What Not to Do at a Military Ball (By a 1SGT)


We spouses like to bicker about what our husbands’ leadership must think about the attire of spouses, girlfriends, partners and Milsos at the ball. This time we decided to ask. Here, straight from the source, is one Army First Sgt.’s (E-8) instructions for spouses at the ballpresented as only a First Sgt. could.

As an Army first sergeant, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see issues that can be avoided if soldiers and their spouses would just talk about military life, its expectations and find their own middle ground.

However, I know it’s hard to tell your spouse how the military expects him or her to act. It’s even harder when it comes to military balls. How do you tell your spouse that their behavior and attitude isn’t “appropriate” at the company party?

In my 27-years as an Infantryman, I’ve seen a lot and I always tell it like it is. Of all the things that have happened at balls (and of those listed below only one didn’t), there are a few categories that always makes the list of don’ts.

What NOT to wear:

1. Knee-high boots with 4-inch heels and a skin-tight leotard jumpsuit is not military ball attire.

2. Sheer outfits, transparent dresses and no appropriate underclothing is not a good combination.

3. Wearing matching plaid outfits to the ball isn’t necessary to prove that you’re truly a team.

4. How you dress does reflect on your spouse regardless of rank–officer or NCO. Whether at the ball, an FRG meeting or a Hail and Farewell—how you dress affects your soldier. Period.

How NOT to eat:

1. Dinner isn’t like it is at Olive Garden — it’s not an all you can eat buffet.

2. Please don’t “order-in” pizza or Buffalo wings because you don’t care for what’s being served.

3. This is not musical chairs: don’t change your assigned seating because you don’t like who’s at your table.

4. Silverware, dinnerware, centerpieces and glassware are not to be considered party favors unless they are printed with the name of the event and you are invited to take them home.

It’s Just Not Authorized:

1. While in the receiving line, it’s not necessary to hug everyone in your spouse’s chain-of-command.

2. The colors being retired isn’t code for “Let’s get this party started.”

3. “Dropping it low” is not the equivalent of freestyle ballroom dancing.

4. Don’t even think about bringing the “purse-puppy” to the ball because you couldn’t find a pet-sitter.

5. This isn’t grade school — making out on the dance floor is not cool anymore.

On the subject of “beverages:”

1. There isn’t a prize at the end of the ball for the attendee who consumes the most shots.

2. You may think coming to the ball already inebriated make you more social … it really doesn’t.

3. The whole platoon buying rounds for the guest-speaker (before his speech), isn’t the best way to make a lasting impression on leadership.

4. Sip, don’t gulp when a toast is made.  And, please, don’t finish the glass with each toast.

5. If you’re not asked to make a toast … don’t.

And for the gents concerning Household Six:

1.Never bring your buddy’s ex-girlfriend as your date.

2. The ball isn’t the place to hook-up with someone else’s date.

3. Just bring a relative or come alone; it’s better than bringing a professional date.

About the Author

Corinne Lincoln-Pinheiro
Corinne Lincoln-Pinheiro is a journalist by trade, a blogger, creative writing instructor and business owner. She has a Bachelor's in English and a Master's in Writing. She's written for various newspapers including Joint Base Lewis-McChord's The Ranger, the Airlifter, The Pacific Northwest Veterans, and two online magazines -- JBLM Spouses and JBLM Singles. Corinne writes for the Killeen Daily Herald newspaper (http://kdhnews.com/blogs/health_springs/), and her military blog (http://www.rankandfile.blog.com) profiles interviews, articles and editorials on issues surrounding military life. Her family is currently stationed at Fort Hood, TX.

41 Comments on "What Not to Do at a Military Ball (By a 1SGT)"

  1. All this stuff about dress codes makes me glad we are Air Force, and not hung up on worrying about what everyone else is wearing.

  2. Wear what you want, just have self-respect. ;) If the command has a strict dress code, code of conduct and preselected menu then they should send out formal invites indicating such so that the attendees are prepared. Honestly, the servicemember is more to blame than the dates. I've seen more of them acting incredibly disrespectful than worrying about who's wife is showing cleavage. Style is subjective and a personal subject and if the command doesn't want anyone to "drop it low" then they should have an approved list of music. Let's be honest and realistic.

