Do’s and Don’ts: What to Wear to the Military Ball

royal military ball summer

When you think of fall, you most likely think of the sound of leaves crunching under your feet as you walk, the crisp autumn air, hayrides, and, of course, all things pumpkin. But fall also brings something else; it’s the time of year when (for some branches) the Military Ball rolls around.

royal military ball summer

Going to the Military Ball can be a lot of fun! It’s a great date night for you and your spouse. On top of that, you get to dress up! But what on earth do you wear?! 

Here are some do’s and don’ts on what to wear for your special night!

Do: Dress in Formal Attire

Military Balls are typically formal, black-tie events. This dress code calls for a long gown; think about the style of dress you might see on the red carpet. If your spouse is wearing his mess dress or most formal uniform, you’ll want to dress to match. If the event is semi-formal, wear a dressy tea-length or midi style. If you’re a male spouse escorting a female service-member, we’d recommend a dressy suit and tie or tuxedo.

If you are looking for a dress, some of my favorite evening gowns were from designers such as Adrianna Papell, Sherri Hill, MacDuggal, and Goddiva. This summer, I escorted my husband to the Royal Air Force Ball. This event is typically a very formal affair that lasts from 7pm to 3am! As an exchange officer in the UK, we tend to stick out. This evening, though, I wanted to stand out for all the right reasons. I wanted a dress with that “Wow” factor that would compliment the theme for the evening: The Greatest Show! And what a “showstopper” this gown was! A gold and glittery bodice plus a full skirt with pockets, this MacDuggal gown kept the compliments coming from the time I arrived to the time I left.

Don’t: Dress Like You’re Going to Prom

Dress to match the occasion. While this event may call for a long formal gown, be careful if you are shopping in the prom section. Trends like sultry cut-outs, thigh-high slit skirts, and open backs may be in style, but think about going for more timeless or classy designs. Most likely the event you are preparing for is a work-event for your spouse; You want to look your best. Think Academy Awards as opposed to the MTV Video Music Awards. If there’s any question, air on the side of caution and go for the more conservative look.

Christmas Dining Out
Last year I wore a long, burgundy gown for my husband’s squadron’s Christmas party. I was not sure what to wear as the dress code seemed to change for the dinner at the last minute. While I felt beautiful, I also felt a bit overdressed. I probably should have opted for a more conservative cocktail dress. It’s important to understand the dress code before getting your heart set on a dress.

Do:  Wear Shoes You Can Walk In

The wrong shoes can make a nice evening out excruciating. If they are too high or too stiff, you may be in pain the whole evening. Taking off your shoes midway through an event such as a military ball will not be appropriate. To ensure you can dance the night away, go for a shorter heel or comfortable fit. Also, this is a good excuse to pay top dollar for designer heels! They really do make a difference!

Find the right pair that you can wear over and over again. Test them out to make sure they are comfortable on many surfaces and that the bottoms will not easily skid. Wear them for a short period of time before the big day so you get used to walking in them. 

Don’t: Shy away from color… within reason.

Black is classic, for sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear black for a black-tie event. Blue and red are patriotic, but other jewel tones and even pastels are just as charming. If going for a classic color, find a gown that has a little flair to give it that “Wow” factor. Colors you should absolutely avoid? Neons. Again, a military ball is not the same as the prom. While the younger crowd experiments with color, opt for a more polished and professional look. At a sophisticated event, you’ll want to dress the part. Gemstone colors tend to stand out but in a good way!

Do: Know Your Best Fit

An evening out with an ill-fitting outfit can either lead to discomfort or embarrassment. During your military ball, you do not want to be plucking and pulling at your dress to keep it in place. Prior to choosing a gown, consider fit and what you feel most comfortable in. When trying on dresses, dance around or sit and consider how it will feel if you plan on dancing or sitting a lot. Think about how well it will feel during a three-course meal. Also, make sure you have time to return it or make alterations if you need a different size or style. Don’t wait until the last minute to decide on your gown, because you will also need to consider what accessories go with it. It never fails that I am waiting until the last minute, the baby sitter has arrived, my husband is in the car honking at me, and I’m still deciding what clutch to carry.

Don’t: Avoid the Stockpile

Can’t find a dress when you need it or that you want to spend the money on? Take a look in your closet or those tubs out in the garage. You might find something you haven’t worn in a while. Fancy a dress that you wore three assignments or six years ago? It may be fun to see how you look in the same dress ten years later… or even twenty years later!

evening dress and shoes

Do: Create a Classic Accessory Collection

While most people want to be photographed in a new gown for every military ball experience, not everyone can afford a new gown AND new shoes AND new accessories. I managed to find a nice pair of heels that seem to coordinate with my last three evening dresses. More than shoes, every military spouse deserves (and NEEDS) a basic set of nice jewelry. Try to keep in your collection a set of pearl earrings and matching necklace, diamond studs, chandelier earrings, a silver necklace, and a gold necklace. You’ll be prepared for any occasion!  My grandpa always bought my grandma a nice ring, bracelet, necklace or pair of earrings for their anniversary. It was a lovely tradition to spoil her with something nice at least once a year. When she passed away, I was granted the pleasure of owning a couple of these cherished family heirlooms. I wore her ring to our last military event and felt like the belle of the ball. 

Don’t: Wait Until the Last Minute

One thing I tend to do that I shouldn’t: I wait until the last minute. I wait to find a dress. I wait to decide what jewelry I will wear. Don’t! You don’t want to stress about an event like this. Once you purchase your tickets, start getting things in order. You don’t want to be in a panic or frenzy for an event such as this. It should be something fun and exciting right from the start.


If you have any other tips for what to wear to a military ball, put them in the comments below!


  1. Yes – spot on. As a military spouse and a military member of 22+ yrs (sometimes I wear my own mess dress or sometimes a gown), I’ve seen a decline over the past 10 years on proper dress. As fun as these events are, it is still a professional event, not a prom for grown-ups. You represent your spouse/SO. You will be introduced to their boss, their co-workers, their commanders and senior leadership. That’s a big deal.

    Yes, there will be dancing and alcohol, food and fun. But the evening is steeped in tradition. Learn a little bit before the evening – how to place your napkin when you leave for the restroom, how to properly toast, when to stand/sit. All of these add to the atmosphere of the evening along with a proper dress/gown or suit which makes the evening a little more enjoyable.

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