Military Balls

The Ultimate Guide to Military Ball Etiquette for Spouses

Sitting on the couch reading a book, my service member walked into the living room, cocked his head to the side and asked, “So you want to go to a military ball with me?”

I had little knowledge about military ball etiquette or how to find a military ball dress, but I knew instantly that I wanted to go.

I mean, service member in uniform? How can you not?!

On the inside I was screaming like a middle school girl at a Bieber concert, but on the outside, I was acting all calm, cool and totally-got-it-together-twenty-something lady.

I looked directly at him and responded, “Sure babe,” then promptly returned to “reading” my book. But instead of reading, I started to daydream about what my first military ball experience would be like.

Super awesome and easy to read guide to military ball etiquette for military spouses! | Military wife | Military ball dresses | Military significant other | Military Etiquette

Then there was trouble.

I didn’t know a thing about military ball traditions, etiquette, what to wear, or how to interact with other service members. Instead of learning the basics, I opted for a thing I love to call “trial by fire.”

And four years later, I’m still making military ball etiquette mistakes. At the most recent ball my husband and I attended, my dress was again too short.

Best military ball etiquette basics.

I’m finally getting my act together and learning the basics of ball etiquette, and whether you are a military wife or a military girlfriend, hopefully I am helping you do exactly the same. Let’s break it down category-by-category to make it simple.


  1. Keep the dress floor length if possible. Just below the knee is considered acceptable, but floor length is better.
  2. Cover as much skin as your grandma would appreciate.
  3. Avoid anything super flashy. Remember the ball isn’t about garnering all the attention towards yourself.
  4. Consider what your service member is wearing when choosing your dress.
  5. Wear something that fits your body well. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to ooze out of your dress, nor swim in it.
  6. Choose a dress that is suits your age, meaning don’t wear something meant for high school prom.

Flag etiquette.

  1. At the start of the evening there is the presentation of Colors.
  2. Stop what you are doing.
  3. Place your right hand over your heart.
  4. Stand and follow the flag when it comes in and then face the flag.

Cocktail hour.  

  1. Pace yourself. Avoid over doing it.
  2. Be polite. Please, thank you, etc.
  3. Instead of stressing over how to address other service members, simply ask your service member how he / she would like you to address others. You can also introduce yourself and then wait and listen to how others introduce themselves to you. Then refer to them how they introduced themselves.

Receiving line.

  1. Leave drinks and cellphones at your table.
  2. Walk in front of your service member.
  3. Wait for your service member to introduce you to the first person, the adjutant or announcer.
  4. After getting introduced to the announcer, you will start shaking hands as you are introduced to the others in the receiving line. Make very simple small talk such as, “Nice to meet you” or “Good evening.”
  5. If someone gets your name wrong, don’t hesitate to correct them.

Dinner hour.

  1. Once seated, place your napkin on your lap.
  2. Don’t play musical chairs. You will have plenty of time to mingle with others after the dinner hour.
  3. Always take silverware from the outside in.
  4. There are usually several courses, but sometimes there is a buffet. Plan for either.
  5. Waiters and waitresses serve on the right and take from the left.
  6. When you are finished with a course, set your silverware on the upper right or left corner of your plate. This will signal your server you are finished.
  7. Avoid shoveling food. Having a snack before the ball to avoid feeling starved.
  8. Keep elbows off the table and if you need to rest your arms on the table, use your forearm as a rule of thumb.

Ready to attend your next military ball? Love this list of pros and cons of attending | military wife | military girlfriend | military ball dresses

Traditions, ceremonies and speeches.

As the dinner hour winds down or immediately after, there are usually several traditions speeches and ceremonies.

  1. Most military balls have a program. This will help you know what to expect.
  2. Keep cell phones off and avoid side chatter during this time. Even if you are super bored, remember your behavior is a reflection of your service member.
  3. Check before snapping pictures to make sure it’s okay at your particular ball.
  4. Because each branch is different, watch what others are doing and model after them. If you are respectful, attempt to follow along and make an effort, no one will give you a hard time about not doing everything perfectly.

Post dinner hour.

  1. The dance floor will open after dinner and ceremonies are complete.
  2. Avoid breakdancing, twerking or getting low. Have fun dancing, but know this is a formal event not a club in downtown LA.
  3. Take pictures with your own camera and be sure to head over to get a few shots with the photographer.
  4. Be mindful of consuming too many drinks.
  5. Have a safe way to get home.

More posts on military ball etiquette.

Print this free military ball etiquette printable.

Chances are you won’t remember everything from this post. Grab your free printable to help you remember the 9 phrases from this post! Easy peasy!

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  2. Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
  3. Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference to keep parenting simple!

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  1. Love this! The big thing I try to remind people (especially newer, younger spouses and girlfriends) is that a military ball is not the same as your high school prom. I’ve seen way too many questionable dresses and have even seen a few arguments on Facebook over what’s “appropriate” and what’s not. But it’s so important to keep in mind that you’re representing your service member. The night isn’t about you, it’s about them and it’s considered a formal work event. You in no way to want to reflect poorly on your service member.

    xo, Keating | Hello Lovely

  2. Really, it’s not that stressful. Just be respectful, relax and have fun. I’ve been doing this for 11 years…

  3. Thank you for this! My boyfriend is contacting next week and I had no idea how to act at a ball! Thank you for your family’s service!

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