You Got Invited to a Military Ball!

It’s one of my favorite times of the year… Military Ball season! Between growing up in a military family and working in the field of event coordination and protocol for the military, I have had the pleasure of attending several military events. One of my favorite formals is the traditional “Birthday Ball” for the services in the Fall.

There are many pieces to a Military Ball/Formal so I am breaking this topic into a two-part post. Today, I am covering preparing to attend a Military Ball/Formal.

  1. Be Fashionable, Yet Tasteful
    • Think classy, sophisticated, timeless elegance. Your date will be in his/her most formal uniform with full ribbons and medals; therefore, you need to dress to that standard. Civilian women wear floor length gowns or very formal cocktail dresses and civilian men wear tuxedos.
      • What to Wear – Here are some beautiful examples!
        What to WearWhat to Wear
    • Military culture is traditional and on the rather conservative side. Avoid neon/fluorescent colors, side cut-outs, excessive displays of cleavage, extremely high leg slits, or backs that plunge so low you can almost see your bum. I am sure you can rock those styles and look dynamite, but this is not the place to do that.
    • Be cautious of too much glitter and/or sequins, tulle, and poofiness. Believe me, I am the first one to go for the glittery gown (see photo below), but you do not want to look like a mirrored disco ball or an overdone pageant queen.
      • What Not to Wear: While shopping, I found the gown pictured below. I think this gown is so fun and a glitzy show-stopper; however, it is definitely not the look for a military formal.
        Deep v-neck + high slit + low back + cut-outs = A big no, no.

        The low v-neck on this gown shows a lot of cleavage and the high leg slit is rather revealing. The low back with cut-outs also shows too much skin. While the sparkles and pink are fun, it’s too much for a formal setting.

        The low v-neck on this gown shows a lot of cleavage and the high leg slit is rather revealing. The low back with cut-outs also shows too much skin. While the sparkles and pink are fun, it’s too “in your face” for a formal setting.

    • Wear pretty, yet comfortable shoes!
      • There is almost always a cocktail hour before the Ball and mingling during the evening so you will be standing a lot.
      • There is dancing!
        • I highly recommend keeping your shoes on and not being the girl who flings them off at the table. It is much more proper to keep your shoes on and even if you have not, it may give the impression you drank too much and are not able to keep your balance in heels. If you truly cannot dance in heels, you may bring a pair of flats and discreetly put them on in the restroom before you start dancing.
  2. Makeup, Hair, and Accessories
    • Keep your make-up clean and elegant.
      • Simple and pretty fake eyelashes? Yes!
      • Red lips? Go for it! (Just be sure to do a more natural eye to avoid competing looks.)
      • Pure glitter or bright neon eye shadow? Not the best idea.
    • Style your hair how you like it: Straight, Curled, or Wavy – All Down, Half-Up/Half-Down, or an Up-do are all gorgeous, especially when they compliment the style of the top of your gown!
      • I advise against tiaras, large hairpieces/pins, and having a hair color that looks like it came from the rainbow.
      • Personal preference note: I tend to stay away from the low up-do. Females in the military always have to wear their hair in a low bun or braid to keep it off/above their collars. I figure my date sees that hairstyle a lot so, I like to change it up and do something different!
    • Get your nails done or do them yourself! You will be shaking a lot of hands and it looks so much better when you have nails that are clean and polished!
      • I suggest a nude color, pale pink, or a French manicure.
      • If you do choose to have colored nails, be sure it is suttle and matches your gown.
      • Stay away from overly long, bright, and decorated/bejeweled nails.
    • Jewelry – Keep it simple and make sure it compliments your gown.
      • I know I said simple, but girl, if you have big diamonds – Wear them! 😉
      • My personal fashion tips:
        • If you are wearing a one-shoulder gown, skip the necklace and go for drop earrings or a dazzling bracelet.
        • If your gown has beading/accents/etc. at the top, you may not need to wear a necklace. The accent in the gown may speak for itself and you do not want the necklace to take away from your gorgeous gown.
        • If your gown is plain and you are looking to sparkle it up a bit, add a broche or a statement necklace.
        • Avoid wearing a statement necklace and drop earrings together. The looks will compete and draw attention away from your gown and overall look.
        • Avoid gaudy pieces.
  3. Be Knowledgeable and Respectful of Military Culture and Tradition
    • Military Balls are FULL of tradition! From parading the colors (bringing in the American and Service flags) to the traditional cake cutting and so much in between, the evening involves an array of traditional elements. If you are unfamiliar with the traditions, ask your date to tell you about some of the important things to that branch of service and his/her specific Corps/specialty/MOS beforehand.
    • Military Rank. I highly recommend making yourself familiar with the rank structure. Here’s a great link to the rank structure and insignia.
    • Sir and Ma’am. Saying “Yes, Sir/Ma’am” and “No, Sir/Ma’am” is a BIG one in this setting! Any officer who is a higher rank than your date and all Flag/General Officers should be referred to as “Sir” or Ma’am.” Follow your dates lead on this!
    • History. Be sure you know the basic history behind and reason for the event you are attending. Your date and his/her fellow service members will appreciate it if you take the time to know the basics of their branch of service as well as why you are there that evening.
    • Current Events. Be up-to-date! Seeing as balls/formals are a social occasion, you will not be thrown into deep conversation and strategic talks about current events, but it is very important to know what is going on in the world. After all, it often dictates where these service members will be and what they do.
      • If you do not already read TheSkimm, I highly recommend it! It is a daily newsletter delivered to your inbox that summarizes the biggest stories and adds a little fun to your morning news report.

