Military spouses are often required to attend events that have no equal in civilian life-things like a ball, military homecoming, change of command, or ship christening. There was a time when official protocol classes guided military spouses. But relaxed standards leave a lot of gray areas and, often leave spouses in the dark.
“We have all been there, because we’ve all worn the wrong outfit at least once,” laughed Gretchen Sopko, military wife of 26 years to Army Col. Rance Sopko. Her time as a military spouse began in the 1960s, back in the protocol class era. In the years that standards were changing and relaxing significantly, Gretchen met not one, but two European queens. She also attended everything from casual picnics to highly ceremonial dinners, often struggling to choose the right outfit for the occasion.
She still recalls one grave error at a German Cavalry Regimental Change of Command. She dressed for the cold snowy day in an elegant, warm suit and formal coat. Unfortunately, she chose to wear high-heeled, Aigner leather boots.
“They were gorgeous,” she remembers, “but, oh, did they hurt.”
During the ceremony her feet numbed, and when the parade ended, she couldn’t walk to the car. To her embarrassment, her husband carried her!
LEARN FROM HER EXPERIENCE
Sopko picked up several key tricks that stand the test of time, most importantly the Golden Rules of Military Fashion: Always check for a dress code. If you have questions, ask the hostess.
She says wives can save money by owning a set of classic, interchangeable pieces: a black skirt, jacket, pants and dress shoes. Find ensembles that can be dressed up or down with shoes and jewelry. And borrow from friends when you need to.
From more recent years, we offer these notes from the Fashion Front:
· Skip the skirt if you might climb onto or into a military vehicle or ship. During tours, ladders and stairs are manned, typically by random members of the crew. Often, they will stand at the bottom and look straight up to guide you. Don’t give them an inappropriate view.
· Avoid stilettos and super-high heels. You will often need to stand reverently while flags and people parade. Military events can be located outdoors on grassy fields or in industrial work areas. You may need to climb bleachers. You don’t want to aerate the grass or struggle to walk.
· Consider the weather for outdoor events. It’s hard to look proud when you are shivering or sweating profusely. If needed, borrow a great formal coat or stylish hat.
· Know the dress code. Ask, “What is my spouse wearing?” “How many high ranking officials are going to be there?” “What are other spouses wearing?” If you’re confused (for example, if the dress code is “Crisp Aloha”), call those in charge and ask. This is doubly true in a foreign country or unfamiliar culture.
· Avoid elaborate undergarments. This is especially important for a deployment homecoming. Military events are very hurry-up-and-wait affairs. You might run to catch a bus, and then stand in a hall for two hours. Both activities can lead to chafing. Plus, despite your fantasies, reunion sex is notoriously awkward. Don’t make it complicated. Opt for matching, silky, supportive and stretchy. Before a ball, always give underthings a dry run at home with your outfit.
· Opt for elegant over sexy. Remember: This is a work event for your spouse. You can plunge the cleavage and raise the slit on a personal date, but not while you’re meeting your spouse’s boss and co-workers.
· Carry an emergency kit. Just in case, stock your purse with an extra set of stockings, clear nail polish, safety pins, and clear deodorant.