Making a Formal Impression

Soldiers, Family members and guests danced the night away at the second annual Hydra Ball hosted by the 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Georgia Army National Guard, in Columbus, Ga. U.S. Army photo by 1SG Rachel Dryden

Tips for Military Formals and Galas 

As the winter holiday season approaches, so do a variety of formal military events. For spouses and significant others who are new to the military community, there may be questions about these gatherings, ranging from what to wear, to the order of ceremony, to the do’s and don’ts in behavior. The collection of tips below should help in preparing to make that first-time military event one to remember.

What to Wear

Events may range in formality, so the best rule of thumb is to follow your Soldier’s dress. If your Soldier is wearing their Class A/Dress Blues, that means the event is formal and you should dress accordingly. 

For men, this means wearing a formal suit or tuxedo in a dark color, such as black or navy, with a white shirt and a tie. A blazer and slacks would generally be considered too informal for these events. 

For women, formal elegance is the theme. As with men wearing a blazer, a cocktail dress or sundress for a woman would generally be considered too informal. Modern formal gowns come in a wide range of cuts, colors and lengths. The key is to choose a dress that is flattering, appropriate to the occasion and fitting of your personality.

Sequence of Events 

Military balls are often steeped in tradition, and as much as these events may be party-like in atmosphere, they are still work-related events and it is important to maintain a degree of professionalism even as you socialize.

Military balls, parties and other social events may vary in their structure, but here is a common timeline:

Cocktail Hour

  • This informal period gives guests a chance to mix, mingle and perhaps take photos. 
  • Alcohol will likely be served during the cocktail hour and other portions of the evening. Pace your drinking throughout the night, making sure not to over-consume. If both you and your Soldier plan to drink, pre-arrange for a ride home. Never get behind the wheel to drive while under the influence of alcohol. If under the age of 21, do not drink.

Receiving Line

  • This is an opportunity for everyone to be briefly greeted by the most senior officers. 
  • Before entering the line, be sure to set down any food or drinks so your hands are free. Also, leave any items, such as coats or umbrellas, with coat-check or at your table. 
  • Women may bring their purses and should remove any evening gloves before shaking hands. Be sure to turn off your cell phone, or leave it at the table. 
  • As you go through the line, the Soldier will generally perform introductions unless an announcer is stationed to introduce you and your Guard member. 

Pre-Dinner Ceremony:

  • This is the point in the evening when dinner is announced and everyone proceeds to his or her assigned tables. 
  • Once at your table, remain standing until the Color Guard and Invocation is complete and the head table is seated.


  • The meal may be buffet style or served to each table. Often, a program and presentations may be taking place during dinner. 
  • Be courteous during speeches and keep your phone turned off and kept out of sight.


  • After dinner and presentations, fun follows with dancing. While you want to have fun on the dance floor, remember that this is a work function. Be mindful that you may not want to go into full-on “club mode.”

Military balls and social events are a fun and exciting time. By understanding the protocol and process, you can approach each event with confidence and anticipation. 


Share this Article: