Military Ball etiquette–What to wear, say and do

The new year typically brings the onset of military ball’s and with it, stress! If your husband is anything like mine, he often fails to provide the type of information women need when preparing to attend a formal event–especially if you’ve never attended a military event before.  No worries! I’m here to break it down for you. As a servicemember AND the wife of an officer, I have some insider tips that I’m certain will ease your anxiety and make the event an enjoyable one!

Military ball etiquette--what to wear, say and do
Military ball etiquette–what to wear, say and do

What to Wear

A Military Ball is NOT prom

  • Be very careful about showing too much skin in all the wrong places. Some military branches are more strict than others about appearance but I have known couples who were asked to leave due to their inappropriate attire. This can have a negative effect on your spouse too, who may be given a counseling statement or assigned additional duties.
  • Dress Classy
    • Don’t wear anything sheer.
    • Be mindful of slits that reach your butt.
    • Cleavage is a wonderful thing but if you’re offering a full frontal…it might not be a good choice.
    • has beautiful formal wear for under $50. Check out some of their dresses here.
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How to Act

A military Ball is NOT entertainment…it’s tradition.

  • There are lots of SOPs (standard operating procedures) surrounding these events and the servicemembers conduct rehearsals and spend weeks, if not months, preparing the details of these events.
  • Remember, these events are meant to honor the service of your spouse and the traditions of the military branch for which they serve. Yes, it’s fun, but be respectful and be mindful of why your significant other is required to attend.
  • Alcohol can become a cause for concern. This is not the type of event where you should become extremely intoxicated and pass out on the dance floor. Sip, don’t chug, and when you’re reaching your limit, just stop. You can always continue the party elsewhere.
    • Speaking of continuing the party, this should happen in your room. There’s a reason why military ball’s are often held at hotels. DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE!


The Receiving Line

  • Dates should walk in front of their servicemember while in the receiving line.
  • The servicemember should introduce you to the first person in the line, and then introduce himself/herself.
  • After the initial introduction, you simply have to proceed up the line because the officers and VIPs receiving you will be continuing the introductions for you.
    • For example, the servicemember introduces both of you to the first person in the line, CPT Joe Smo. CPT Joe Smo then introduces both of you to the next receiver in the line and so on and so forth.
    • If the receivers fail to hear your names or simply stop saying them, the servicemember can restate your names as you move down the line.
  • After the formal event and dinner, feel free to hit the dance floor.
    • A word of caution…don’t get crazy and embarrass yourself or your servicemember. Remember, you’re not at a club, you’re attending a formal military event.

Final tip

If at any time you don’t know what to do, just look around and mimic what others are doing. Expect the Chaplain to say grace before the meal, expect there to be a cash bar and be prepared to tip the bartender, and expect your servicemember to mingle with their friends and colleagues.


Have any tips of your own to share? Please post them below!


I'm a fast-talking high school English teacher, mother of two boys (the 2nd due in March), wife to an Army Lt., and photo-journalist for the Army Reserves. I'm slightly addicted to office supplies and I easily get carried away with projects and ideas; especially for the playroom and my classroom.

14 thoughts on “Military Ball etiquette–What to wear, say and do

  • February 9, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    I have never had the occasion to attend a military ball but I imagine these would be very helpful tips for someone attending for the first time.

  • February 9, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    My Brother in Law is a serving officer and I can see how this military ball etiquette, what to wear, say and do could be a life saver and absolutely useful for his new wife. Cheers for sharing.

    • February 10, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks for reading Julie! You’d be surprised how many girlfriends and wives are freaked out because they don’t know what to wear to these events. Husbands aren’t exactly forthcoming with this kind of information.

  • February 10, 2016 at 10:11 am

    I enjoyed reading this, I don’t have a husband in military but I love learning about stuff like this
    Idaintyit recently posted…Rise and shineMy Profile

  • February 10, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Frankly, I think these excellent tips should apply to all who attend formal events. It’s just terrible when people show up for a formal event and dress/act like they are in a night club.

    • February 10, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Excellent point Elizabeth. We hope that age and maturity start to sway the dress code, but now always.

  • February 19, 2016 at 4:59 am

    I’m a retired Navy Flagwriter and enjoyed attended dozens of these for various branches of the military. Here’s a few ideas that might help:

    — This is not an opportunity to air your personal political opinions.
    — There will be a LOT of speeches and ceremony. Try to sit up straight and not act bored.
    — It’s a conservative audience who works for the government/Commander in Chief – don’t bad mouth the “Boss” regardless of what you hear around you.
    — It’s usually being attended for the service member to get “face time” – make sure that their “face” (and yours) is ALWAYS presenting one of dignity, charm and class.
    — Everyone has cell phones taking photos – you maybe on someone else’s post. Make sure if it’s on the news you won’t be mortified.
    — See this as an opportunity to meet some amazing people. A lot of them truly are heroes and you may have, or will see them on CNN, or 60 Minutes.

    You CAN do this so make it look like you’re having a good time and try to actually HAVE a good time. Also, remind yourself and your escort that they can make it up to you afterwards – right? ;o)

    • February 20, 2016 at 1:28 am

      Oh my, excellent points JoAnn!! Thank you so much for adding these to the list!

  • June 22, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Thank you for the informative post! I will be attending my first military ball shortly after our wedding, and while I am not worried about “behaving myself” I am worried about what to wear. I have a few very tasteful prom dresses that I would like to wear, but I am worried they may be too formal. Where are the lines between not formal enough, and overly formal?

    • July 8, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      It can be tricky trying not to appear as if you’re headed to prom. Try not to look like you’re walking the red carpet though.

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