Help a Girl Out...Army Wives Edition

An army wife is the one category I never thought I'd fit into but these days I find myself washing PT uniforms and ACU's on a regular basis. The floor space behind our closet door is littered with gear and I'm slowly learning 'the language'. I've adjusted to the mil spec haircut and the huge biceps aren't so bad but there's this thing coming up that I'm still in the dark about and could really use a briefing on.

The Military Ball.

I have less than one month to lose another five pounds of baby weight (crossing fingers), tone the arms, find a formal, and learn how to impress the Sargeants.

If you've ever been to one, have a sister who's hair you did for one, or a friend of a friend who knew someone who attended, I'd love to hear what it was like. What do I need to know before I go? Also, as of this week, I don't know any other women who will be attending. I've met a few of Brett's male friends from R.O.T.C but I doubt any of them are going to walk with me to the bathroom so we can adjust our pantyhose together.

And just in case you were curious, Brett is in Army R.O.T.C. getting his Masters in Counseling. He is also in the Reserves. He won't be commissioned for a year and a half so we're not quite worrying about deployment yet. It's a good place for us to be. Unlikely but good.Thanks in advance for your advice and you can be sure you'll be getting a follow up post near the end of February with a story of how it went.


p.s. The last formal I attended, I partied like it was 1999. Because it actually was.


Amanda said...

I wish I could say I've been to a military ball, you'd think after 10 years of being a miitary spouse AND 4 years of active duty I'd have made it to one... but no. I have been to my share of formal Christmas parties and they are a lot of fun, not as dressy as the prom, but cute black dress, heels, and sparkly make-up made it fun!

Camille and Luke said...

I've been to one... As a date with an old boyfriend... All I can think of that you really need to know is the "rules" There were all these rules like the boys have to stand when a girl needs to get up from the table and your uniform has to be correct etc and if you don't you have to drink this gross everything you can think of drink (Think mud, oil, orange juice, coffee) I had fun tho! Wish I could have gone to a few more but it ok. Email me if you have more questions, mydarlingfirecracker@gmail.com
Have fun! Camille

Toni Brockliss said...

My Dad was in the airforce for eons and Mum was always going to these shindigs. In fact she could be one of the ladies from those photos! I can spot her beehive a mile away. :)
I can remember that they went off looking very smart and Dad came home looking very messy in the I've-had-one-too-many-beers department. Mum's hair still looked lovely though.
Don't worry about your 5 pounds...you would look wonderful if you had to go tomorrow.

KarenandJason said...

Welcome to the world of military spouses.. I've been an Air Force spouse for almost 5 years (husband flies) and I have YET been to a ball. My husband is so not the ball type and we come up with any excuse not to go. But, I have helped a fair share of lady friends get ready for this thing... and honestly, it's not much different than a prom! Um, I'm not sure how the Army does this sort of thing, but it's mostly the guys that have to have their uniforms up to a certain "spec"- but you just doll yourself up and you'll be fine! As a wife, you don't have to worry about the "sir"s and "ma'm"s, just enjoy it!!

If you need any help, just e-mail me:


Nikkilooch said...

My husband is active duty Army and did the ROTC program at his college. I would say to keep it low key. There were girls there with gowns and proper up-dos and the whole shebang. But if you get a simple cocktail or floor length dress with pretty hair and a little more make-up than you usually wear you'll be fine and probably much more comfortable. Also, wear the comfiest heels you can find! One of the balls I went to we had to stand through the reading of the history of the battalion and it was brutal!

run, kara run! said...

my sister goes to them all the time! i think it's important to look nice, but i believe you'll find a mix of people who haven't tried at all, and people who have tried way too hard. just be yourself, wear a cute, comfy dress and have fun!

Roxanne said...

Mrs. Denbow *you're* an Army wife? I love that we have that in common! Here's my advice; wear a dress that makes you feel pretty (most girls will go prom style, but I've worn some short silk dresses); let hubby introduce you when in the receiving line (the most formal part) and try not to giggle when they bring in the flags and the guy carrying the army flag trip and almost knocks the whole line of em over. Other than that; enjoy yourself. It's pretty casual and a great excuse to meet a bunch of other folks.

merelythemoon said...

I went to an army ball last winter, and it was like being at a fraternity event. Lots of stupid rules that stress you out for no reason because you don't want your date to drink some disgusting crap concoction. I hope your experience is ten times better!

.fitful dreams. said...

