Everything You Wish You Knew Before Your First Ball

What I wish I'd Known Before My First Military Ball

Ever been that girlfriend nervously googling “what to wear to a military ball?” Because I have. Guilty as charged. But that was several years ago, and honestly, the internet pretty much failed me. I showed up totally clueless… but there’s no reason you have to. We polled our readers for their best tips and everything you need to know before you head to a military ball – first, second, or seventeenth.

Everything we wish we had known before our first military ball - tips from other military girlfriends and spouses

What to Wear

“Think radiant and beautiful versus hot (save hot for a date).” – Rachele

“As a “command spouse”– as long as we don’t see your arse or your boobs, wear what you want and what you can afford. If you have a prom dress that’s appropriate, wear it. If you can’t bend over and touch your toes without something falling out– not for the ball. You would be surprised how much most command spouses really don’t care if you are wearing a knee length dress, rather than floor length gown. Have a great time!!!” – Jodi

“Wear something YOU feel beautiful in.” – Jennifer

“And for the younger spouses – Military Balls are not the same as Senior Prom.” – Kay

“Wear what you can afford, if it’s a prom dress, senior spouses can get over it. Use the bend over test.” – Jodi

“The nice thing about PCSing it’s that all your dresses are brand new again. My civilian friends complain that they pay $$ for a dress to just wear once, not us.” – Susanne

“I have had a hard time this go round… I’m pregnant! But I found a lovely dress with tons of stretch (just in case) and I’m wearing flats. I’m sure someone will judge me. I just don’t care. I will represent my husband and we will have a grand time! It’s all about being true to yourself and your husband. (And hopefully keeping it classy!)” – Melissa

“Any woman who goes to a ball when 8 months pregnant can wear whatever she wants, IMO, from a catsuit to a toga.” – Magnolia

We actually ran a humorous post on What Not to Wear to a Military Ball┬ál that’s worth a read if you still have any questions (or just want a laugh; I wrote it, and it really is tongue-in-cheek), and we also have a follow-up with some specific suggestions if you are looking for What TO Wear to a Military Ball.

During the Ceremony

Because yes, there’s going to be a ceremony. And yes, you should find the lady’s room first. Unless, of course, you’re pregnant. Then every mom there understands.

“Best part of being pregnant? No side eye if you sneak to the bathroom during the speeches.” – Nicole

“I still forget not to take a drink through the receiving line (easier to remember when I’m in the line and need both hands free–LOL), and ladies first through the receiving line (at least that’s how the Army does it). Also, if you have gold star families in attendance, please take the time to speak to them. It does them a world of good to know that they (and their lost soldier) are appreciated and remembered.” – Magnolia

“Just don’t get drunk. During the toasts, just take a sip, not a gulp. If you don’t drink, ask if there is something else–when I did they always gave me ice tea or ginger ale.” – Nancy

“Please for the love of god, if you have to do it then save the trash dancing for after the guest of honor has gone home!” – Brenna

“Had a great friend go into labor during the cake ceremony at the Marine Corp Ball. As a strong military wife, she kept standing. Delivered 2 hours later, hair still in the updo!! Best ball ever!” – Karin

After Hours + After Parties

“Save the serious drinking for the bar.” – Mary

“There’s a reason a lot of these are in hotels! Don’t drink and drive!” – Sarah

“Bring flip flops to change into for the ride home!” – Becky

“Party it up later. It’s more fun when you don’t have to worry about what the boss is thinking!” – Natalie

“Two words: After party. Not in front of command!” – Brynn

What would you add to the list? What do you wish you had known before your first ball?

About the Author

Raleigh Duttweiler
Raleigh Duttweiler is a writer and social media expert living just outside the gates of MacDill in sunny Saint Petersburg, Florida. A Marine Corps wife, she has navigated the stress of Active Duty moves, trainings, and deployments, and now that her family has transitioned to the Reserves, she's experiencing the "weekend warrior" side of military life. (NB: It's not quite as part-time as advertised.) When not writing about benefits and military families, Raleigh posts here about truly life-altering, important issues like What Not to Wear to a Military Ball (visible thongs), Military Halloween Costumes We Love to Hate (ones that generally resemble both military uniforms AND thongs), and how to pack awesome care packages. She is passionate about spouse employment, higher education, and helping families navigate the often-bumpy transition back into civilian life. Raleigh also manages the SpouseBUZZ and Military.com Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest pages, so be sure to say hi!
  • Have fun! My husband and I just attended what we both agree was the best military function ever. It was a formal dinner to celebrate the end of the brigade’s mission. We went to the on post bar for an after party and even the commander made an appearance and had a great time with us. It was refreshing to see everyone hanging out and just being themselves.

  • Guest

    if you are on the planning committee invest in a decent DJ. The one at our last ball sucked. He played hard core rap and heavy metal. Make sure you have a good mix of genres and not just dance music for younger people.

  • Lisa

    So glad this was up, this year is my first ball. So nervous.

  • Denise W

    Relax and have fun! When in doubt, SMILE AND NOD. You don’t need an expensive dress or hairstyle, a smile goes a lot further.

  • tabitha

    What if your spouse won’t take you to a ball? We’ve been happily married 5 years and two kids later he has not invited me to such an event. I’m still hoping he might someday. I’ve saw so many of my friends and family go to these events and even with their new boyfriends ot strangers. I feel so out of the loop.

    • jojo613

      Generally, balls have limited tickets, so he may not be able to get tickets to the ball. I know that we have been AD for 17 years. Besides the Academy balls during Ring Dance and Graduation for the most part the balls have been to are usually just brass and senior enlisted, then they release the tickets to the “general” population…

  • zedvector

    Ladies, I always amazed that it’s all about the dress! My wife is the soldier and she loves the ball dresses. One year, she fell in love with a dress that showed off her figure a bit too much. No one knew what a figure she had and as I saw the eyes pop out of her fellow soldiers heads, I had to grin, hide my opinion and reassure her she looked great. I did not want to break her heart because she felt so pretty and happy. I kept a loving level head, but I had to steer her clear of certain circles and we spent most of our time at our table and left early. Yes ladies, guys can get “headaches” too! The next year I refereed to it as the “boob dress” as she got it out again. I took out the pictures and she never said a word. Don’t put your spouse in that position ladies. Jacey, I have also heard conversations disrespecting command, spouses confronting others because they finally had the chance and other inappropriate subjects. It’s not the time to resolve issues, just be the classy king/ queen and have fun!

  • Trista

    Don’t wear the same shoes a stripper would wear. You know the type; they’re usually sold at places like Frederick’s and other similar stores. If we can see your thong, your dress is too tight. If you can’t dance because your boobs will pop out–either don’t dance, or reconsider your dress. If you’re having to pull your dress down when you walk–it’s too short, this isn’t a club. Oh, and speaking as a veteran myself…. don’t cross a woman in uniform. Literally and figuratively. She is NOT one of your girls and contrary to most women’s beliefs–they don’t want your man. So, stop trying to compete.

  • Nancy C

    If you don’t want to buy new, or wear old…opt to rent at https://www.renttherunway.com/. After 32 years in DOD, most at HQMC this became essential.