Sitting on the couch reading a book, my service member walked into the living room, cocked his head to the side and asked, “So you want to go to a military ball with me?”
I had little knowledge about military ball etiquette or how to find a military ball dress, but I knew instantly that I wanted to go.
I mean, service member in uniform? How can you not?!
On the inside I was screaming like a middle school girl at a Bieber concert, but on the outside, I was acting all calm, cool and totally-got-it-together-twenty-something lady.
I looked directly at him and responded, “Sure babe,” then promptly returned to “reading” my book. But instead of reading, I started to daydream about what my first military ball experience would be like.
Then there was trouble.
I didn’t know a thing about military ball traditions, etiquette, what to wear, or how to interact with other service members. Instead of learning the basics, I opted for a thing I love to call “trial by fire.”
And four years later, I’m still making military ball etiquette mistakes. At the most recent ball my husband and I attended, my dress was again too short.
Best military ball etiquette basics.
I’m finally getting my act together and learning the basics of ball etiquette, and whether you are a military wife or a military girlfriend, hopefully I am helping you do exactly the same. Let’s break it down category-by-category to make it simple.
- Keep the dress floor length if possible. Just below the knee is considered acceptable, but floor length is better.
- Cover as much skin as your grandma would appreciate.
- Avoid anything super flashy. Remember the ball isn’t about garnering all the attention towards yourself.
- Consider what your service member is wearing when choosing your dress.
- Wear something that fits your body well. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to ooze out of your dress, nor swim in it.
- Choose a dress that is suits your age, meaning don’t wear something meant for high school prom.
- At the start of the evening there is the presentation of Colors.
- Stop what you are doing.
- Place your right hand over your heart.
- Stand and follow the flag when it comes in and then face the flag.
- Pace yourself. Avoid over doing it.
- Be polite. Please, thank you, etc.
- Instead of stressing over how to address other service members, simply ask your service member how he / she would like you to address others. You can also introduce yourself and then wait and listen to how others introduce themselves to you. Then refer to them how they introduced themselves.
- Leave drinks and cellphones at your table.
- Walk in front of your service member.
- Wait for your service member to introduce you to the first person, the adjutant or announcer.
- After getting introduced to the announcer, you will start shaking hands as you are introduced to the others in the receiving line. Make very simple small talk such as, “Nice to meet you” or “Good evening.”
- If someone gets your name wrong, don’t hesitate to correct them.
- Once seated, place your napkin on your lap.
- Don’t play musical chairs. You will have plenty of time to mingle with others after the dinner hour.
- Always take silverware from the outside in.
- There are usually several courses, but sometimes there is a buffet. Plan for either.
- Waiters and waitresses serve on the right and take from the left.
- When you are finished with a course, set your silverware on the upper right or left corner of your plate. This will signal your server you are finished.
- Avoid shoveling food. Having a snack before the ball to avoid feeling starved.
- Keep elbows off the table and if you need to rest your arms on the table, use your forearm as a rule of thumb.
Traditions, ceremonies and speeches.
As the dinner hour winds down or immediately after, there are usually several traditions speeches and ceremonies.
- Most military balls have a program. This will help you know what to expect.
- Keep cell phones off and avoid side chatter during this time. Even if you are super bored, remember your behavior is a reflection of your service member.
- Check before snapping pictures to make sure it’s okay at your particular ball.
- Because each branch is different, watch what others are doing and model after them. If you are respectful, attempt to follow along and make an effort, no one will give you a hard time about not doing everything perfectly.
Post dinner hour.
- The dance floor will open after dinner and ceremonies are complete.
- Avoid breakdancing, twerking or getting low. Have fun dancing, but know this is a formal event not a club in downtown LA.
- Take pictures with your own camera and be sure to head over to get a few shots with the photographer.
- Be mindful of consuming too many drinks.
- Have a safe way to get home.
More posts on military ball etiquette.
- 5 things to know before attending a military ball
- What not to do at a military ball
- How to have fun at a military ball when you don’t know anyone
- 9 Things you’re guaranteed to see at a military ball
Want more on military life?
- The Pros and Cons of Attending a Military Ball
- 7 Military Ball Must-Haves That Aren’t a Dress
- How to Find Stunning Military Ball Dresses Under 100 Dollars
- The Real Reason Being a Military Wife is So Hard