MilSpouse Rules for Military Balls


We tend not to go to many work functions in our house, mainly because my husband is rarely around, and when he is he prefers it to be family time. But there is one function that we don’t even discuss whether or not we will be attending (short of whether or not he’ll be around).

I’d let y’all guess what it is but I’m sure other Marine Corps families don’t even need two guesses to figure it out.  It’s the birthday ball.

Ah, the birthday ball. I know some military wives who LOVE the ball. I’m not sure if I’d put myself in that category, but as the years tick by I find myself appreciating it more and more.  It’s a chance to see my husband in a uniform other than a flight suit (although there really is no uniform better than a flight suit). It’s nice to see the guys my husband spends the majority of his life with. And as we hit the 10 year mark at war, it’s a chance to remember what we are a part of, to honor the service of all Marines, past and present, and to remember those who have sacrificed.

And it’s certainly some great people watching.

Now, I’m hardly a fashionista or etiquette expert, but I’d like to pass on some of the things I’ve observed in the last decade or so of balls. And please, add some of your own.

Here are my five military ball rules.

First thing is first — remember, this is a work function.  This basically encompasses everything.  I find it important to just keep this in the back of your mind as you pick out what you’re wearing, what you’re talking about, and how many times you hit the bar.  You will be hanging out with the people your spouse both works for and who work for him or her.

Please folks, cover up your boobs and wear a dress that’s long enough so that I’m not getting flashes of areas I don’t want to see.  Look, I’m not saying this from a jealous place (even though I’ve nursed three kids so I am jealous of you perky boobed people) but again, keeping in mind the above that this is a work function as well as a ball, dress appropriately.  I can’t tell you how many younger girls at last year’s balls had their boobs falling out all night. Dresses that might have worked at prom when you were 17 might not be considered appropriate for the ball.

The best example I can think of is from last year when a girl had a dress on that was a two piece.  Yup.  A two piece dress – a bra top and a long skirt.  Frankly, I’m shocked no one kicked her out. And she did get a lot of looks … but I don’t think that they were the looks she was going for.

I’m of the frame of mind that long dresses are good (though not your wedding dress, every year there is one or two that leaving you guessing) but so are shorter dresses.  Sure, it’s a ball, but cocktail dresses are also very much OK.  In fact, in the past two years I’ve just worn a simple black cocktail dress and I’ve fit in just fine.

Bottom line: wear what find comfortable. But keep in mind, if some bases and commissaries have dress codes, you should probably apply the same common sense to what you’re wearing at the ball.

Put your phone down!  We have our phones on us 24/7 these days. I personally feel naked without mine, and being as we have 3 kids at home, while we are at the ball I keep mine with me.  HOWEVER. DO NOT PLAY ON YOUR PHONE DURING THE CEREMONY.  In fact, don’t speak during the ceremony.  I uttered a word to my husband at the last ball because he put his chair on my purse and he looked at me like I had just farted in church.  Marines take the ceremony, even if it’s the same one every year, very seriously.  And rightly so.  Give the ceremony its due respect by putting your phone on silent and slapping that bad boy into your purse where it belongs.

Tweeting or texting in the line at the bar?  Totally OK.

Don’t get sloppy drunk.  I don’t know about your ball, but our ball is a drink fest.  The last few years have been an open bar and people pay a lot of money for tickets to keep that way.  My husband takes full advantage of it.  Me?  Not so much.

I tend to think that it’s best that I don’t get wasted in front of my husbands bosses.  My theory is that my husband is a Marine and is celebrating their birthday, and it’s probably a little different if he gets wasted then if I get falling down drunk.  Not to mention, I’ve seen spouses vomit on other Marines or get “down and dirty” on the dance floor. It’s just a hot mess. Last year someone did a striptease before her husband dragged her off the floor and, hopefully, home.

If you don’t hold your liquor well I think its best to air on the side of caution.

If your ball is held in a hotel think about getting a room.  We hold our ball about an hour away at a large hotel. My parents usually come into town to watch the kids and hubs and I head to a hotel for the night. It’s nice to get dressed there, after all blues are not so comfy on a longer car ride.  Not to mention that then there are no lines for the bathroom and if you are wearing a fuller dress you aren’t wrestling with it (or your spanx) in an itty-bitty toilet stall.  Not to mention, if you have an open bar at the ball staying in the hotel just makes sense.