  3. Amber again wrong! Formal and semi formal means just that if you don’t know how to conduct yourself at an event titled as such then please decline the invitation from your spouse or significant other. There is a time and a place to “drop it low” and “show cleavage” but military events like a ball is not the place nor the time for that. Our military balls are based on tradition and traditionally people weren’t acting as though they just came to the club to get their drink on and catch themselves a man in uniform.

  4. As an officer's wife, I have noticed that typically officer's wives dress tastefully. Minimal to no cleavage, muted colors, simple yet elegant. Then I look around the room and it seems the more lower enlisted the more revealing and ostentatious the dresses become. So do yourself and your spouse a favor, put away the prom dress and wear something your grandmother would approve of.

  5. Great article! I’ve seen some girls who dressed like they were ready to work the pole (including a skin tight lime green dress.) Yes, what you wear reflects on your service member whether you like it or not. You could be a wonderful person, but if you show up in a dress that shows off your butt cheeks, it sends a certain message. This is not the occasion for drawing attention to yourself, it should be about the ceremony itself.

  6. sabrinacking | August 20, 2013 at 9:55 am |

    This can go the other way as well. Don't go to a ball dressed like Holly Hobby. Don't go to a ball dressed like you are going to church, or in your best mother of the bride impression. And for you southern ladies, please don't dress in cotillion gowns. I have actually seen these elaborate cotillion gowns twice in the past year. Uh…go home Scarlett.

  7. Tips From The Homefront | August 20, 2013 at 11:55 am |

    Great advice!

  8. the first mel | August 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |

    I don't have issues with women wearing prom dresses, bride's maid dresses, or dresses that aren't exactly formal. What I consider disrespectful is when a woman wears a dress in which the percent of skin showing far exceeds the percent of dress material or one that looks like a Halloween outfit. I went to one ball where I saw a woman wearing a sparkly bikini top and bottoms that were remiscent of what Jeannie wore in the show "I Dream of Jeannie". I do understand that for spouses who are at their first ball, they may run into trouble if their date or husband does not give them any guidance about what is appropriate. I remember my first and my husband was no help when it came to what type of dress I could wear. Over the years, I have seen more effort being put towards informing spouses of the type of wear that is appropriate for different military functions. Also, through sites like this, more spouses have an opportunity to get some ideas before they step into their first formal military function.

  9. If your date is wearing a skin tight dress that leaves nothing to the imagination, I will personally all your date to leave and change. I have seen on many occasions women going out and buying those dresses before the ball, just to see them wearing them at the ball.
    My BN gives away free dresses before the ball, and its put out to the soldiers and spouses, do they have no excuse. We also give out a handout on ball do’s and don’ts.

    And most people don’t know this, but when you are going through a receiving line, you must have your shoulders covered. Its tradition. :)

  10. I may be of the old school, but if you have a sleeve of tats, cover them with long sleeves. Make your date proud ladies.

  11. I don't think anyone is really saying to dress like a 50s housewife but they are saying keep it classy. There is a time and a place for every outfit. To the person who said not to dress like holly hobbit, sorry but our formal military uniform dictates how we look perhaps spouses should take a small clue from that as in formal wear. If you have to recycle an old dress who cares, if you have to wear your prom gown who cares so long as you are dressed for the occasion. To the older or rather seasoned spouses: teach the younger ones how to conduct themselves at these things rather than let them fail. FRGs are big now it's time to pass the words of wisdom around to the younger generations.

  12. Its funny to me that some adults do not have the common sense to know how to conduct themselves at a military function. A party thrown specifically by your squadron may be a little more lax but an annual ball or dinning in…come on now! Be the one that your spouse can say with dignity "That's my wife!" Take the opportunity to dress to the nines with class and conduct yourself with dignity and grace. Be proud of the uniform he/she wears and show it through your actions!

