10 things you should know about Military Ball Etiquette

March 29, 2012

History, Military Life

One of the military traditions common for a unit that has just redeployed is a Formal Military Ball.

Since I’ve been writing an awful lot about the ball gown I’m making to wear to ours, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned through personal experiences as well as from my ever growing library of Army Wife handbooks, vintage etiquette manuals, and Military Spouse memoirs.

1. Attire:

The Service members will be wearing their official military uniform.  Gentlemen Spouses wear formal attire – usually dark suit with a white shirt and tie.  Lady Spouses likewise wear a formal dress – usually long and with good taste, short and tea length are fine as well – just use common sense.


2. Arrival: Be. On. Time!!!

One of my husband’s most respected leaders has his watch set 10 minutes ahead and called it “Mac time”.   Which means for my very punctual husband (who is always 15 minutes early) he was always technically 25 minutes early in order to be 15 minutes earlier than official “Mac time”. (Unfortunately for my husband, he married Ms Last Minute Makeup In The Car so I always have to factor in extra time to be punctual!)


3. Social Time/ Cocktail hour:

This is the social time before dinner for casual drinks and cocktails.  There usually will not be any seating, so use this time to mingle and meet some new people.  This is a great opportunity to meet your service member’s chain of command and put some faces with names.


4. The Receiving Line:

The guests of honor and their spouse, along with the Senior Commanding Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer with their spouses will be in the receiving line. There will be an aide at the beginning of the line – do NOT shake his/her hand – the aide is there to introduce you and your spouse. The lady will go first through the line and her husband follows. Allow your spouse to do the introduction to the aide and the line will continue. Short cordial greetings are used: “Nice to meet you.” Try to use their names so you have a better chance of remembering it later!  Do not carry anything in your hands through the receiving line (drinks or hors d’oeuvres). That is considered extremely rude.


5. Seating:

There will either be a seating chart available or you will have to just find seats. There will always be a head table for the guests of honor, the Commanders and their spouses. Do not automatically sit down when you find your seat. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye on the ladies of the head table – follow their lead before having a seat. Men should seat ladies by pulling out their chair.


6. Program:

There will most likely be a program at the table that will give the order of events. Typically the color guard will be first to present the American flag and colors. Military will stand at attention while civilians will stand quietly with their hands at their sides. You should follow the flag with your eyes. There will most likely be an invocation given by the chaplain. Then the toasts will start.


7. Toasts:

The program should contain a guide as to what we will be toasting. A toast will be initiated by a designated person and the guests will respond. Before the toasts to the ladies, the men should seat the ladies. You do not have to have an alcoholic beverage to participate. Water or another beverage is just fine! (Remember; never drink a toast to yourself!)

Either the guest speaker or the dinner will follow. If there it is the speaker, sit quietly and pay attention to show respect. If dinner follows, enjoy. Use your basic etiquette to enjoy the meal. Do not get too wrapped up in being someone you are not. Relax and enjoy yourself. The colors will also be retired before the dancing begins. Again we will stand and you should follow the colors with your eyes. (You do not have to turn in a complete circle to follow it – it’s ok for it to pass behind you.)


8. Dancing:

Wear comfortable shoes (Ladies: you should not remove them at formal functions). Men should not remove their jackets/coats until the senior man removes his. Just bear with it and hope the room is comfortable enough until then! When dancing please maintain as much dignity as possible. This is a formal military event, not a nightclub.


9. When to leave:

You should try to stay until the senior man leaves. If you must leave early, it is polite to say good-bye and apologize for leaving early. Don’t make a big deal, they will understand! Try to let the hosts (i.e. the Battalion Commander) know how much you have appreciated the event sometime during the evening.  In one of my older military etiquette books, they described a situation where the Senior Couple would formally leave the event, drive around the block a few times, and return to join the ‘after party’ so as to allow folks to leave if they like.


10. Last but not least – enjoy yourself!!! And Have FUN!!!!

It’s not everyday you get to dress up for an evening with your handsome beloved in uniform!


What are your tips for spouses attending their first Formal Military Ball?

Where do you go for advice about practicing modern Etiquette?

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About Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva

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33 Responses to “10 things you should know about Military Ball Etiquette”

  1. Margaret Says:

    Cute pictures!! I love them!! And great advice!!

  2. amy s Says:

    THANK you about wearing comfortable shoes…you have NO idea HOW many fat footed women squeeze themselves into TOOO small shoes and then end up shoeless on the dance floor…OH MY!!! LOL…sorry my ONLY pet peeve!! :)

  3. Amanda Says:

    We are always told if the men are in Blues then it is extremely formal- I noticed you put short or tea length dresses are OK. This is actually not true if the word “BALL” is on the formal invitation & men are in Dress Blues. I love everything else especially your advice on the receiving line. It’s an old tradition that many of the young couples who are coming to their first Ball may not understand or know the etiquette. Well written & a good idea as a refresher for everyone.
    Amanda recently posted..Kitchen ConcoctionsMy Profile

    • KatieJ Says:

      I’ve not been to a ball yet. At the post-deployment last time, there was a “social.”

      Will the invitation state dress blues? My husband doesn’t own them yet. If this is on the invitation, we don’t attend then, correct? Thanks for any advice.

      And good to know about the toast for the fallen. I would not have known to not respond. Seems to me a toast to their memory would not be inappropriate, so again, thanks for the heads-up!

      • Ann Marie @ Household6 Diva Says:

        Your service member (in this case Army) is not required to wear “dress blues” or Army Service Uniform (ASU). They may also wear their “dress greens” or Class A uniform to a formal occasion such as a military ball. As always – when in doubt, ask! :)

  4. Rachel Says:

    A reminder for the toasts (as we just had our 12th CAB Ball), do not respond to the toast for the Fallen. I’ve seen it happen at every Ball I’ve been to and it physically pains me when someone is classless enough to do so.

  5. Mrs. Wookie Says:

    There’s nothing more boring than a receiving line and thankfully I haven’t done one since ROTC. While, yes, it’s polite and the historical thing to do – I preferred when the CO’s and guest speakers quickly ushered you in because they didn’t like them either. :)

    And while I concur with the comment that Ball implies long dress – there’s nothing worse than seeing someone’s uterus her dress is so short! (haha!) Although I’ve usually broke antiquation with a knee-length dress. I’m tall. I’m not paying crazy amounts of money for 1 dress for an extra 5 inches of fabric.
    Mrs. Wookie recently posted..What do you say when…My Profile

  6. Melissa Says:

    Thanks for the great advice. I am looking forward to attending my first ball here in a few weeks and was nervous about etiquette.

  7. Tina Says:

    I love the note about the senior couple formally “leaving” so their juniors can go! Great idea!

    I’d add that if this is a Marine Corps ball, the Marines will not remove their jackets. That is considered “out of uniform”. They stay buttoned up tight the whole evening.

  8. ShirleyFai Says:

    What a great advice! And of course the best of them all, enjoy and have fun! That is the most important of them tips…I love the photos of the kids here..Very fab!
    ShirleyFai recently posted..Relaxation Methods For AnxietyMy Profile

  9. Tara Says:

    I cannot really comment, we have never gone to one…Not Likely to either. Just not our thing to do, :) the Man has had his formal Mess Dress though for years, and it has been used a couple times….
    Have fun!!
    Tara recently posted..The usual, please…My Profile

  10. Sierra Says:

    I might want to add that people should watch their alcohol intake. I cannot express how embarrassing and disruptive to have a service member, or their date, to become obnoxiously drunk. It reflects badly. We were at a formal function before (not a dining out, though I’ve seen awful things there as well) and a female enlisted Airman saunters over to the officer’s table (quite drunk) wraps her arm across a young lieutenant’s shoulders as his pregnant wife was sitting beside him and started making rude, sexual comments. Her wingmen did come over and take her away quickly and apologized profusely for her behavior. Unfortunately I’ve seen many more innappropriate behaviors occur at formal military functions because people did not have the class to watch how much they were drinking.

    • Mrs. Wookie Says:

      Oh. my. goodness. I don’t know whether I’d be incredibly embarrassed for the person or laugh hysterically.

