The Long and Short of Dressing for a Military Ball


The long and short of dressing for a military ball"Is your dress long or short?"

It's a question that haunts many military spouses before a ball, because picking the right gown can be a stressful affair. More than anything, you want your service member to feel proud as he enters the room. How do you stay true to your style needs, yet respect traditional military etiquette?

My name is Kimberly, and I've been a military spouse for 13 years. To this day, I continue to struggle with this question. I'm 5'3" at best with a petite figure so the words Black Tie on a formal invitation are exciting but scary as I imagine myself in a long gown that overwhelms my small frame. As a seasoned spouse, I know the accepted attire for a ball has traditionally been a long gown. Ladies fortunate enough to have been blessed with long legs look stunning in such attire. I, on the other hand, do not. The vertical height needed to balance the width of a flowing gown does not fit my build. To avoid looking even shorter than I already am and to bypass a risky alteration on delicate fabric, a glamorous knee length dress is a better option for me. Still, I battle with how to adhere to formal dress code standards without making a major fashion faux pas.

Luckily for me, both long and short dresses have become standard at most military functions. Even though I often choose to wear the shorter option, I still always take etiquette into consideration.

Whether you are tall or short, I truly understand the daunting task of selecting the perfect fit. My single most important advice is to remember that what works best for you might not work for someone else. So when making your selection, make sure you choose based on your build.

For what it's worth, here's what I've learned over the years about selecting the perfect gown:


Dark colored dresses tend to be more flattering for all body types. Navy blue or black are always safe options. Bright colors are beautiful, but expect to stand out.


It doesn't matter how beautiful your dress is. If it doesn't fit, it will not look good. Shopping in a friend's closet is a great way to save money. Or if you want to splurge on something new, go for it. This is your chance to get dressed up and feel beautiful. No matter what route you decide, make sure you select a style that flatters your build. Spend the extra cash, if need be, to get it cleaned or altered. Remember, service members take great pride in their uniforms. It's an honor to proudly wear their colors, medals and/or unique accessories. Complement them by looking clean and elegant on your special night out.


If done properly, glam and sparkle can make you the beauty of the ball. At the last ball I attended, the woman in the black sequined dress was the star of the night. Her black patent Louboutin peep-toes with the signature red soles dazzled the crowd as she moved on the dance floor. The right amount of sparkle or color can turn a simple dress into a stunning sight.


Louboutin shoes might not fit your budget, and that's totally fine. You can still find the right accessories to dial up your dress a notch. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your signature style. Sparkly rings show up in formal photos, so make sure they are clean. Don't let uncomfortable stilettos dampen your enthusiasm for dancing. An elegant black patent wedge heel with rounded toes can be just as glamorous as a sparkly stiletto, but much more comfortable. Avoid being too matchy-matchy with your jewelry by mixing up your styles. And finally, don't feel like you have to spend a fortune on your accessories, but do make sure they stand up to the formality of the event.


Duty stations and ball venues will vary in formality depending on geographic location and tradition. Before deciding on a dress, survey people you know to find out what they are wearing. Reach out to friends who have attended that particular ball before. They can explain what to expect.

Next time you are trying to decide between wearing a short or long gown, keep these simple tips in mind. No matter what length you choose, make sure it flatters you in a way that leaves your spouse breathless.

What were you wearing when you felt like the beauty of the ball?

BlogKimberly Bacso