These tips are all meant to make you a successful and stunning date (fashion, etiquette, and knowledge wise)! You will be sure to “knock the socks off” your date while also impressing the host and other attendees with your poise and elegance! So, start getting ready because it will be time to attend a fabulous event in just a couple weeks!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips

This week, I am covering dining etiquette! This is a vast topic and can be broken into many posts so today, I am highlighting what I think are the foundational pieces of dining etiquette. Even though “dining etiquette” may feel like a formal topic, a lot of these tips can be used in everyday circumstances such as client luncheons or dinners, going out for a date, dinner with a significant other’s family, and many other settings! Here are my 8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips:

  1. Arriving at the Table and Being Seated
    • Stand to the right of your seat and enter from that side.
    • When everyone arrives at your table, the Host/Hostess invites the table to sit. Allow the Guest of Honor (to the Host/Hostess’ right) to begin sitting first, then the rest of table follows.
    • If everyone has not arrived at your table, but it is time to sit down, allow the evening to proceed as it should.
      • If additional guests join your table, stand to introduce yourself.
    • Anytime a lady excuses herself from the table, the gentlemen should stand as well. The same applies for when she returns.
    • If you have a purse with you, place it under your seat or in your lap if it is small. A purse should not be placed on the table.
  2. Napkin Duty
    • Once seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, but do not unfold it.
    • With the napkin on your lap, unfold it so the main fold is towards you. This prevents crumbs from falling out onto you when you pick-up your napkin.
  3. B – M – W
    • Your Bread is to the left of your plate.
    • Your Meal is directly in front of you.
    • Your Water/Wine is to the right of your plate.
  4. Which piece of silverware do I use?!
    • Work your way from the outside, in.
    • The silverware at the top of your plate is for dessert; do not touch it during the earlier courses. The wait staff should adjust your place setting prior to dessert. If they do not, the fork goes to your left and the knife or spoon goes to your right.
  5. Ah, there are so many glasses!
    • 3 or 4 Course Meal: Work from the bottom, up. The glass(es) closest to you will be for wine during your meal, the next and largest glass is for water, and the small, skinny flute is typically for champagne for toasts and/or dessert drinks.
    • 6 Course Meal: Work diagonally (from right to left), up.
    • If you do not want to be served wine or you do not care for coffee with dessert, simply say “No, thank you.” and place your hand gently over the glass to signal to the waiter not to pour. Turning your glass/cup upside down is not appropriate.
  6. Dining American or European/Continental Style?
    This is actually an entire post of its own (look for another one coming soon!), but a few major points are:

    • American Style: You switch your fork and knife between hands to cut then take the food to your mouth with your fork in the dominant hand. Continental Style: You keep the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right, both facing down, with your wrists against the table.
    • American Style: hands do not touch the table. Continental Style: Wrists always remain on the edge of the table both when you are eating and when you are resting.
    • Both styles: Once finished, place your knife with the blade facing you and fork facing up (American)/down (Continental) in the 4 o’clock position on the plate. This signals to the server you are finished.
    • Both styles: Cut one bite of meat or food at a time. Put that piece in your mouth then cut the next.
  7. Need to leave the table?
    • Simply say, “Please excuse me for a moment.” No one needs to know you are going to use the restroom!
    • Place your napkin neatly on your seat.
    • Exit your chair on the right side and when you return to the table, enter your chair from the right.
  8. At the completion of the meal
    • Place your napkin neatly on the table to signal you are not returning.
    • Exit your seat on the right side.

I hope this breaks down dining etiquette into digestible bits and provides you with the foundational pieces! If you have questions about any of these tips or about another topic, please comment here or contact me. I love hearing from my readers and answering your questions.

Happy Dining!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra