Marine Corps Birthday Ball Tips

A couple of years ago, I wrote a guest post over at Goodnight Moon about what to wear for the birthday ball. And recently, I had a question turn up in my email asking about how to "do" the ball. So I'm going to post my post as well as answer a couple of questions (Scroll to the bottom to see the answers!). If you have any more for me, be sure to leave them in the comments!

Edit: I've been getting lots of emails and questions asking me to check dresses. I am 110% okay with that! Promise! I love looking at what you've picked out (It gives me ideas, too). 

I fear I've instilled some terror in many of my readers. 

So for those of you who are afraid, I say FEAR NOT! :)

100% of the dresses you guys have shown me are not only gorgeous, but totally appropriate. 

Like I said, if you're really unsure, I'm MORE than happy to take a look. I just don't want you all to be afraid or over-think it. 

If you want other opinions besides mine, feel free to post directly to my Facebook page! I bet you'll get a ton of affirmation, or some gentle guidance on the off chance someone does pick a dress from the Hustler catalog. 

Again, don't be afraid! My readers seem to be some of the classiest around. You guys are doing an excellent job of picking ball gowns. 

It's almost that time again...

You Marine girls know what I'm talking about. A time filled with cake, satin, dress blues, and up-dos...

That's right! Birthday Ball time!

I remember how clueless I was about these sort of things when I went to my first ball. Do any of you watch Army Wives? Remember in the first season where Roxy stands up and salutes at the dinner they were at? Well... I asked my husband if I was supposed to do anything when an officer came around (like salute). I just didn't know these things!

(The answer is no, by the way)

Maybe if there was a blog like this one to help guide her, she wouldn't have saluted the Brigadier General and spilled her drink all over her way-too-short mini-dress and ended up naked in the women's bathroom. But fear not ladies, that's what I'm here for!

"Who died and made you queen of all things birthday ball?"

Well, nobody. But hey, I like to share my "knowledge", so go with it.

Let's start with dresses, shall we?

The Marine Corps ball is considered a formal event. Many Marines choose to wear their Dress Blue Alphas (the super fancy one worn in the commercials...). The Husband likes to wear his because they are comfortable. I have no qualms about this because I like when we get all fancy...


My personal rule is that if your Marine is wearing his dress blue alphas, you go a little more formal. I like to stick with floor length because that's always screamed formal to me. Tea-length (falling at about the shin) or knee-length can be done, but not always, use your discretion. You can go a little less formal if your Marine is wearing his service alphas (the green pants and jacket), but keep it classy.

Example time!

The dos:

This is my good friend Brittany. She is awesome.

This is my good friend Ashley.

I know,"She's is an Airforce wife"....but she is pinnacle of class, so pay attention.

I don't have any personal examples of shorter legnth dresses, but these would be a good thing to aim for.....

Color is really up to you. I like to stick to colors that match The Husband's uniform, but that's just me. If you want to try something else, I say go for it. There is no rule saying you have to be matchy-matchy!

Let's discuss the don'ts of ball apparel, shall we?

Alright, I understand how much fun it is to get all dressed up for the ball. I look forward to it every year for that reason. But let us not forget something...

This is not a high school dance, ladies!

We are adults. Pink glitter ball gowns died at senior prom. They were "SO CUTE!" then. Now they're just obnoxious. And let me let you in on a little secret, glitter doesn't come out of anything, let alone your Marine's uniform. Whoever said it was the herpes of craft supplies wasn't kidding.

I have nothing against tasteful sequins and have seen them done. The women who wore them looked absolutely fabulous.

Also, the mini-dress? Not appropriate. If your butt is on the chair, and by "on the chair", I mean if the skin of your back-side is touching the chair, your dress is way too short. If you drop something and there is no possible way for you to pick it up without giving the entire Battalion and the guest of honor a show, your dress is way too short. If 15 and 16 year old girls are trying on the same dress, it's probably too short. If I can see your belly button or the top of your butt, it's probably cut waaaaay too deep. Find something else! There's like 500 million dresses out there! Okay, maybe not that many, but there are a ton. Special order if you can!

