Thank you to our guest blogger, Sarah Peachey!
Across all military branches, there is one event that gets the ladies especially excited — The Military Ball. Whether it’s the chance to wear a beautiful gown, pick out sparkly jewelry or enjoy an evening of tradition, most military spouses and significant others are excited for Cinderella’s Ball (or so to speak).
I’ve been to four balls thus far. Two were in college and two were since my husband has been active duty. He’s an Army man, so I can really only speak to how the Army functions, but bear with me. These tips can work for anyone.
Earlier this year, at a post-deployment ball, I spotted “That Girl.” You may know what I’m talking about because there’s at least one at every function. This “That Girl” was wearing six-inch heels (no exaggeration) and with every other step, she was twisting an ankle. I thought she would be heading home barefoot and with a cast by the end of the evening based on the number of tumbles she took. Her dress was sparkly (not bad) and only just covered her booty (very bad, especially when dancing). And her bosom was showing in almost all its glory.
I always feel for “That Girl” because her date probably didn’t tell her what she should wear. She instead took her fashion sense from Roxy LeBlanc from “Army Wives” fame. You know, before the makeover. And we all know how accurate that television show is.
So how do you avoid being “That Girl?” Here are some do’s and don’ts I’ve come up with over the years.
- Do pay attention to the uniform your service member is wearing and base that on your own attire. If the service member is wearing a formal uniform, then you should be wearing formal attire. There is a significant debate amongst military spouses about what formal female attire really is. Does it mean floor length gowns? Does it mean you must have straps? It depends where you’re getting your information. Formal used to mean floor-length gowns, but that doesn’t really stand anymore. Feel free to wear a full-length gown, but don’t feel obligated. Something shorter that falls at the knee or below the knee is still formal (think tea-length dresses like what were popular in the 1950s). Just don’t go any higher than the knee — that’s semi-formal. For the male spouses, you’re easy. Make sure you’re in a tuxedo with a black tie.
- Don’t show too much skin. Really think about the dresses when you have them on. Does it show too much? If it’s showing some cleavage, which is OK, be sure your back is covered and your dress is long. If you’re showing some leg either with a slit or with a shorter dress, cover up the cleavage and the back. If you’re showing your back, don’t show your cleavage (that includes butt cleavage. Remember: Crack kills) and keep the dress long without a slit. If you show too much, no matter how long your dress is, it takes away from the formality. Don’t wear anything with cutouts on the side. You may have a great body, but it makes you look too young and, again, shows too much skin.
- Don’t get a dress that’s too tight. I’m all for wearing fitted gowns — that’s my style and I normally avoid draped gowns. There, however, is a difference between fitted and tight. I can dance, sit down and move in a fitted gown. Something tight will restrict you from doing any of that. You also don’t want people to see bulging seams. When trying on dresses, make sure you sit and move in them. If it’s too tight and the size you normally wear, go up a size. No one knows what size it is, but everyone will know if a dress is too tight.
- Do avoid prom style dresses. There are a few problems with buying dresses meant for a prom. First, it won’t fit you if you’re curvy or womanly. Junior’s dresses simply aren’t designed for curvy bodies unless you look in plus size, but then it may not fit you in other areas. Second, you’ll look like you’re at the wrong event. Prom dresses make any woman look too young, no matter how great her body. You can find great dresses in formal sections of department stores, but stay away from the Junior’s department.
- Do experiment with color. Too often at balls you see everyone in black dresses. Black is not the only formal color — you can wear almost anything. Some people will say that muted colors are best, but it’s not a rule within any branch. I’ve seen every color of the rainbow. As long as the dress fits, doesn’t show too much skin and is formal, you’re in the clear. I do recommend jewel tones since they work with almost every uniform out there. I don’t like to clash.
