In some ways, every Military Ball is the same. It is an evening filled with food, friends, speeches, a few tears, a lot of pride, some dancing, and plenty of alcohol. There is always the same schedule of cocktail hour, followed by a formal ceremony that includes the cake cutting and a guest speaker. Then there is a sit-down dinner. And finally, the night ends with music and dancing. It might feel a little bit like a nice wedding reception, combined with Prom.

But make no mistake, it is neither a wedding nor a Prom. It is a Military Ball. And you want to enjoy yourself.

I’m not sure how many Marine Corps Birthday Balls I have attended. I have been a military girlfriend or spouse since 2001. So I have attended… quite a few. Some have been absolutely amazing, like the one that was held in a castle in Spain.

Others have been more subdued, like the “ugly dress ball” that one unit held during a deployment. Over the years, my definition of a “good Ball” may have changed a little, since I have kids and don’t stay up as late as I used to. 😉 But I think the definition of a “bad Ball” is universal. So, for your reading pleasure, I have combined this list to help you recognize a bad Military Ball.

Avoid these 10 epic fails at a Military Ball. #milspouse Click To Tweet

It might be a bad Military Ball if…

1. Everyone is drunk before the cocktail hour begins

This leads to unpleasant events, like Marines passing out during the ceremony, or even falling face-first into the Birthday cake. Yes, I have seen it. Don’t be that PFC.

2. A celebrity gets invited

We have all seen the YouTube videos of service members inviting a famous celebrity to be their date to the Ball. Sometimes, the celebrity accepts. This sounds exciting, until you realize that celebrities come with their own security entourage. Every single guest waits in line to be searched. Not fun.

3. The unit is deployed

If the unit is deployed during the Birthday, then sometimes there won’t be a Ball that year. Other times, the spouses will host their own Ball, more low-key. They might even make it a fun theme, such as an “Ugly Dress Ball,” with prizes for the most ridiculous outfit. But then you have to spend time shopping for an ugly dress you will never wear again…

4. You don’t know anyone in the unit

We once had to attend a Ball one month after arriving at a new unit. I thought it would be a good chance to meet new people, but most people at the Ball are spending time with their own friends, not looking for new ones. My husband and I had a good time together, but it probably wasn’t worth all the effort.

5. Your date is in the ceremony

If your military date is participating in the ceremony as part of the sword detail or the color guard, then you will spend half the evening alone. They will be standing at attention during most of the formal part of the evening: the anthem, video message, tribute to fallen comrades, and the guest speaker. At least they get to join you for dinner and dancing. Hopefully you make some friends at your table!

Here are the telltale signs of a bad military ball, with Marines bringing in the birthday cake

6. You are super pregnant

There’s no rule that you can’t attend the Ball while pregnant, of course. You’ll just need to get a maternity dress. And sensible shoes. And you will be the designated driver. But if you’re at the point of pregnancy where just thinking about dressing up exhausts you, then that might be a good year to pass.

7. The tickets are crazy expensive

Most units host fundraisers to help reduce the cost of Ball tickets. But decisions made by the Ball committee can affect the price. At one Ball overseas, the planner wanted to pull out all the stops. He selected a fancy bodega (winery) as the venue, rented a horse performer, flamenco musicians, and dancers! The cost per couple was extravagant, so many younger service members attended without dates.

8. You have to ride a bus to the ball

It sounds convenient when the Command organizes transportation. But you do not want to be on that drunk mobile at 1 AM for the return to base. Vomit in close quarters is not a good smell! Especially when the venue served sherry instead of beer, which got a lot of Marines very drunk, very quickly.

9. Your dress or shoes are uncomfortable

They might look killer when you try them on, but they will feel killer after standing for a few hours. So try on the dress a few times before the Ball, along with whatever undergarments or tape you will need to hold it up. Break in your shoes. And consider bringing more comfortable shoes 10 Warning Signs of a Bad Military Ballfor dancing.

10 Warning Signs of a Bad Military Ball

10. You haven’t eaten

Don’t make the beginner mistake of dieting all day to look good in your dress. The opening ceremonies and guest speaker take at least an hour before dinner, sometimes two. And going through cocktail hour on an empty stomach is never a good idea. Trust me.

Those are some of the worst highlights from balls I have attended. Have you ever seen or done anything crazy at a military ball?



  1. Cheryl

    Worst thing to see at the ball… a Gunny’s Wife passed out in the bathroom on the toilet!

    • Lizann

      Oh man, that is disappointing! Don’t be that wife!

    • Lizann

      Yes, that’s beautiful! Totally appropriate for a Ball. I hope you have a great time!

  2. Mariah

    Is this too fancy??????! First time

    • Lizann

      That looks beautiful, very classy! Not too fancy at all, it will fit right in.

    • Lizann

      Thanks so much for reading!

    • Lizann

      Beautiful dress! White is fine and can look stunning with military dress uniforms.
      The only caution I would give with this particular dress is that the side slit is very high. Looks great on a model, but depending on your own height and body type, it may be uncomfortable or reveal your underwear. Just practice sitting and standing in front of a mirror before you go, so you can feel confident and gorgeous when you attend the ball. If needed, it’s easy to hand-sew the slit another inch or 2 using white thread to a length that works for you. Have so much fun!

  3. Stephanie

    I might be hitting 2 on your list! Husband might have the sword duty and I’m going to be 25 weeks pregnant! This should be interesting


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