"But I have a baaaaanging body and I want to show it off!"

I understand. I myself have a "banging" body (hows that for self-esteem?), but I also don't need to wear a quarter inch of clothing to show it off. Trust me, if you wear the right style, no matter what your body type is, you'll look good all the time. Less is not more in this case. More is, well, more.

Also, think about your Marine. Whether you like it or not, you are a reflection of your husband/fiancé/boyfriend. If you show up looking like you belong at amateur hour, it doesn't make either one of you look good.

Now, I've seen some girls buy some AMAZING dresses. Absolutely beautiful. But they don't fit and in turn, come about this close to flashing the entire party. Please figure the cost of alterations into your dress budget, girls. It will save you a lot of adjusting, a lot of double sided tape, and a lot of embarrassment.

Example time!

I do have a lot of personal examples that I could share, but since I feel that would be wrong to embarrass the unsuspecting (and I don't have their permission), I'll just got with the designer's pictures off their websites.

No, really.

Zebras are not blue.

I swear to you, I saw someone at the ball with an almost identical dress last year... Just no!
Don't laugh, I'm for real.....

And for the last one....

Yes. "That's a wedding gown."

I'm not crazy. At the 233rd ball, THREE women showed up in their wedding gowns. Three. And no, they had no just gotten married. I know this for a fact.

Also, while we're on the don'ts, please refrain from wearing your Marine's dog-tags as a necklace with your ball gown. We know you're here with someone in the military, no need to wear his dog-tags!

Sometimes, there is an after-party. At the 233rd birthday, The Husband's battalion rented out the nightclub at the hotel we were at. It was just the unit and their dates and it was so much fun. Way more fun than I thought it would be. Anyway... feel free to get a little party dress for the club! Still remember to keep it classy, but a lot of people will change into something else before heading to the after-party. Feel free (if it's in your budget) to get a second party dress.

Now that we've covered what to wear, let's just discuss how things will go that night.

Generally, you'll show up early and get the professional picture taken (we do every year, it's not a bad price, so look into it!) and mingle with your friends while waiting to be seated for the ceremony. You get to see everyone else's dresses (we know what the Marines are wearing, that's not as much fun), take pictures, grab a drink, etc. Plan accordingly! They'll usually tell you what time cocktail hour starts and when you have to be in your seats. If you're unsure, ask your date or your FRO or check the program.

Once they allow you to find your seats, you'll be apart of a ceremony that generally lasts about half an hour to an hour. It's full of traditions and speeches. PLEASE do not be disrespectful and giggle and talk and be generally obnoxious during this time. It's so incredibly rude and makes you look ridiculous.

There will be a couple of times where you will stand during the ceremony. Don't fret! They'll tell you when to get up. There will also be a few times during the ceremony where only the Marines will stand. They'll make it clear who's supposed to stand when and who's supposed to stay sitting. This is why it's good to not talk and pay attention, because if you don't hear them tell everyone that only Marines should be standing, you're going to be the only civilian standing at the inappropriate time. This happened last year at the two tables behind ours where they were all talking and laughing during the ceremony. They probably didn't hear the part asking all civilians to stay seated and in turn, about 10 girls were standing when they should have been sitting. They looked totally awkward when they figured it out.

If you still aren't sure, locate the more "seasoned" wives. They're usually sitting at tables with Marines with a lot of stripes/brass and medals. Take cues from them.

And one last thing: the alcohol will be flowing. Marines know how to party and as long as you ARE 21 and of legal age, you can partake. The Husband's old unit usually set up a bar tab so those OF AGE could drink. If you are OF AGE and totally LEGAL, enjoy! Just enjoy in moderation. You don't want to be the one getting wheeled out of the club or after-party unconscious (Yes... I've seen this too).

Back to some do's!

Do: Have a blast. Like I said before, the Marines know how to party. I've never had a bad time at a ball. They're fun, motivating, and who doesn't like getting all dressed up for a night out?