If there is a hotel attached to your ball venue make sure to call and ask if they have a ball rate and block of rooms put aside. We were able to get an amazing rate for a great room.

Have fun!  Enjoy the night, the traditions, eat some cake and revel in being with your spouse or significant other and remember: don’t get so drunk you do something embarrassing.  YouTube is not where you want to be if you didn’t post the video yourself.

Edit: a reader shared this great guide to dressing for a military ball. Check it out!

What are your own ball tips or cautionary tales?

About the Author

Leanne {The Mrs.}

Leanne is the mother of three rambunctious little boys and the wife of a Marine. Her days are filled with laundry, shuttling kids around, helping with homework, volunteering, dodging nerf bullets, repeatedly putting the toilet seat down, and tripping over flight boots. It truly is the American Dream.

When not refereeing someone's fight, she blogs {all to infrequently lately} a journal of military wife life and the random thoughts of an often solo parent as The Mrs. at Trying Our Best. However, since discovering twitter two years ago she has become a twitter fiend @mrs_flyboy and is debating starting a 12 step program.

  • jacey_eckhart

    I love Birthday Balls because I love having a reason to own a gown. I also secretly love seeing all the really young couples doing the bored/drunk/ falling-out-of-her-gown thing. Because I have been there! Learned from that! Got the undergarments to prove it! The attendees I love the most are the older couples in which the spouse really has her act together–you have to in order to compete with all that gold braid. At one Navy Ball in DC, I saw a spouse in her 50s with this white spiky hair and a black, sleeveless turtlenecked gown. So classy. I still wanna be her when I grow up.

  • I absolutely agree that getting a hotel room is a fabulous idea. Having stayed at the venue for some balls and gone for the cab ride home to our own bed for others, I can say that we are able to relax into an enjoyable evening far more easily when we have a place to sleep just a few floors up rather than an awkward formally attired taxi trip away. A hotel room is worth shelling out for in our book.

  • I’m an image consultant and Army wife and I recently posted my Top five tips on how to dress for a military ball. Hope these come in handy!

  • Jenn

    I rented a dress from RTR for our Navy ball last fall and had a great experience with them. I spent no more, if not less, than I would of for a dress I would have purchased and this way I was able to wear a designer gown. So much fun! I also for the first time went and had my nails done and toenails painted (all with my 5 kiddos there coloring while I had them done). I felt so much more condfident in my own skin to have finally for the first time since having kids pampered myself some. I’ve found it helps to put a little money aside each month for the big event instead of trying to come up with it last minute or charging it all (tickets, dress, nails, hair, room) to a credit card. Great post!!

  • Barry Hope

    During the last two and a half years of my Army career I was stationed at SHAPE and my unit was always invited the the SACEUR’s Christmas reception. First off it is just the basic polite and courtious to RSVP. Each and everyone of us did this or had cleared the absents with our COL.
    Men wore business suits and the ladies could wear LBDs, pants suits or business dressess. The drinks were very controled but most of my unit either car pooled or like my next door buddy and I did, we flipped a coin,the winner drove and the loser got to bend the elbow.
    did anyone see the pictures of Mila Kunis, the actress at the Marine Birhtday Celibratiion she went to? She look very very nice, not like a starlet at all. Her dress had a nice neckline, I would say she was very modest.

    • Mila Kunis wore a perfectly lovely and appropriate gown — and she looked gorgeous.

  • Guest

    Just reading this brought back stressful memories. I grew up without any real contact with anyone in the military. About 4 months after I started dating my now fiance, he joined a new unit & found out they had an event that night. He called me up, put me in a panic to find a dress, shoes, etc. & be ready in about 4 hrs. I was visiting from several hrs away so I had no closet back up at all. Total stress!

    When we arrived I was dressed completely wrong for the event & felt even more stress. All the women were in floor length, formal gowns & I was in a little black dress — and since everything I was wearing was new I wasn’t comfortable or felt myself in at all. Wanted to die. Moral of the story: Always make sure to know the dress code. Needless to say I have ALWAYS been on my game for any military event since then, properly dressed with a smile and friendly, outgoing attitude.

