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    The Best Do’s and Don'ts of Going to Your First Military Ball

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    The first Pumpkin Spice Lattes have been consumed and a few leaves have fallen, which can only mean the holiday season is going to be here, poof!, in no time.

    Not only are there holiday parties to attend, but the colder months are prime time for military balls and formals.

    For those of you new to the scene, the invitation will likely conjure up feelings of excitement and intimidation about the entire process of attending. Don’t stress; your only job is to be the most informed and well-behaved guest you can be. Add the expectation that one of life’s humorous little mishaps will make an appearance sometime during the evening, and take the whole night in stride!

    Allow yourself plenty of time for prep, and there'll be no need to worry. MilitaryByOwner has the most important Dos and Don’ts covered for attending a formal military ball.

    Do's and Don'ts of Attending Your First Military Ball

    Do's for Attending a Military Ball


    • Respond to the invitation as quickly as possible. Someone is hard at work planning this event, and payment is crucial to make the numbers of guests and amount of food and drinks coincide. Do be warned—balls tend to have expensive ticket prices. Sending in payment early often earns discounted prices.
    • Think about what style of formal wear you’d like to try as soon as you commit to the ball. You need time for shopping, alterations, or swapping with friends. To avoid embarrassing snafus or the annoyances of ill-fitting attire, make sure the outfit fits correctly and is not too tight or overly large.
    • Ladies, it’s expected that floor length gowns are the go-to, but below the knee cocktail dresses that lean toward formality are acceptable. Gentleman, a tuxedo is appropriate, as are dark suits with bow ties. Although these are standard dress codes, there is often a wide variety of interpretations on display.
    • Prepare yourself for A LOT of small talk. It starts in the receiving line and continues through the night as your spouse introduces you to more people than you’ll ever remember. Leave purses, gloves, and phones at your table. They’ll get in the way of shaking hands and greeting other guests. It’s also wise to discuss with your service member the best way to refer to people you meet: by rank, first name, etc.
    • Brush up on etiquette. Often, these social rules are a worry regarding official dining events. When in doubt, Emily Post never fails. She’ll have you comfortable with a formal place setting and even has a military protocol collection of advice.
    • Two tried and true cheats to fake it: use the utensils placed on the outside of the lineup of utensils first, and work inside toward the plate as the meal progresses. Also, remember “BMW” and visualize the shape of a letter V. Bread, Meal, Wine (or water), from left to right. This is the order of your place setting.
    • Know your audience. Attendees are your spouse’s coworkers, subordinates, and superiors. Although there is room to be yourself, plus a bit of extra charm, there isn’t room on the dance floor to be the star of the “Look at Me!” show.
    • Pack a small clutch of essentials, including ballet flats or shoes to change into as the night gets long.
    • Last, but not least, do watch the room for social cues. For example, if no one is eating at your table, it’s because not everyone has been served, or the head of the table hasn’t begun to eat. In general, doing what everyone else is doing is usually going to work.

    Do's and Don'ts of Attending Your First Military Ball

    Now, there are plenty of Don’ts that apply to a military ball, but most are really common sense that mannerly individuals probably already know. But, a few of these tips might be new to you because they are event specific.

    Don’ts for Attending a Military Ball


    • Look for childcare at the last minute. A lot of money and effort goes to waste if you’ve forgotten to schedule a sitter. Take advantage of mandatory date night and consider making the ball an overnight getaway for you and your spouse.
    • Ignore veteran ball-goer expertise. As part of the preparation process, ask questions of those who have attend many of these events. Most are happy to offer guidance.
    • Leave the bartender hanging. Even if the cocktails are served from a “Cash Bar,” remember to tip your bartender; it’s how they earn a living.
    • Forgo the proper respect and remembrance for the ceremony portions of the ball. Stand for the National Anthem and acknowledge the service members who have given their lives or are missing. They are usually represented by a small table with a complete dinner setting and an empty chair in their honor.
    • Forget the military world is small, especially as the career grows longer. Relaying a humorous story or a snarky remark about a third party to a person you’ve just met puts you and your spouse in a very awkward situation if they happen to have a friendship with the object of your story.
    • Save your calories for the evening’s hors d'oeuvres and meal. Eat before you arrive. The meal is often served late into the night after cocktail hour and several speakers. If you don’t eat, you’ll be starving and possibly tipsy, which isn’t a great combination at a military function.
    • Rearrange carefully choreographed place cards. They were set specifically, especially if there is a head of the table or distinguished guest. There is be plenty of time to mingle before and after the meal. Changing seats only shows immaturity in that you cannot handle introducing yourself and conversing with someone new.
    • Let yourselves be the last couple to leave. Enjoy the festivities, but be conscientious of others’ time. If your spouse happens to be of higher rank with many of his or her subordinates attending, stay for only a few dances and then depart. Everyone relaxes a bit more when the boss is gone.
    • Be intimidated. Accidental disasters of all kinds do occur, and if not caused by too much alcohol consumption, then, c'est la vie! No one is perfect. There will be plenty of other balls to enjoy in the future.

    Do's and Don'ts of Attending Your First Military Ball

    These Do’s and Don’ts explain plenty of situations you’re likely to encounter, but not all. After attending one to get a feel of how things are done, you’ll know better for the next time. Common sense and kindness more often than not works in any situation you are unsure of.

    Main photo via Presidio of Monterey Flickr. 

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    Dawn M. Smith


    Dawn M. Smith

    Dawn is a real estate and military life writer who has a serious HGTV habit. When she is not writing, her teen daughter, Army husband, and golden retriever keep her busy through chauffeur duties, travel planning, and long dog walks. Dawn is pleased to share her experiences with MilitaryByOwner readers who are hoping to simplify military family journeys of all kinds. Follow Dawn on Pinterest for more ideas and resources and visit her site at Dawn M. Smith Custom Content Creation.

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