Do: Pamper yourself! If you can swing it, get your hair and nails done and maybe even get your make-up professionally done. Seriously. The guys get to celebrate their birthday, but there's nothing saying you can't treat yourself every now and then. If you can swing it, do it. It makes that day that much more fun.

Do: If the ball is out of town (or a decent distance away from the home base), try to get a room at the place the ball is being held. It makes it so much easier to be staying where the ball is being held. Typically, if the ball is held someplace with a hotel, there will be discounts available to you. If you haven't heard anything, contact your FRO, they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Do: Take tons and tons of pictures.

Do: Be polite and be on your best behavior! You might be meeting a lot of your Marine's higher-ups that night. Smile, shake hands, and chat it up.

Do: Buy a classy and stylish dress. They're out there! I promise!

Do: Factor in possible alterations, shoes, accessories and hair/makeup/nails into your budget. It's easy to spend way too much money if you're unprepared for these expenses.

Do: Get shoes you can walk in. Learn from me and my way too tall heels at the first ball I went to: No matter how cute they are, they are out to hurt you and they will accomplish their task. If you're not used to wearing heels, get some conservative, but cute and comfortable, shoes. You won't regret it.

Do: Have the best time EVER.

The Don'ts Review:

Don't: Wear something skanky.

Don't: Talk and giggle during the ceremony.

Don't: Get fall down drunk. It's probably not fun ending up in the ER on ball night with alcohol poisoning.

The good news is there are a lot more do's than don'ts, so don't worry! I swear it's not as stiff and uppity as it sounds! The ball is a blast and you need to enjoy it to the fullest. 

1: Should I get my hair and nails done? This is entirely up to you. For The Husband's first birthday, I got my nails done but did my own hair and makeup. For his second one, it was in Vegas and since I'm from there, I had my hair girl come to the hotel and do my hair (as well as a few other wives hair). I like to because I enjoy the feeling of getting prettied up for an event. But if I was short on time or cash, I wouldn't mind doing it myself. 

2: How to act around his superiors? This can be very intimidating. I remember being a very new, and very young wife, and being absolutely petrified of meeting my husband's superiors. My best advice is to be cordial and polite, but don't be afraid! My husband's superiors have never been rude or scary to me. If you meet someone in your significan other's command that is in charge of him, take a deep breath, relax, and be kind! Chances are, they'll shake your hand, introduce you to their date if they have one, ask a couple of questions and you'll all be on your way. As long as you aren't "that girl", things will be fine. Just remember, your behavior reflects on your Marine, whether or not we want it to or believe it should.

3: Is it ok to be a nervous wreck about this? Sure. I mean, I'm always nervous about things when I don't know what to expect, but I assure you, there is nothing to be nervous about. 

4: What do I do if I already bought the dress and there is a rumor about a deployment when the birthday ball will happen? Well, the thing with rumors is that they are just that: rumors. Never believe anything until there are orders in hand. And even then, things can change. That said, if a deployment happens instead of a birthday ball, just hang onto the dress! Every unit I've ever known has still had a ball, even if it was late. 
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  1. Is the ball in just one particular place, or are they at every base?

    1. Every unit, at each base, generally has one. With exceptions for deployment.

  2. Is it okay to wear white to the ball in november? My marine loves me in white but I'm not sure if it is appropriate or not?

    1. Color is all personal preference. The whole "no white after Labor Day" rule is archaic and rarely followed in the fashion world anymore. Just be prepared to field a ton of "Congratulations!" from people thinking you just got married.

    2. Is white frowned upon/given looks to at the usmc ball still?...

    3. Hi Jenna,

      No, not at all. White dresses are really pretty. Like I said above, color is all persona preference. I never liked to wear white because our ball was typically in Vegas and it gave the impression that we had just gotten married. We simply didn't want to field the "Congratulations!" that would be inevitably coming our way (and they will. We're from here and stayed on the strip after our wedding and we were bombarded for the 20 minutes we were on the casino floor of our hotel).

      If you want to wear white, have at it!

  3. I bought a dress, being the fact that its a prom dress its still classy. its a satin sleek blue dress with some sequins on the top and circle cut-outs on the left side. I asked my Marine if that was appropriate and he said it was fine. But i just want to make sure from someone who has gone before

    1. Hi Holli! Thanks for your question.

      It's impossible to tell without a picture, but I'd say that as long as they aren't HUGE and showing under/sideboob or your butt, you're alright. My dress this past year had nude cutouts on the sides and along the v-neck and I like to think I look good. There's always a right and wrong way to wear the same piece of clothing, so keep that in mind.

      Have a great time!

  4. Okay Thank you! I was thinking maybe where a slip under it to help with the possible sideboob issue. Thank you so much Mrs.S! With this being both mine and my Marine's first time going I dont want it to look bad

  5. I think I found the perfect dress! This should be fine right? In a Dark Navy not that bright pink? It's my first ball I am super nervous!

    Thank you

    1. Hi Cynthia!

      That dress is gorgeous. Make sure to get it hemmed though! It looks like it could be a magnet for heels. :)

      Don't stress. Just have fun!

  6. Mrs. S

    I just got married and am attending my first Ball November 16, 2013 (my birthday as well!). I have been on nearly every website and blog there is about the proper attire and attitude. I must say that your's has been by far the most helpful. I am still having a hard time finding the right dress to compliment his Dress Blues. I am in love with these two dresses:

    Is the first one too disrespectful looking because the shoulders are so bare?

    1. Hi Cheyenne!

      Congrats on your wedding.

      Both dresses are gorgeous. I would wear either one of them.

      Don't worry, you're good!

      Have a great time!

  7. I'm going to my first marine ball, and my fiance loves this dress and claims it will be fine, but I guess I'd feel more comfortable having another woman's opinion.

    I know it's showed in white, but I would get it in gold.

    1. Hi Danielle!

      Love it! Someone I know wore something really similar in gold a few years ago and it was beautiful. My only suggestion is to make sure the cups are fitted really well, so if they're kind of loose, make sure to get it altered (The way the dress looks, the top might be kind of... stiff? so it might make the top not as fitted as it should be).

      You ladies have impeccable taste, truly. I have yet to see a dress that made me go "Uh..."

      Looks great. Gold will be gorgeous on that dress!

  8. Hi Mrs. S. My boyfriend has invited me to go to the military ball with him in November. I've done a lot of research about what to wear and how to act lol I picked out this dress and I think its perfect but I just wanted someones opinion who has already been through this and seen what other girls wear.

    I got it in the same color but I got it without the train.

    1. Hi Emily!

      I really like that dress a lot. Good call on getting it without the train. It's very pretty. You did well!

      Have fun!

    2. Thank you! I really love your blog. Its helped explain a lot for me.

  9. Hi Mrs. S! My name is Alex, and I think I just tried to submit a comment from my phone a minute ago, but sadly it just shut down on me. Anyway, this is my first ball with my husband and I'm a little nervous. I saw this dress online/in the store and I even tried it on. I know in the picture it looks like it barely covers anything, but I am much shorter than the model(around 5ish feet if I'm being generous). Because I am so short, the dress actually lands right above my knees. I just wanted another woman's opinion who has been through this. Thank you! :)

    1. Hi Alex!

      The dress is gorgeous. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to buy it, because I've been looking for something like that for MONTHS. Seriously.

      That said, I personally wouldn't feel comfortable wearing that to a ball. The length would be good on you I think since you are shorter, but I'm just not sure about the look of it for a formal event. I'd love to see it on you if that's possible. I think it's the nude look of it that's throwing me off, really.

      If nothing else, I'd get it to wear out after the ball, if you're planning on partying it up someplace afterward. Or even if you're not. It's a great night out dress.

      It really is a pretty dress though. (And if you do buy a dress from Windsor, ask for the military discount!)

  10. Thanks Mrs. S! If I get a chance, I'll go back and take a picture of it on me tomorrow! That nude look was what got me too, and with the store closing in five minutes I didn't really get to decide. I liked it as a cocktail dress but I was little unsure. Thank you for your feedback!

  11. I would really love to get this dress. It's too short for my taste. But I emailed them and they said they can make it longer for me. I think it looks classy, a little back no cleavage or anything like that. Would you mind taking a look and letting me know what you think. I am also blonde at the moment and can get the dress in any color so i was thinking maybe a different color.

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Hi Erin.

      I think if it's longer, it could look good. I'd definitely like to see the finished product!

  12. I'm attending my first ball November 2nd. I found a dress I love and I know I would feel comfortable in but I would like opinion from someone who has gone. I want to wear red heels unless you think i shouldn't.

    1. This dress is beautiful. I think it would look gorgeous with a simple pearl necklace. Or you can get a rhinestone necklace to add some sparkle (I love sparkle).

      Good choice!

  13. I will be attending my first ball in three weeks! I have yet to find a dress that my man and I both like that's in my price range! Any websites that sell dresses for cheap!? Also, I will be flying.. Do you have any tips for flying with a gown?!


    1. Hi Molly,

      I'd look through some of the links some of the other girls have posted here in the comments section. I'd also check out bridal salons in your area (David's Bridal usually has some inexpensive options).

      As far as flying goes... if you can use a garment bag, I'd do that. Call your airline and ask if they are able to accommodate a soft garment bag as a carry on. Either way, when you get to your destination, it could have some wrinkles in it. Hang it in the bathroom when you shower. The steam should help the wrinkles fall out. If you do need to iron it, follow the directions to a T, and even then, I'd iron on a lower setting just to be sure you don't damage your dress.

      Good luck! Have fun!

  14. hi i love your good advices... i have a question i wore a dress for a marine ball in a totally different station 2 yrs ago. i love this dress ans was wondering if it would be consider tacky to wear the same dress for this year since i havent had the chance to wear it for any other ocacion and im absolutelly in love with this dress what do you think

    1. Hi Monica,

      Not at all tacky. It's a good way to save some cash and wear a dress you love again.

      Have a great time!

    2. Hi Mrs. S,
      I'm going to my first Marine Corps Birthday Ball in about a week and a half, I'm so excited to be with my Marine again (he's been about 2,000 miles away at his MOS training since he graduated from boot camp and MCT in April, and will be coming home at the end of November!!), but I'm nervous as all get out about the actual event. I'm a chronic worrier and am convinced that I will do something horribly offensive by accident; it's been two years and I'm still the same way around his family lol. I've gotten complements on the dress I chose by my family, but would really feel assured if I had the thumbs up from someone who had been to a Ball recently.
      I'm a particularly busty girl, so I completely crossed out strapless dresses (lessons from Prom), and had the dress pulled up by a good inch to not make myself feel completely exposed. I'm also going with very minimal jewelry, a necklace he got me got Christmas, gold bangle bracelet to cover a small tattoo I have over my left wrist, and gold earrings.
      Any help/advice would be appreciated more than you could possibly know!

      Thank you in advance (:

    3. Hi Tori!

      That dress is absolutely beautiful. I think it's going to look great on you.

      Have a great time! Be sure to post some pictures on my Facebook page after the ball. I'd love to see the finished product!

  15. This has been so incredibly helpful. Thank you so much!

  16. Hi Mrs. S : )

    I've been wanting to ask the opinion of a married usmc wife's opinion on the matter of a dress; long story short I purchased a customized dress a while back and had it arrive a couple days ago only to see that they made it completely wrong and unwearable which left me scrambling to find a dress for my man's last ball which is... Of course, this Saturday as my luck would turn out haha. I was able to purchase this dress new at a fraction of the cost and was wondering what your opinion would be on it? (I did sew half way up the slit as well so it's nowhere near that high and am planning on trimming the train.) You've been so helpful with answering other girls answers so any thoughts would be helpful! Thank you in advance for your response!<3

    1. Hi again,

      I did answer your question about white dresses above, so be sure to look at that.

      The dress is gorgeous. I wouldn't even worry about sewing the slit up at all. My dress last year and the year before had a similar one. As long as nothing is hanging out for all to see, you'll be fine. IF you did get it altered, I'd take the train off and make it all one length so it doesn't get stepped on all night long.

      Have a great time!

  17. I keep seeing that formal dresses are what should be worn, but I was wondering if dress slacks were appropriate because I'm uncomfortable in dresses. Or are dress slacks more business than formal?

    1. I think I've seen some dress slacks on women at the ball. I can't really remember. It does kind of say business to me, but there are some more formal pant-suits out there if you look.

  18. what if your in highschool?? i am a freshman but we still a marines birthaday ball and in fact it's next friday november 15 2013 i have my dress but i dont have the shoes or a date because the guy i like is acting wierd. can you help on that aslo, we are both in MCJROTC, but i like him and i think he likes me but he how can i tell. i want to go with him to the ball but i need help and advice. what do i do about him and what do i do about the high school MCJROTC ball??

    1. Hi Ivie.

      If you're in high school, obviously, it changes things. What is appropriate for a high schooler is entirely different than what is appropriate for an adult. I would still make sure it was something with a little class.

      If you're also in MCJROTC, are you not planning on wearing your uniform?

      All you can do is ask him what is going on. If he hasn't asked you to go, ask him, and if he doesn't want to go, there's nothing saying you can't go alone and still have a good time.

      Good luck.

  19. My son's girlfriend will be just 17 and is very petite and super sweet. He's 18 and leaves for basic training April 28th. I'm looking ahead to November. What do you think of this blue dress for the ball? The flowers on the bodice would look so beautiful on her, but the hemline is my dilemma. I think it looks elegant and formal, especially on someone with her body type. Before I speak with her, I would appreciate your advice. Thanks.

    You will have to cut and paste the link below to open it.

    1. Hi Marty,

      That dress is very pretty. I think it would be perfectly fine for a ball. The hemline is fine, especially with the long, sheer skirt over it.

      Congrats to your son and good luck to him!

  20. If this Dress was Ruby Red this is the Dress I plan on getting!!!. Only thing is I don't know what kind of shoes to get?. I found a pair I really Like but I don't normally wear heels and I'm looking for one that isn't so...Tall?. Do you have any suggestions on any type of shoes cause I still want to wear a heel just not a huge heel.

    1. Hi Jaden,

      Look for a kitten heel. They're small; about 2-3 inches in height. Sounds like that would be perfect for you.

      Have fun!

  21. I would love to know what you think of my dress (I don't have a picture online so I'll just post a couple of links to similar dresses
    The front of this dress is similar to my dress, except the cutout on the front is higher. (and I'm not as busty as the model, so modesty wouldn't be an issue with my dress) Also, instead of rhinestones all over the bust, there is a band underneath the bust that has some beading and a few rhinestones. The back of the dress just has a tie (it doesn't really look like the back of the dress in the link) My dress has two layers of different colors like this dress, but it is a lot more subtle so that it looks more like the dress this link:
    Thank you so much!
    I'm mostly just concerned about if the color is appropriate, because I've heard some people express concern about bright colors. Last year I wore a mermaid style dress of changeant fabric (deep purple and black) and I got a lot of compliments so I want to make sure I don't wear something totally wrong this year!

    1. Hi there.

      Those dresses look really nice. I think they would be (or a combination of them) fine.

      As for color, go with whatever you want. I would match my husband, but if I found a dress that I liked that wasn't perfect with his blues, it probably wouldn't deter me. Go with what you look good in and what you like!

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. If he is finishing his mos training in November can he still go?

    1. I asked my husband and he told me they probably will, but it won't be formal. It'll probably just be a ceremony done in cammies.

  24. What is your take on tattoos? I have a floral half sleeve and am not sure if I should find a dress to cover it or just let it show?

  25. I am only 16 years old and my boyfriend asked me to the ball. I am afraid my age will be a problem if not that, the fact that a young girl is crowded by many grown women. I will say I am mature for my age but am frightened by all of the authority that will be there.


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