. floor length dresses for women, and more conservative styling than club dresses. Is there a specific aspect that you're worried about, like the cut/style of the dress? Or specific dress/shoe suggestions? (I would also look at the average temperature for the area--a couple of months says March or April, so maybe plan on a bolero or jacket, since a pashmina alone probably won't cut it.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:51 PM on January 23, 2013

Some people wear a cocktail style dress but it's honestly safer to go for a full length gown. I've seen the basic strappy gown, the strapless dress, ones with cutouts and backless dresses.

Go upper level black-tie, if you can. Think not just style but the fabric it's made of. Don't wear something made of "nice" cotton, or a sundress. If you're on a budget, go with a bride's maid gown, which are at least made smooth fabrics. Think lace or velvet detailing. I would err on the side of caution with how much cleavage you show.

Closed toe heels or strappy heeled sandals. Feel free to bring out your best jewelry, or nice costume jewelry.

However fancy you get, I promise there's an officer's wife who will be wearing a dress practically made of gold or silver Christmas tree tinsel.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:53 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh, and if you feel confident enough to pull it off, now is the time to test out wearing gloves with your dress.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:55 PM on January 23, 2013

I went to one maybe 20 years ago, more like a ball-in-training because it was with a date who was in military school. I wore what was basically my prom dress (full length) with a fancy jacket and some nice gloves and did my hair. Folks who are in the military will be wearing dress formals and it's best to go classy even erring on the conservative/frumpy side as opposed to lovely and erring on the sexy/vampy side. The good news is that these events are often very formalized so you can just follow along with protocol most of the time. Here are some Flickr photos of military balls, you can get an idea of what people are wearing nowadays.
posted by jessamyn at 10:00 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have attended a few in DC and a few here in the Midwest. These events can vary a bit by service; I've been to Navy and Army events.

First, here's another vote for a ball gown. I have seen some cocktail dresses but the vast majority of ladies are in long dresses. Don't worry, you don't need to be frumpy! If you know the general age/rank distribution at your particular ball that can help with dress selection; Mr. Scarnato and I are in our early 30s but tend to be among the younger attendees. Because we already look fairly young, I try to avoid dresses that look too "prom-y" so I steer clear of big huge frothy skirts and very low cuts.

Find shoes you are comfortable standing in for long periods of time. There will be a cocktail hour to start, and at some point during that you'll go through the receiving line. Once you get inside to your table, you will continue to stand as the flags come in. Depending on the particular ceremony, you may need to stand a few more times. (Oh so also, get your dress hemmed to work with your shoes and not be too long. Mine was too long this year and I kept catching it under my chair leg during all the standing and sitting.)

If you really want to nerd out, find the ceremony manual for the service that is holding this ball. For example, the Army manual gives a general outline of everything that happens and how it works, from the receiving line to the toasts. I found that helpful before attending my first event.

Extra points if you learn the lyrics to the service's song so that you can sing along, because I guarantee you it will be sung. Sometimes the lyrics are provided in the program but sometimes they are not.

Overall guideline: Don't embarrass your service member or DOD civilian. While it's social, it's also work and anything crazy that happens will be office conversation the next week. Be friendly, make conversation (but not political or religious), don't get stupid drunk, pay attention (or at least look like it) and participate in the ceremonial parts.
posted by scarnato at 11:01 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you pick any formal floor length gown on Rent the Runway, you are likely to see pictures of real women dressed for military balls (and you can cheaply steal their whole outfit in one click)
posted by animalrainbow at 11:12 PM on January 23, 2013

+1 on the comfortable shoes thing. If you aren't comfortable recognizing ranks from the sleeve stripes, call people Sir or Ma'am; you really do not want to goof someone's rank or mix services and call a Senior Chief a Sergeant.
posted by lyra4 at 4:09 AM on January 24, 2013

Military Ball is my favorite part of the Army, I love going every year with my husband. Floor length dresses are the norm, although in recent years we've been seeing a few more cocktail dresses, some units will turn away inappropriately dressed people, so now is not the time to see if you can get away with a cocktail dress, follow tradition and wear a formal gown.

Usually the night goes like this:

-Cocktail hour
-Receiving line, this is where you will meet the cadre from your dates unit and the speakers for the night. If you're wearing gloves with your dress proper glove protocol includes removing the right glove and holding it in the left hand while meeting other guests. The first person in this line is the receiver and you don't shake their hand, you tell them your name and they introduce you to the line. You will be in front of your date in the line but if you're shy he can introduce you to the receiver.
-Dinner hour, yay dinner! Introduce yourself to those at your table but it's considered impolite to be seated before everyone has come through the line, so standing about and chatting politely with those at your table is the norm. There will be a tribute to the colors and the setting of the table for lost soldiers, just do what everyone else does.
-Dancing and drinks- after dinner the dance floor opens up and so does the bar, yay! Have fun and don't get stupid.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 4:34 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: For reference, here is a chart listing which civilian attire is equivalent to various military uniforms. Find out which uniform will be required for the event, then match accordingly.
posted by illenion at 8:10 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ball Gown! You're so lucky, you can go get some gorgeous gowns that are marked down from the holidays.

If your hair is long, spring for an updo, how often do you get to get dressed up like this?

Comfy, but elegant shoes. I used to wear Daniel Green Brocade slippers. Lots of complements and....SLIPPERS! (I had this exact pair, in ivory and gold, and I bought them in the '90s. I sure wish they still made them....)

There will be pictures.

When my folks were in Asia, my mom had a Hanbok made in Korea in bright fuchia. She wore that to a Marine Ball and got oodles of compliments.

Have a wonderful time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:54 AM on January 24, 2013

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