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Military Ball Etiquette

Updated on April 10, 2017

Ceremonial toasts, the posting of the colors, and the ritual of mixing the punch bowl are some things that may come to mind when thinking of a formal military dinner. These customs and the formality of the evening are intended to enhance the tradition that all U.S. Armed Forces participate in.

The names of this occasion vary within the services, ranging from Mess Night to a Dining-In. The main purpose of the event is for the members of a military unit to meet socially to honor the achievements of a unit or an individual or to say farewell to departing members and welcome new ones aboard. Unit tradition, history, and accomplishments serve as the foundation for building and maintaining professional camaraderie and unit esprit de corps.

The Don'ts

There are certain rules that you must follow while in attendance. Without the President's permission, you may not:

  • Come in and sit down at the table
  • Leave the table or return to it after being permitted to leave
  • Throw anything
  • Begin a course before the President
  • Smoke
  • Use foul language
  • Discuss or place bets or wagers
  • Discuss political or controversial issues
  • Talk shop (matters of the workplace)
  • Speak a foreign language
  • Propose a toast


(Please note that once the function starts, there is no getting up to use the restroom until the President calls for an intermission, unless you ask for permission. Military protocol overrides all calls of nature.)

Aside from the general rules, there are other things you should keep in mind.

  • Have fun but maintain a professional image. (You are surrounded by all of your bosses!)
  • Ensure your makeup is on the conservative side.
  • Keep your perfume scent light. (As well as scented lotions or hand sanitizers.)
  • Get or give yourself a manicure.
  • Wear the same bra you wore when you arranged the ribbons and medals on your dress coat.
  • Bring breath mints instead of gum.
  • Carry a spare pair of pantyhose to switch into, in case yours gets destroyed.
  • Break in your shoes if you are going to wear new ones.
  • Do not indulge in alcohol. Keep it to a maximum of two drinks!

Each unit has their own spin on their events. It is important for you to adhere to the rules and not stick out and look disrespectful. Have fun while keeping it classy.

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