You’re headed to your first military ball. Whether you’re a service member yourself or the lucky date of one, it can be overwhelming knowing what to expect. Not to mention there’s a lot of condescending advice floating around out there telling you that you must do this or absolutely can’t do that.
In general, military balls are unique events that come with their own set of norms and expectations. In this post, we’ll break down a few guidelines to make sure you don’t break any basic etiquette and get through your first ball snafu-free.
- Deal with logistics
Say it with me now folks…Uber!
If your ball is at a hotel, which is likely, plan accordingly and reserve a room there. Even if you don’t plan on drinking, this is a big night and you’ll be up late. Let your hair down, stay right on site, and don’t drink and drive.
I can’t stress it enough: DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE!
- Understand ball attire
Probably the biggest concern, especially for military ball guests, is what to wear. Those in service have it easy. They’ll be in their formal uniform. If you’re someone’s date, choosing your attire can be a little trickier.
For guys, wear a shirt with a tie at the very least. If you don’t have a suit, this would be a good time in life to buy one. You’re an adult! And, if you’re someone’s date to a military ball, it probably means this won’t be your only rodeo. Buy a suit for the occasion—but not a bright orange one.
For the ladies, I’m just going to say it. Don’t dress like a stripper. Even if you are one, don’t dress like it! You’re 20? Dress classy. You’re 60? Dress classy. If you were gifted with physical, um, assets, this is not the time to show them off.
- Don’t take risks
Now’s not the time to try out that edgy new hair color, break out all the jewelry in your jewelry box or show off your previously mentioned goodies. Believe it or not, this night is not about you.
Attending a military ball is about honoring the service of the men and women there, not putting the spotlight on yourself. In short, play it safe when it comes to your appearance for the night of the ball.
It's a military ball. By default, drinking is going to be part of the occasion.
Is it a wise idea to go shot for shot with your date’s buddies? No. Is it a good idea to try to outdrink the other dates? No. But if the CO (commanding officer) wants to play whiskey pong with you using EGA’s taken off Boot Marines’ dress uniforms, guess what? You do it.
The bottom line is have fun but don’t do too much stupid sh*t.
One thing that is NO acceptable—getting drunk and hitting on other people’s dates! Leave with who you came with, end of story.
- The receiving line
One confusing aspect of most military balls is the receiving line. This is a line that most are expected to walk through to meet the person or people being honored at the ball.
As it’s a military event, there are a few standards you’ll want to follow. For one, it’s okay for you to visit your table before getting in line. This is a good time to drop off your drink, purse, or any other item that you don’t want to lug with you through the receiving line.
If you’re the date—male or female—it’s proper etiquette to stand behind your serviceman or womanin the line. It’s their responsibility to introduce you when the time comes. You’ll be introduced first, then your service man or woman will introduce him or herself.
The first person you talk to is probably the adjunct or aid of the person you’re actually there to honor. That aid will take you to the person being honored and formally introduce you both.
Shake hands with the person being honored, then move it along. Don’t lollygag or make too much small talk. This is a line, after all, and there are others waiting to move through and meet the honoree.
- Follow the crowd
Your date is in the U.S. Military. A lot of their job is simply to follow the crowd. Take a lesson from them and do the same at the ball.
Stand when everyone else stands. Sit when everyone else sits. If you’re supposed to respond to a reading, mouth the words along with everyone else.
Also, there will be a program at your table that should make it impossible to screw things up. It will literally go event by event, with times written for every item.
- You do not have a rank
My biggest pet peeve with any military event is a spouse or date thinking the rank their service member has earned has anything at all to do with them. Just because your spouse is a Captain, you don’t have the authority of a Captain. I’ve seen it too many times, spouses talking down to other people in the building because they think they have the right.
This ball is not about you. I can’t stress that enough. This ball is about tradition, having fun, and celebrating something, be it a birthday, a retirement or whatever it might be.
Another important thing to point out—even though you don’t have your service member’s rank, everything you do will reflect upon them. Don’t be the person who decides to go chat up the battalion commander about why Joe Schmoe was passed up for his promotion. It will more than likely lead to a demotion.
To sum it all up: don’t wear something stupid, don’t get too drunk, and remember you’re there to honor someone or something else. If you follow these tips, you and your date will have a great time and your first military ball probably won’t be your last!
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