Flirting with Formal: What to Wear to the Military Ball for Men and Women

02d26e3aca8bc7091eb4bf66af81420bAside from homecoming, the annual military ball is an event that most military couples look forward to most. It’s a night to honor traditions, celebrate our service members and their respective branch and enjoy a little (or a LOT!) of fun.

Your spouse’s unit and you have probably spent months on preparations: you’ve received their invitation, booked a hotel room near the event and possibly arranged childcare. One that’s all arranged, there’s one more thing to take care of–your outfit! Deciding what to wear can be on of the most enjoyable aspects of the event or the most nerve wracking. We break down some Dos and some Don’ts to help get you ready.

What to Wear for Women

Go Long


Decode 1.8 Lace Illusion Neck Gown. From it’s complementary blue hue to the sweet capped sleeves and rhinestone beading across the neck, this Decode dress conveys a dreamy elegance.

A military ball is considered a formal event, and formal events typically dictate a floor length gown. How do you know if it is formal? Marine Corps spouse Erin Whitehead shares, “A good rule of thumb is to find out what uniform is required of your spouse. In the Marine Corps, if they are wearing their dress blues (especially if they are wearing medals and not just ribbons), it is appropriate to wear a formal gown.”

Don’t Break The Bank


These clear stone teardrop earrings by Nine West look like a million bucks, but won’t break the bank. They’ll reflect the lights on the dance floor, casting you in a regal light.

There is absolutely no reason to shell out a month’s rent on a new ball gown. Look into your area and see if there are any dress swaps going on; if not, why not organize one yourself? Chances are most female military spouses have two or three formal gowns that they’ve worn once.

Also, check out dress rental websites. The most popular (and highly regarded) business is Rent the Runway allows you to browse through hundreds of dresses worth hundreds of dollars that you can rent for a fraction of the price. You can rent items for four or eight days. You choose your delivery date and location and you will also receive a free backup size of your choosing. Then, simply return everything for free.

Fit Your Frame

Find a dress that suits your body type and you will feel fantastic and comfortable all night long. Are you more comfortable in an A-line, a mermaid or a sheath? The same dress will look different one woman to the next. If you’re renting, sneak out to a local department store (or bridal boutique) and try out a few styles so you know what looks best.

These Aldo Sciortino pumps in gold look spectacular peeping underneath the hem of this blue dress.

These Aldo Sciortino pumps in gold look spectacular peeping underneath the hem of this blue dress.

Don’t Be Revealing

This event is not about how far you can push the envelope. It is not appropriate to wear a dress that shows excessive amounts of skin. This means, no belly dresses, nothing with a slit that goes all the way up your side and nothing so low cut everyone is worried you’re going to, ahem, topple out.

Go Easy on the Accessories.

A diamond broach in the hair might be nice, but stay away from flashy headpieces, like tiaras. “Go big or go home is not always the answer,” explains Mindi Marshall, Stella and Dot Independent Stylist and Dot Director. “Keep the statement to one piece. If it is a necklace, keep the dress or outfit and the rest of the accessories simple. But if your dress is full of details and you want people to notice it, go simple with your accessories.”


What To Wear for Men

Suit Up


You can’t go wrong with the classic black tuxedo. This timeless look will ensure you look debonaire.

Now is the time to break out that suit you’ve had in the back of your closet for years. You’re going to want to wear a formal suit or a tuxedo in a black or navy or possibly a very dark gray. It would not be appropriate to wear a blazer and khakis. If you don’t have a formal suit, check out suit rentals in your area! Many military balls occur outside of the traditional wedding season, so be on the lookout for discounts!

Complement your Service Member

The same rule applies to men as it does to women. The military ball is not the night to go all out on an outrageously colored suit. Marine Corps spouse Ashley Jacobs reminds us that, “Bright, flashy suits can be fun and have their place, but a bright orange suit is probably not–well, suitable for this occasion.

We love this Navy inspired bow tie! Show your support for your spouse’s branch while also adding a little bit of personality.

We love this Navy inspired bow tie! Show your support for your spouse’s branch while also adding a little bit of personality.

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Fun

We know the event is about our service member and over the top flash is not appropriate, but a unique bowtie, a classy kerchief or fun and custom cufflinks are subtle and unique ways to customize your outfit.

Don’t Stress

Remember, this night is not about us or the perfect dress or most dapper tuxedo; it’s to celebrate and honor our service member and the branch for which they service.  Marine Corps spouse Erin Whitehead reminds, “The night is about THEM, not YOU. That doesn’t mean you can’t look amazing. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time. That doesn’t mean you should be a wallflower. But keeping that in perspective always grounds me when I am shopping for ‘the perfect dress.'”

To see more looks, check out our Military Ball Pinterest board!

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