      I know I’ve had to hold some hair in a bathroom stall before…yeah. That was glamorous. And she wasn’t the only vomit victim that night. It’s not like it’s college and you’ve never drank before. I agree. Figure out your limit. :)
      Mrs. Wookie recently posted..What do you say when…My Profile

  11. Daneilia Says:

    The pictures are adorable. We’ve been to several and they were always fun when the dancing begins :) The last one I attended I was pregnant and went with a shorter dress because of my belly bump.
    Daneilia recently posted..Abstract Babies…My Profile

  12. brianna boyd Says:

    AWESOME ADVICE!!! Our Ball is next weekend. Would you mind me posting a link to this page on my blog. I think that a lot of my followers would find this really useful with our ball right around the corner:) thanks
    brianna boyd recently posted..FREE Kitchen GoodsMy Profile

  13. Lacey12 Says:

    Wow! Very handsome and adorable princess, they are so cute and beautiful in their looks..
    Lacey12 recently posted..Get Money that you need Now with Fast Cash LoansMy Profile

  14. Mrs. S Says:

    No glitter!

    That stuff is IMPOSSIBLE to get out of a uniform. And everything else. Not to mention, it’s not prom. lol

  15. LTG Hertling Says:

    Diva 6
    Hope you don’t mind, but I had to comment! What a great piece, and thanks for doing this. Won’t be at your ball (did get an invite, but I’m back in the U S) but your best piece of advice: have fun!!! It’ s one of the best things about being part of the Army family.

  16. Anne Says:

    This Is

  17. Anne Says:

    This Isan absolutely adorable post. I’d love to go to a formal military ball. The closest I’ve gotten is a dining out!
    Anne recently posted..I don’t like this one.My Profile

  18. Shalani Says:

    Thanks for those advice..The pictures are adorable the boy was cute.
    Shalani recently posted..Tips To Lose Weight With HCG And Feel Great!My Profile

  19. Laura Says:

    What a great and adorable tips, I know that it will bring a huge help to a partners to perform a beautiful way in attending a military ball…
    Laura recently posted..Comment avoir une haleine fraiche (naturellement)My Profile

  20. Koko @ Koko Likes Says:

    LOVE this. Thank you so much. I’m heading up to Fairbanks for my first ball with Q next month and had no idea what to expect. You are the greatest. Thank you!
    Koko @ Koko Likes recently posted..Currently Obsessed With…My Profile

  21. Angie Says:

    Your babies are growing so fast! I knew we were alike, I am also the kind to be putting on make-up in the car! My husband has tried to fake me out by changing clocks and watches forward by 10 minutes but I always end up altering for that bonus 10!

    The ball sounds really lovely and a nice way to put a period at the end of a deployment. My husband’s a Reservist and I didn’t even get contacted by an FRG until 2 weeks before his return, let alone go to a ball. It’s seems like a pretty cool way to connect. We still haven’t gone away together since he returned so I think we should go on a trip and make our own ball!

    Have fun! And make a schedule that includes make-up going on an hour before you leave the house!!

    Hey! Who watches all the babies if a unit is in the middle of Deutschland and everyone is going to the same event?

    • Julia Says:

      Diva 6,

      I hope you do not mind that I reply to Angie’s question…but as the official babysitter for this functions when my dad was active duty…I can say that typically it tends to be the teenage kids of fellow soldiers who watch the younger kids.

      Also thanks for the post about etiquette…..although I have only been to one military ball (an ROTC one at that), I think everyone needs a kind reminder about the rules.

  22. Korey Says:

    Love the pictures….I’ve never been to a ball. I’m not sure the Air Force hosts as many…at least I haven’t heard of any yet. With all this stuff to remember I think I’ll be passing on any event, like ever. Nothing about this really sounds fun to me, but I am extremely introverted. I think if I want to dress up I will just go on a cruise :P .
    Korey recently posted..SpringMy Profile

  23. Trisha28 Says:

    This is truly great,it’s nice to learn this type of etiquette.. I love every photos here because its nice and beautiful…:)
    Trisha28 recently posted..Comment bronzer plus viteMy Profile

  24. Sarah Ruth Says:

    Oh my gosh. I just saw this post but I am SOOO glad you posted it! I am going to my first ball next week! (even though my husband is retiring this year!) I am learning a lot. I’m so excited!
    Sarah Ruth recently posted..And The Winner Is: Act of Valor GiveawayMy Profile

  25. Deb12 Says:

    Is is bad etiquette to attend a military ball alone?


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