  • jon

    And army husbands, wear a tuxedo. My wife would’ve killed me if I showed up in khakis and a Polo like the other 3 civilian guys in the room.

  • Nicole

    The sloppy drunk and ****** dress is an experience I unfortunately had with a friend of mine. She got wasted and we had the privilege of being seated at the CAPTAINS table…. We were at the Warriors Ball in Norfolk, Va in 2010. On the dance floor she started dirty dancing and telling everyone she had been a stripper. Her sister was with but had met a left tenant from the British royal navy so they left me alone with Pam the ENTIRE NIGHT. Basically they kept disappearing. She embarrassed me so much especially since she made us get up in the middle of the secnavs speech to use the bathroom. Then started walking back in and she was talking in LOUD volume. Needless to say I got yelled at by a co wife to take her home and I got stuck helping Pam try to walk down the sidewalk by myself with no offers of help from her sis and Martin. They walked with goo goo eyes to each other behind me and Pam. I was glad it was over…..

  • theotheronepercent

    My husband has been retired for 7 years now, so my USMC Balls were mostly before many of the gals here were born, but we always call the old stuck-by-her-man wife of 35 years as a “Marge”. 26 years of marriage and Im almost a Marge. At one Ball in California, they seated my husband next to a woman who was someones date…she was single, asian, beautiful, slim and a Physician. I felt like a pile of cottage cheese compared to her. I dont drink at all lest I get sick, so I am the designated driver. By the end of the night, the asian doctor was a drunken mess falling all over herself…I hent to the bathroom with her for fear she would drown in the toilet – yea, I was looking like the prize by the end of the night :D

  • Melissa Cervantes

    I would agree with all five rules you have written. The Birthday Ball is a day to celebrate our fine Marines and their long heritage of their existence. And the not talking during the ceremony is the one I cherish the most, that isn’t an everyday ceremony that takes time and planning to honor the Marine Corps in a great way. So people for the next one in Novemeber try and keep these rules in mind!!!!! make them as important at the ten commandments.

  • Bob

    The Marine Corps Ball is to pay respect to the Marine Corps on its brithday. IT IS A FORMAL EVENT. If a woman has to dress to show off her body to be excecpted dose not say much for her. Grace poise and respect for others in the Corps is what it is all about, remember the Corps is older that this nation. If a woman has to dress like above there is plenty of places that will hold the door open for her because and if someone (inclunding Marines) need to drink to feel good or more that is what the bars are for. I think young (new) Marines should be given a warning once of any dress or misconduct for themself or companion and if they don’t comply with customs and courtesy they will be black balled from any further function. Marines are responable for themself and who they bring. If they cannot show respect for the Corps on its brithday than why are they in it.

  • claudia


  • PukinBuzzard

    When the military personnel have to wear mess dress uniforms, long gowns for the female significant others and tuxedos for the males are proper. Full dress calls for corresponding cocktail style dresses & suits. Even if it’s an informal occasion, things like shorts, miniskirts, jeans, & t-shirts are inappropriate. I remember at my first Naval Ball, when I was a Midshipmen, one of the ‘guests’ wore a skirt so short that when her escort put his arms around her waist while dancing, it rode up high enough that the elastic on her underwear peeked out.

  • Christy

    Flight Suits are amazing! I love watching my husband leave our home in his. I see too many young girls dressing for attention at the Birthday Ball. I always pick a few dresses out and then have my husband select the one he likes best. He’s brutually honest and will tell me if it’s inappropriate. I also can’t stand the hooker platform heels girls are wearing. Nothing says inappropriate and classless like a pair of hooker/stripper shoes.