  13. MarriedHimNotHisRank | August 20, 2013 at 9:30 pm |

    Oh gee… someone who touts herself as an officer's wife using the term "lower enlisted". That mentality makes me glad we're leaving this life behind. I think the only people that intentionally point out the difference are the entitlement fiends that can't wait to tell everyone they're an officer's wife.

    I've seen just as many wives and Soldiers from both sides of the fence that were behaving or dressed inappropriately. That's what ruins it for all. Rank has nothing to do with it.

  14. If you are referring to me, please note I specifically state YOUNGER, not lower. As a spouse, I don't have a rank. I really resent being misquoted.

  15. Good rule of thumb: If you wouldn't do it or wear it at a church function, don't do it at a formal military function. No, I am not saying a military function is the same as church. I'm saying the standard of conduct and dress at a church applied to a formal military function will keep you from looking the fool.

  16. I have been friends with officers wives and enlisted wives at some point in this fast paced PCS world of the military. It doesn’t matter if you are married to either one. This is about your husband and his job. You want to make a good impression to everyone you meet and give your husband the feeling of pride when he introduces you to his boss, colleagues and other spouses. I have been to several balls and I always think how would my appearance effect my husbands job? how would my behavior effect my husband? These are people he works with every day and as his wife I need to show respect to my husband and myself when going to an important event like this. It may be old fashioned to think this way to some, but common sense comes to mind when picking out a ball gown. I love my husband and all the sacrifices he makes for our family, So why not enjoy the time together at these functions with self respect, and charm. If my husband was attending a ball furnished by the company I work with, I would expect him to show respect to all the people he comes in contact.

  17. One more thing to the male spouses of the military, my advice is to always show up in something formal and conduct your self with manners. As your wife is also going to see the same people after the ball. Remain humble and kind to anyone you meet.

  18. Interesting how things are "nitpicked", but one must keep in mind that we all come from many different backgrounds. Even if a spouse shows up inappropriately dressed, one shouldn't jump to any conclusions. Instead, just be kind, polite, and friendly. Some of us have only what is in our closets to choose from and don't have the option of buying something we might wear once in five years.

  19. Just don't go to the Ball.

  20. They know better, is all about getting everyone attention,

  21. My response to the comments "This is stupid!" "Knock it off!" and "Time-out!"

    I'm sure someone will get it.

  22. Stuffy idiots! I cant stand snobs or whiners or gossipers. Let those idiots whisper in their circles about not being PC or what kind of dress someone’s wearing. All the formality and pompous judging is not for me. Jojo613, I will say I respect your down to earth attitude. You, fortunately seem to be one of the few with any sense in this game of idiots, so bravo to you!

  23. "It’s even harder when it comes to military balls."

    I couldn't get past this sentence without coffee shooting out of my nose.

  24. I’m sorry….but are we all ignoring the fact that whoever wrote this either thinks Olive Garden is an all you can eat buffet or they have been to and Olive garden that was an all you can eat buffet?? I want in on that! ;) lol

  25. Another Don't – Don't get drunk like most senior NCO's do at these functions.

  26. Well I guess it's good I don't have much in the way of cleavage huh? Can't embarrass my pitifully low ranked husband that way :D. I'm sorry to make light of this you guys..but at the end of the day don't we have more important things to worry about? Of course I would never dress like a stripper..that's ridiculous..but my dress for the upcoming formal has a few sparkles. I like it..I think I'll look nice in it and I'm 27 years old. I'm not 40 or 50 and I'm not going to dress like I'm 40 or 50. It's floor length it's classy and I used my common sense. I think we can all take a breath and relax. Be nice to each other..socialize..we are all in this crazy messed up hectic military life together. Why does it always boil down to high school like drama?