I've been to several balls like this with my husband, who is in the AF. What to wear was always stressful, especially since the trend in formal fashion seemed to change every year. From what I've gleaned over the years and from what the classy colonel's wives wear, I would suggest wearing a floor length dress but nothing poofy or crazy. Sleek seems to be best. Also, stay away from bright colors unless you want to steal the show. Black, brown, navy, or another dark color would be best. And don't go for a full-formal updo. Most ladies don't do that for occasions like this. I usually did mine halfway up somehow with a nice barrette or a low french twist. Something like that, ha. This is probably information overload - but I hope it helped! I know the anxiety that comes along with occasions like this but they always turn out to be a blast!
(Oh and another tip, eat before you go or you'll be STARVING!)

Joe Gentry said...

Call your Brother and he will be happy to give you the 411!

erin. said...

i feel like whoever said it is like going to a fraternity event is right on the money. generally, knowing a few of his guy friends is enough. you will most likely sit at a table with people you don't really know anyway, but everyone is will be talkative and friendly for the most part and they will pretty much just talk about work/reserves stuff anyway.

they normally have a little ceremony at the beginning and a couple people speak, then they will have dinner, and dancing... but really the only thing that is ever required from you is just to be there looking nice with a husband who is on his close to best behavior.

corrina darling said...

Yeah... my husband's been in the military for nearly seven years, and I've managed to avoid most of these types of events. He's Navy, so I don't know if it's different, but I've never heard anything about creepy moonshine.

I would not worry about impressing higher ups unless your husband is REALLY anxious to get ahead. I found that there are the people who want to impress and forge relationships with people of influence exclusively (the type who ask you straight out what rank you husband is before anything else), and then there's everyone else. Everyone else is just there to wear pretty clothes and have a good time. Concentrate on that.

Somewhat off-topic, while out and about make sure you always ask if stores offer a military discount (you'll need a military id). Many do but do not advertise.

sonya audrey said...

I agree with the girls who said to keep it low key. I LBD, or something similar is perfect. A lot of the younger girls go all prom-y for it, and a lot of them always bring strippers as dates, so you'll most likely see a whole mix of folks, at least in our experience. It's always been a fun time though. I hope you two enjoy yourselves and I can't wait to read the follow up post!

debsphotographs said...

i've been in the military system for almost 16 years now--as an air force nurse for 10 years and married to a navy officer for 7 years. and i've been to a few military balls :-)

you will see a bit of everything there. some girls all decked out. others not so much. i was one of the 'keep it simple' girls, when i didn't have to wear my uniform.

there's a thing called the 'grog bowl' and that's where the silly rules come in. you have to say and do certain things before drinking the grog. usually it's only the active duty guys that get called up there or a spouse that is well known to the group.

in the end, i wouldn't stress too much. it will be a lot of chatting and dinner. and watching some silly rules play out.

let me know if you have any questions. i know the military system pretty well.

good luck and have fun!!

Elaine VanDRiver said...

I've been to one, as an Army wife and as an Army Sergeant. The best advice I can give you (but I don't think you need it) is to wear a simple, fairly conservative dress. I have seen ladies re-wear bridesmaids dresses--you can spot those a mile away! As long as it is tasteful and simple--no crazy sequins, slits up to your ears, etc, you will be fine! Going to a military ball will help you place some of the names I'm sure you have heard from your hubbs, and will give you a better idea of military protocol. I will be looking forward to seeing some pictures of this event! Also hope you do a post about his decision to join the reserves. Much love!

debsphotographs said...

and look what i found. grog bowl instruction ;-)


jessie said...

oh my goodness, i think this calls for a trip up to kc so that i can show you where i get cute vintage formals for my clients!!!

shopping trip!

geek details said...

The last military ball I went to had a mix of low key cocktail dresses and over the top prommy dresses. It seemed like it was the younger wives wearing the prommy dresses.

If your dress is somewhat formal (I went for the knee length dress with a bit of floof to the skirt) and your hair isn't pulled back in a pony tail, you'll be fine :) You'll fit in with the laid back underdressed group and the over the top overdressed group.

My thing I saw a lot at functions though were wives that wore a size 8 dress when they're really more like a 12 and women who drank way too much and made asses out of themselves. Don't be *that* wife and you'll be fine.

xoxoKrysten said...

I've never been to one but it looks like you're getting tons of great advice. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

My mom works as a civilian (marketing director) in the military so we've traveled all over the world and attended tons of military balls. Think of it as a grown ups prom. There's lots of girls looking at each other, checking out each others dresses, you know the same high school stuff.

The best bet is to go with a long dress. It's a pretty formal event so long dresses are appropriate. Be prepared for dancing and trust me, you'll make tons of friends. Don't be nervous, just have fun!!

Whimsical Woodland said...

Hi Rachel-

I've had friends who attended military balls, and from the sound of it, they sound kind of like a glorified homecoming dance..dancing, couple's pictures, etc. The pictures I saw some of the ladies had "prom hair" and others looked very natural..same as with the dresses..some wore very elegant..but somewhat plain dresses, and others decked out in sequins and sparkle..I think it is one of those events where it's up to your own style..hope this helps!

margot said...

rach i have some really nice dresses if you need! i can send you a package if you want and you can send htem back when you're done, i have a formal event on feb 5, but after that i can send you a bunchhhh. lemme know if you want them, just email me :-)

LaLa said...

omg but it sounds like so much fun :) I'm sure once you get into your going to have a ball, can't wait to see pictures! lots of luck with the last 5 pounds, I'm sure you can do it!

Jenny said...

You're too funny!

Kelly's Adventures said...

I went to one its no big deal its an excuse really for all the guys to get together and drink, for the girls to wear a pretty dress, you don't need to worry about the rules that is more for him.

also I can send you some pictures from times I went and some of my friends if you want an Idea of what people wear

Kelly's Adventures said...

P.S. all the girls there are worried about the same things you are so your not alone

Lisa@VisionaryMom.com said...

these are the most awesome-est pictures.. love them!!

Megs said...

oooo, sounds delightful!

my hubby Joel just got his Masters in Counseling & is now working on his PhD!! it's a fantastic field & our hubbies definitely have an advantage being male!

good luck with your preparations for the ball :)

OpaqueSkies said...

A good rule of thumb at formal events in general is to go classy vs. trendy. And at a military ball where young guys, many of whom are not necessarily career military future officers, you probably want to set yourself apart from the trendies to avoid getting grouped by association and appearance.

When dressing tastefully, 5 lbs. is easily hidden or at least incorporated in attire. So I wouldn't stress if it doesn't melt off. Comfy-stylish in dress/hair/shoes looks much nicer than girls whose faces compete with cleavage, slits, or seeing them constantly tugging, pulling, fidgeting.

An example of standing out as classy/stylish among a sea of strapless/poofy/sleek/bright can be found here:


Once attire is out of the way, maybe brush up on tableware placement, and take the lead of those more senior than you (or hosts) in knowing when to begin eating, standing and sitting, etc.

Some college career centers also offer formal dinners to explain etiquette, etc. if you're not comfortable in that department. Since it's a noncommissioned officers ball, probably things won't be too high pressure. Everyone appreciates the person who can lead them in relaxing, being yourself, and taking things as they come. Just enjoy getting dressed up, and supporting your husband. A smile will always speak the most about you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, lots of good advice already. I did the Army thing for three years and only had to do the formal ball once. Luckily we didn't have a grog bowl at ours (lots of cocktails and drinks, but the grog bowl wasn't a part of this one - that was a different event).

It was always awkward for me to attend social events in the military since I didn't drink - nobody understood it and it resulted in me being more outcast than being a geek already made me. Needless to say I didn't enjoy my time there and was more than glad to ditch when I could.

I love the idea of a grown-ups prom, but I don't really like the military version of it personally. However, as long as you're sociable and willing to talk to complete strangers to try to make new friends it should be a pretty fun and not-too-stressful event!

Best of luck at it! I'm sure that no matter what you go in, you'll be amazing. I'd personally recommend treating it as a classy prom / ball-room type occasion. Don't try to be the center of attention, but look the best you can.

K. G. said...

My brother is in the Marines and just took his fiance to their first ball. It was basically just like another commenter said, prom for grown-ups. They had some speeches to build morale and then their was dancing and refreshments. My future sister-in-law wore a floor length strapless gown.

Allyson said...

My sister goes to these all the time. She always describes it as being prom-like. She usually has her hair up and a long gown. She says they're super fun as long as you are there to have fun. Don't stress too much- she's found a dress a day before a time or two and everything was non-stressful once there.

megan said...

Hi :)
I won't lie- part of why I was so intrigued by your blog was that after drooling over all of the crafty things you do... i read a post of yours where you mentioned the hubbs having drill that weekend. My boyfriend is in the Marine Reserves and currently training across the country before shipping overseas until this fall, so it was really neat to stumble upon your page, and even via the internet, related to your love-of-all-things-crafty, and also the military side- and I, too, never in a million years would have imagined being a military girl. :) Yet here I am, new to the world of blog following, and have even started my own as a way to keep the boyfriend connected while he's deployed. [ http://www.7000milekiss.blogspot.com ]

Anyway! I did attend the Marine Corps Ball this past November. Honestly, there was a whole lot less hype than I thought there would be. It kindof felt like a do-over of prom, except that its not about the girls this time around- we're just there for our men. I, too, worried about who of his higher-ups I might need to impress, but that situation never arose. We had dinner with a table of the guys on his fireteam, and they goofed off during most of the event, then afterwards they opened the floor up for dancing. Boyfriend got restless and wanted to leave before that point, though- but we did hear a lovely rendition of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" blaring from the ballroom when we walked by later on in the evening.

I did research online when I was freaking out about how to prepare for the Ball, and the most helpful advice I found was to remember you are there to compliment your man- wearing a dress in a complimentary color to their uniform, etc. All in all, the experience was much less stressful than I thought it would be. More like a dinner with his friends, but with fancy dresses, and they announce when they would like everyone to stand up. I just looked to the other women in the room and followed their lead. You will have fun :)

Bridget said...

My husband was in the USAF for 13 years, and during that time I also worked for the Communications Squadron taking photos of events like this. You've gotten a lot of good advice already. Be yourself, look nice but don't go overboard, and wear flats or comfortable shoes! The men are really who need to worry about the "rules" at events like these anymore so you'll be just fine. ALSO...Military spouses are some of the friendliest women I've ever met. You all have at least ONE thing in common so I'm sure you'll make some friends at the ball. Most of all I hope you have fun!!

AshleyandJoshua said...

I have never been to an Army Ball, but as an Air Force SSgt, I have been to an AF Ball! I agree with all the other ladies who said 'wear what makes you feel beautiful.' I usually go for a pretty cocktail dress (at AF Balls, we can change after the first half).

Most of all, have fun! I am sure you will meet some great people!

ash said...

i'm in your same boat!

jenny said...

I grew up as a "navy brat"... my mom hated attending those things, but when I was in college I went was my dad's date at one of them. I actually had fun.. Think of it as a fun excuse to get dolled up and spend a fancy evening with your hubby. (for the record, as a police officer's wife, I've also stressed about the dinners and parties, but all in all, it's a chance to go out and eat a nice meal without sharing with kids!)

Can't wait to hear how it goes! xo

the whytes said...

i'm in the same boat! my husband just got back in the navy and he told me i have to go to the navy ball so he can look good...i'm thinking about sending my sister-in-law. she'd look better in a dress. ha ha!! good luck...and be sure to post about it afterwards so i know what to do, too! :)

:) erin said...

I don't know anything about the Military Ball, but if it's anything like a fireman's ball then...it's kind of like the prom. Formal dresses, sit down dinners and a d.j. You know the drill.
Please, please, get an adorable vintage 50's dress and rock it like it's 1959 this time!! Have a blast.

chenguna said...


You dont want to walk in in a full blown gown, hair updo and a sash! Believe me now a days it's not as formal as it used to. Being married to an Army guy for almost 13 years now I know! Look HOT for your man not for nobody else. Most of all have fun, it could get boring so be there for your man and have fun with it.
*Eat before you go, sometimes there's not enough food
*There will be a photographer so be ready bring lipstick for touch up and definitely do it before the event starts.
*Sit with people you know and like so you dont spend your time looking at the wall or talking to some stuck up Officers wife. (They will ask you what's your husband rank...those are the snooty one's)
Anyway if you have any more questions feel free to ask. TRY AND HAVE FUN...its not that big of deal! Kay!
Michelle M.

Alizabeth Noel said...

My sister went to one with her hubby, and didn't really know any other women there. She had a great time. It's so fun to get all dressed up and go out.

Hope you have a great time. =)

Jacinda said...

I went to a Submariner's Ball once with my husband when we were dating. I over-dressed (I had no idea) but nobody cared, all the ladies were super friendly and when we went out afterward everyone congratulated me on my wedding!! HA! (blush)

You'll have fun!

ronda said...

Oh how I love love love military balls. I've been to more than I can count and they are so much fun. It's more stressful for your spouse who has to have everything by the book. There are rules to follow, but it's nothing that's too stressful. Pick a fun dress that you feel comfortable in, some great shoes and have an awesome time. Don't get all wrapped up in the 'rules' of it. You won't be the only one who is attending for the first time. If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask - ronda.beeman@gmail.com

I actually just attended one in Nov. while I was 8 months pregnant. :)