  • Joy

    I know it’s a little late, but i leave for the Marine Corps ball tomorrow morning and I already have my dress, I needed a dress for 3 functions this month so i picked one i could wear to all 3 however it is a little on the showing more off than i’d like side, when i got it i thought i could have the slit sown down so it wasn’t so high, unfortunately the way the dress was made i couldn’t have it sown…. i am not sure what to do now because i think the slit is too high.. and i don’t have any undergarments to put under it to make it look lower.. any suggestions???? also no money or time to buy a new one. :/

    • HeatherLGrant

      I would have done the same and bought one dress that fit the bill for all occasions. It sounds like if the slit is too high, it doesn’t actually meet the standards for any military type occasion though… How did you end up remedying the situation? Sorry I didn’t see this post until now, I am also new to the ‘Buzz. I would have suggested you have these kind of ruffles sewn onto the slit so as to cover more skin bearing area:
      I hope you ended up looking and feeling fantastic!

  • becky

    We have always had fun at The Ball. This year I was so disappointed at all the inappropriate disrespectful behavior and dancing by “the dates” 2 girls were so drunk they were bumping and grinding against each other on the dancefloor for everyone to see. Another girl had her dressed pulled up and and she was not wearing any panties. It was not the rear she was showing. I don’t understand how these Marines allow their dates to behave like this at such an important event.

  • HeatherLGrant

    I may be a little late on this subject, but I am just getting started on SpouseBuzz. I love the idea of giving women good, clear ideas of what is okay and what is def. not. A rule I like to remember is that if the dress is tight, it had better be long across the arms and legs. I wish more women understood that in today’s world, our options tend to be very form-fitting, yes, but they don’t also have to be low cut and leggy. A general rule for any occasion: other women don’t want to look at your breasts, no matter how proud you are of them. Yes, I have worn shirts that don’t allow for a bra, like my low back shirts, but they are very thick so as to hide any cold moments, they are long- sleeved, cover my midriff, and my entire chest. I wear these to girls’ night, not in front of other women’s husbands. Another tip- if your pants are painted on, your top had better be billoughy. Not only does it look better, but so does the military in general- remember, we all represent each other. We can be sexy by choosing one thing to accentuate, not all. Furthermore, I have had my own landlord leave the property because of see- thru or low cut tops. We are the women leading and protecting this country- lets expect more of ourselves and others. There is a time and place for everything, ladies…. If you are the friend of that one spouse who consistently dresses as though she is for hire, be the best kind of friend: the honest one, and share with her what might be much more flattering.

  • Lorraine

    what do 75 year old women whair

  • Kim

    This is my first year going to the ball and I am super nervous! This helped a bit, but I went dress shopping and I think I might have found the one I want to wear but… do you think it is ok to wear a black mermaid dress to the ball? I dont want to over do it and stand out.

  • J D

    Thank you so much! My boyfriend is bringing me to this year’s ball and it will be the first ball either of us will have ever gone to but he doesn’t need to worry about what he is going to wear really. This has been so much help. I didn’t want to do something bad or embarrassing since I am very new to all of the rights/wrongs and do’s/ don’ts of military outings.

    THANK YOU!!! :D

  • tylermccoy2015

    Hello I am a high school junior and my “girl” friend invited me to her JROTC military ball. I will not lie I am very nervous and have a few questions in general if you would be kind enough to answer. To begin should we, my friend and I ride together to the ball? Secondly, when introducing myself do I do first and last name, or would she introduce me? Thirdly, since I am a guest would a suit and tie suffice? Lastly what are the rules for toasting and table etiquette I don’t want to be too confused? Thank you in advance for your time and help

    • Momma Vee

      Both my daughters were in ROTC – 1 still is. They typically went with other cadets so they knew the protocol. If you drive it would be very appropriate to pick her up. Make sure to get her a corsage if she’s wearing a dress/nothing if they’re in dress uniform – the wrist type are great. Double dating with someone that does drive works also. It should be over at a very reasonable time. If she introduces you great. If not introduce yourself to her commanding officers the way you would to anyone. Look them in the eye and with a firm handshake clearly speak your name. Remember to reply to every comment with “Sir” – like yes Sir, no Sir or I’m having a great time Sir! A tux or a nice suit but keep it basic dark colors, no power ties here. As for dinner – if anyone is speaking give them respect and don’t talk, text or make jokes. If this is high school ROTC don’t worry about eating with the wrong fork – no one will notice! Just go and have a great time. Giving the choice between mil ball and prom my girls would pick mil ball because it’s way more fun.