  27. Hello Military Spouses, we are all in this together, those who claim to be "officer wives; enlisted wives" etc, our duty to our spouses is to make them shine, as well as be a mentor to the new wives, young wives, 2nd wives, first husband, etc. Lets put our labels away and stop thinking anyone is better than anyone else, because at the end of the day, we all need each other, and we will all be out of the Army and no one will give to craps if you were Ltc so & so or MSG whoopy do, Or Pvt Snuffy. Actually I think it is funny as heck to see the more extroverted attire, people watching is great at these events :-)

  28. Here's another list if you want to read further… Best line the ball is not about you the spouse but about the service member it sounds harsh but its oh so true! http://www.militaryspouse.com/articles/top-10-tip

  29. Actually it is about me, because I'm the one insisting we go :) He would rather stay home away from the judgmental nonsense.

  30. I think women should dress appropriately for the ball. But I also know some of the troops bring dates to show off to their buddies, some troops aren't in the military for the long haul and don't care about what their date wears or the impression it gives. And this is on both sides of officer & enlisted (let's not forget there are plenty of "young" officers). I feel if the service member isn't worried about the dress being worn we as the spouses shouldn't. If someone in the chain of command has an issue then they are the ones who should be speaking on it. One year our XO told everyone that he would be greeting people at the door and if someone was over exposed they would be turned away. The dress code was printed out and given along with the ball tickets. I think if it were a big problem as people try to make it out to be commands would either enforce a dress code (some bases already have them in place for everyday attire) or just say guest aren't allowed anymore. Until then then I worry about how I am representing myself and my spouse, I am not concerned with being harsh or judgmental about what others are wearing.

  31. Is there a ball coming up? I'm just curious, what's with all the ball talk. I have been on three other military spouse websites, and all the same talk about going to the ball, dressing for the ball, etc… There is very little talk of let's see here ummm– sequestration, cutting of BAH, cutting of services, etc. It's really ironic all the talk of balls, while we are going to have to tighten our belts…

  32. Like everything else in the military there is a regulation that lays out the rules for such events.
    <a href="http://img.slate.com/media/53/military%20dining%20handbook.pdf&quot; target="_blank">http://img.slate.com/media/53/military%20dining%2…</a>

    you can also reference Army Field circulation 21-1. it is dated but still relavent.

  33. I was once privileged enough to announce the speaker at a formal Air Force event. There are audio cues and announcements that indicate when guests should take a seat, so that the night's program can move forward. They are loud and impossible to miss. Times are given, much like a countdown. When the countdown ends, the "introducer" ascends the stage and begins politely asking people to take their seats – I'd anyone is left standing..

    When I ascended, there were still a handful of people milling around, so I politely asked everyone to make way to their seats. Several times. Over a span of five minutes. During this time, one obnoxiously drunk military wife blasted, at full volume, that they shouldn't send in "24 year old girls" to do a job that's clearly better handled by a man – namely, quieting down the rowdy.

    I neglected to inform her how I gave up my career and love life to join something bigger than myself, that I was well above the age of 24, about the years I spent training as a fighter, how I could probably hold my own against any -male or female – in the room. I neglected to tell her about the satisfaction and thrill I got out of doing my mission – which typically didn't include looking pretty and saying a few words. I didn't demand that I, indeed, deserved respect. I neglected to demonstrate anything other than patience and discipline to the room before me.

    Why? Because my task at that time wasn't to talk about myself. My task was to inform people of the sacrifice and accomplishments of the guest speaker – someone who's spent more of his life in defense of his country than any other soul in the room. His accomplishments and history deserved their respect.

    Who were these rowdy ones? The obnoxious wife? I could see everyone from where I stood, the entire room. Not one of them was Enlisted. The Enlisted seemed to know the importance of respect, up and down the chain. Every last one of rowdy were officers… or officer wives.

    I was severely disappointed.

