What to Wear to a Military Ball (Hint: Class)

Military service members and their spouses, significant others, and dates look forward to the annual military ball. Each service branch usually holds a formal ball once a year. Here in Florida, service and service support organizations have held them in Pensacola and elsewhere. Service support organizations hold balls to celebrate active duty service members, veterans, or the “birthday” of a service branch like the navy or marine corps. Official military birthday or other balls observe service traditions and require some homework on proper etiquette and dress.

Service members wear dress uniforms, while male guests typically wear dark suits or tuxedos. Women who aren’t in uniform typically choose elegant evening gowns. While it may be tempting to use the event as an excuse to strut the latest red carpet look, these events observe military tradition and decorum. It’s acceptable to give a nod to current evening dress trends, but advisable to adapt those trends to stay on the more covered-up, conservative end of the ball gown spectrum. If you’ll be attending, check with your service member and find out if there are specific guidelines. Here are some additional pointers about what to wear to a military ball.

Keep It Classy

A military ball is the most formal event you’re likely to attend outside of an evening wedding or debutante ball. It’s not the time for a skin-tight or backless dress, deep plunging necklines, or a thigh-high slit. Your dress should be elegant and classy. A nice neckline with a little cleavage is OK, but if you’re going to show some skin, emphasize the “some.” As in, a little. Floor-length dresses are traditional and expected. Tea- or knee-length dresses are permissible, but nothing shorter. Your dress should cover your backside completely no matter how you move. Save the strapless look for a different event.

The Ball Is a Professional Event for Your Service Member

This event celebrates military history, service, sacrifice, and tradition. You will be a guest in an honored house and should show respect. Remember that while it is fun and exciting to dress up and dance, the event is not about you or your dress—it is about your service member’s profession. You’re a supporting player there to appreciate and honor that profession.

Be an Adult About It

This is not a second-chance prom. Prom dresses are for high school kids. A military ball is a decidedly grown-up event. There will be dinner, drinks, and dancing, so brush up on your table manners, watch your alcohol consumption, and leave the club moves at the club.

Sparkle Subtly

A few sequins or beads are fine as long as they don’t turn you into a human disco ball. The same is true for jewelry—leave the giant chandeliers at home and opt for something pretty but understated.

Choose a Flattering Color

The color choices in evening and ball gowns have expanded, and you’re free to choose something that flatters your hair and skin tone. However, a military ball is not the right occasion to go all-in on the neon trend. If you can carry off yellow or tangerine, that’s OK as long as it doesn’t violate regulations for the event. Just stay out of the screaming end of the spectrum.

Now that you have a better idea of what to wear to a military ball, start shopping. Your chosen gown might need alterations, and you’ll want to leave plenty of time to find the right shoes and accessories to go with it. Enjoy the event and the opportunity to express gratitude to service members and veterans by attending their military ball.

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