- Do rent dresses or buy them on sale. There’s really no reason to shell out hundreds of dollars for a dress. You can buy great dresses off sale racks, at consignment shops or in thrift stores. Since they’re normally only worn for one night, why spend tons of money? Used dresses are in just as good of shape as new dresses. If you don’t want to wear something secondhand and would love a designer dress, try out Rent the Runway (www.renttherunway.com). You can choose from more than 160 designers available for rent during your needed time frame to get a dress you love for 10-15% of the retail price. You have to “order” your dress about a week in advance and you’ll receive it 4-8 days before the event. You only get it for a few days, so don’t forget to return it! They send two sizes, just in case, and you can return it in your mailbox. You don’t even have to dry clean it! Rent the Runway is offering a 25% discount off the rental price to military spouses. Just use the code MILITARY25when checking out. Pass it on to your friends!
- Don’t worry about using the correct silverware. Really, the service members are used to eating in much less formal settings, so they probably don’t use the correct silverware themselves. Most tables are set simply, but I’ve been to some more formal balls where there is a lot more silverware. Just pick one and use it. No one is going to judge you.
- Do pay attention during the traditional areas of the event. This is the most important takeaway for proper Ball etiquette. The traditional things are the main event, so pay attention. Stand and follow the flag when it comes in, put your hand over your heart for the National Anthem, stand and read the correct responses for toasts. If you aren’t sure how to do some things, ask someone at your table or simply remain quiet during the toasts.
- Do pay attention to how much you drink (if you’re of age). If you want to drink at the event, feel free! Just monitor how much you’re taking in. With dim lights and loud music toward the end of the night, you may not realize you’re that drunk. Space out each drink with a glass or bottle of water. You can enjoy drinking, but including water will prevent a hangover and embarrassing mistakes. If you simply must have some of the grog (the combination of various types of alcohol that tells the unit’s history), only have a small amount. I’ve seen people drink the grog all evening and they pay for it in the morning. Or, like our most recent ball, the tumble into the grog table and almost put the whole thing on the floor. People took photos, so you can imagine the embarrassment the next morning.
- Don’t sneak drinks if you’re underage. That’s pretty self-explanatory. If you’re caught, you could potentially shut down the bar access for everyone.
- Do ask questions if you don’t understand something. Every branch is different, every branch within each branch is different, and every unit is different. They don’t all have the same level of formality. I’ve been to balls with a receiving line (we’ll get to that next) and without one. If you want to find out more, just ask a friend who has been a part of the unit and attended a function before.
- Do understand how a receiving line works. Here’s how the receiving line works (remember, my husband’s Army, so I’ll use their lingo. Just insert the proper branch terms yourself). The Squadron/Battalion commander, the Command Sergeant Major, their spouses and any dignitaries and their spouses stand in a line at the entrance to the ballroom. A soldier (let’s call him Person A) stands at the beginning of the line. All the guests and their spouses line up with your service member providing both your name and his own to Person A. The spouse leads the way down the receiving line ahead of the service member. Person A, like in “Whisper down the Lane,” will pass your name down the line, so your names are only given to Person A. You will shake each person’s hand down the line making very brief small talk. Don’t begin any conversations at this time because there are far too many people to go through the line. Save any discussions for later. If you’re worried about doing it wrong, try to stand further back in the line so you can watch others go through. That’s what I did at my first ball. But trust me, it’s simple.
- Do remember that you’re representing your service member. For that reason, try to rein in your behavior. Remember, your service member still has a job to do and must continue formalities through the evening. Don’t be outlandishly drunk. Don’t dance inappropriately.
- Have fun! Enjoy your time there and enjoy seeing your spouse dressed up in his (or her) fancy uniform. Take pictures, absorb the traditions of the evening, laugh and dance your heart out.
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Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from the northeast, living in the Southwest near Fort Huachuca, AZ with her husband, two furbabies and infant daughter. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning two state awards for her work, and now freelances for military spouse support sites. She is an active blogger on MilitaryOneClick and her blog, “Stetsons, Spurs and Stilettos.” She enjoys spending her days on the shooting range or at home with a good book. She considers herself a bookworm, pianist, wine enthusiast and a
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