  34. MGySgt wife retired | September 6, 2013 at 12:14 am |

    Since the military balls are just around the corner, and I just happened to stumble upon this post I am going to put my 20+ years of a Marine Corps wife comment on the record. THUMBS UP to the original person who posted first of all. There is one thing that was not mentioned. Dancing….Last couple of balls we attended (one at the US Grant Hotel downtown San Diego – it can't get any classier than that location…well I suppose having a ball at the Hotel Del Coronado would be a step up) we were disgusted at the way people in and out of uniform were "dancing". Dancing is not dry humping your partner. It isn't a 3-way with the girl in the middle w/her butt in the air, and the other "dancing" w/a beer spilling out of her hand. Drinks should stay at the table. These people were shaming the uniform if not the "magic" of the MILITARY BALL. It is not a "dance" so don't treat it as such. If you forgot in the TRADITION of the military ball go back to basic and refresh your memory. STOP TREATING THE ONE NIGHT OF RECOGNITION like a go for it party. Remember when you signed your name on the dotted line you became government property. Don't act like those idiots in Congress! EVER! Especially not on your birthday!

  35. Part 1 of Comment
    As a military spouse of 30+ years. I have noticed that this generation is all about me, me, me and what I want to do, or how much you owe me. Not all are that way, so don’t start the barrage of hateful remarks. The installation that I am on had an incident last year when a SR Spouse tried to provide the newer spouses etiquette for the Ball. A facebook page was made to bash her and her “old” ways. So, she backed off and allowed those who wanted to dress like hookers, dress like hookers. She and her spouse left very early during the evening. What I do not understand is this…. A spouse of an active duty member (not all, but most) will be the first to take out that ID Card and demand the discount, or the free item at some restaurant. They will be the first to go to some store and receive items because they are married to that service member. How many large corporations do you know that, let’s say Outback, provides a free meal once a year just because your husband/wife is active duty? I have never seen them advertize that Bank of America employees get a free meal on such and such day.

  36. Part 4 of Comment
    Also, I agree, most cannot always afford to buy a new dress. Have you tried the local Thrift Store on the installation? Ours has beautiful dresses for under 35 dollars. Or as a unit, do a dress exchange. It is a fun evening where spouses can bring their old dresses, have some wine and finger foods and go home with a new awesome dress without paying for it.
    Again, if you can’t allow yourself to be part of the traditions, customs and courtesies, then stop telling people that you are a military spouse just so you can get something for nothing. Let your Service Member get the freebies because they are actually the ones that deserve it, they are the ones that wear the uniform and risk their lives for our country! Not you!

  37. The reason why you see so many lower enlisted spouses wearing these outrages outfits and colors ,and dropping it low is because they are young , sometimes it's there first Military function. So like all things in the Military this falls back to our first line leaders taking those young Soldiers aside and preparing them. Everything in life is a learning lesson. So next time Top and fellow officers when we know we will be attending a Military function gather your Soldiers and tell them what to expect. You can't force them to tell there spouses what to wear, but you can put a buzz in there ear. Half of them are fresh in the army from High School so there last function was the Prom.. LOL

  38. ChucktownLife | September 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm |

    These discussions are exactly what makes my stomach turn thinking about my time on active duty. I always got annoyed as a JO when the senior leadership (officers and enlisted alike) would take a seemingly fun event whether it be the Navy birthday ball, holiday party or hail and farewell and make it downright painful because of all the arcane and ridiculous guidance put out so that no one misbehaves. I distinctly remember that it was fairly obvious that the senior leadership was more concerned with covering their own asses than actually caring about the behaviour, I.e. they didnt want to deal with the repercussions of any regrettable behavior.

  39. usmcwife110307 | September 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm |

    I am a Marine Corps spouse and there is no need to tell if my husband is Enlisted or Officer because that's his rank, not mine. Second, I live in Okinawa, Japan & am a manager at one of the Marine Corps Officers' Clubs here on the island & I see about 29 balls a year (all in the month of November). I have attended, with my husband, quite a few over the years. With all of that being said, I can tell you rank has nothing to do with it. If a woman is trashy 364 days out of the year, there is not a good chance she will clean up well on the night of the ball.

  40. Hopefully people are still on here are reading this. My boyfriend has a Veteran's Ball coming up for his college and I've been looking into some dresses and I was curious as to whether or not a slit in the dress is appropriate. Obviously I'm not talking about a slit up to the thigh. I'm meaning something more in the knee area.

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