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How to Look Your Best at the Marine Corps Ball

As your Marine’s date for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, you are a reflection of him. You are there to honor the Marine Corps and every Marine’s service, so how you dress should be in an appropriate manner. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis)

The 237th Marine Corps Birthday Ball is right around the corner. 

As wives, fiances and girlfriends, we are lucky enough to be invited to share in this event. The evening is about honoring the traditions of the Marine Corps. You are a direct reflection of your Marine, and you want him to be proud to have you on his arm. I have been attending the USMC Birthday Ball with my Marine for the past five years. In the few birthday balls I have attended, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Trust me, you don’t want to be the date whom everyone else is talking about – or even worse, the date who is not welcomed in!

| More: Marine corporal reflects on Marine Corps Birthday Ball with Justin Timberlake as her date |

I am taking my past experiences and sharing with you some tips on how to dress for the ball.

1. Be Classy! Pretend you have just been invited to The Oscars. Go for a Sandra Bullock or Gwyneth Paltrow look, NOT Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj. This event is considered black tie, so long dresses are appropriate. However, I have seen some women wear tea-length gowns, and they looked stunning. Just remember, below your knees! Stay away from too much poof or long trains on your dress; they just get stepped on while you’re socializing and dancing. Also, keep your skin exposure to a minimum. There is a time and place for the little black strapless dress, and the ball is not it. No one wants to see your boob pop out on the dance floor!

2. It’s not your high school prom! Your prom dress may have been fabulous in high school, but this is not high school. Save the glitter, neon colors and high slits for the 16-year-olds. I understand that buying a brand new dress may not be in your budget, but there are plenty of ways to find a classy, age-appropriate dress.

A few tips I have for shopping on a budget:

  • Get together with your fellow spouses and throw a dress swap party!
  • Start looking in sale racks months before. Usually every November, your Marine’s unit will have its birthday ball. Don’t wait until ball season to find a dress … way too much pressure!
  • Check the internet, base yard sales, thrift stores … etc. If you’re crafty enough, you may even be able to tweak what you find into your own design.
  • Renting a dress is a possibility as well. Have you always wanted to wear the glamorous gowns you see on TV? Well, for the night you can. The ball is your red carpet.

3. No insane prints or outrageous colors! Animal print and sequins are trendy right now, but don’t do it for the ball. You don’t want your neon cheetah print dress to draw all the attention. This night is about your Marine and how handsome he looks in his uniform. I’m not saying you don’t want to look gorgeous, but find a color that compliments his uniform. Red, navy, gray, black and yellow are all great colors for the ball.

4. Shoes! You are going to be standing, walking, sitting and dancing all night. You want to be comfortable. If you can rock the five-inch heels, by all means, do it up! On the other hand, don’t wear flats, flip flops or sneakers. This will ruin your look.

5. Hair, nails and makeup! Some women spend the extra money to let professionals do the work. Usually, you can find a salon in your hotel or close nearby. If you are not into spending the extra cash, get together with a group of girlfriends beforehand. It’s a fun way to get ready and help each other out. Now, with websites like Pinterest and Youtube, you can find great ways to style your hair and makeup. Back to my “this-is-not-your-high-school-prom” comment, this advice also goes with your hair and makeup look. No need for glitter, butterfly clips or crazy huge up-dos. Keep your hair simple and pretty. I am always a fan of loose curls or an easy up-do. When it comes to makeup, you don’t want to go overboard. Yes, for the ball I wear a little more than I normally do, but I don’t go overboard. If you do a smokey eye, then have subtle lip color. If you want bright red lips, then make sure you tone it down on your eyes.

The Marine Corps Birthday Ball is a highlight of our year! I love getting dressed up and honoring the Corps. I am so proud of my husband, and this is the night to celebrate that. And in the end, don’t stress. You will look fabulous!

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally featured on USMC Life”, an opinion-based website which provides an overview of every major Marine Corps base focusing on providing specific base information, military housing and photos, schools, youth programs and sports, getting to and from each installation and popular links helpful to Marines and their families. The site also provides resources for fiancés and new military spouses, Tricare, military discounts, free money for education, moving and PCS tips, separating from the Corps and more.

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30 Responses

  1. Marine Mom says:

    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.

  2. Crystal Kelly Yzaguirre says:

    I bought a dress with a fitted beaded bodice and an A-line ball gownish dress with tulle on the outside. It was on super sale and I coveted it for months. Its silver and ivory? eggshell? I dunno, an off white color. it looks sort of like this

    too promish?

  3. mozart nicolas says:

    nice,great job,i like it.
    buy some cheap formal dress,go to

  4. Sheila Q says:

    Not quite sure how I feel about this article. I think one can dress appropriately while still being trendy. So tired of seeing the frumpy plain janes…

  5. krissidy says:

    truthfully, since they don’t show extensively, wear them. i’ve been to 4 balls and i don’t know how many times by the end of the night my feet are killing me. if they look like this then i’d say go for it, but if they look anything less than then i’d say no.

  6. Brad Otto says:

    I have always Treated the Marine Corps Ball as a special event, which it is. If you have never attended then think of it as a military Black tie event. Very posh and proper. there is a lot of history and background to the events of the night. Its more then dinner and a night out. Our Veterans Group wanted to hold a Birthday celebration, and maybe have it more casual, That didn’t go over well with a majority of the Hard chargers in the ranks. If you have your dress uniform make it ready as if for inspection. If not, a nice breasted suit will service (tie included). For the ladyies a formal dinner dress is appropriate. Some would say below the knee length or long. But be assured NO short skirts or flashy hot pants. The senior Marines and Officers will be looking at your Marine and it will reflect well on him. There will be drinking and dancing later in the evening, be assured you will have a great time. Be confidant and polite and all will go right. Happy Birthday To all who earned the title Marine!

  7. Anonymous says:

    No. That is a cocktail dress.

  8. BC says:

    Every unit has their own. They are usually around the 10th of Novemer.

  9. BC says:

    That looks nice but that train is really long and it would be stepped on.

  10. Katie Tennison says:

    This Will Be My First Ball. I Found A Dress, But It Hits Right Above The Knee. Is This Appropriate? I Am Short, So It May Look Longer On Me, But I Am Planning On Wearing Hose And A Shawl To Cover The Shoulders. HELP

  11. Guest says:

    When I went last year, of course the younger women wore bright short dresses. But after dinner, it is a lot like prom. Just less trashy.. And a lot of the people are married.. lol

  12. SW says:

    Thanks you so much for your post, I have been on the hunt for a gown for quite a while now. I really would like to know if this dress would be “too much” for the ball. I am planning on getting it in Dark Navy or Black, with a red lip and old hollywood curls. Simple earrings since the dress does have some bead work.

    I would really really appreciate the response. My Marine is getting out and this is his last ball. And I have missed out on two due to his deployment so I am anxious to go and don’t wanna look like a sore thumb and appear disrespectful!

  13. RussellWebb CandyBeal says:

    i am a new marine,,can anyone tell me what the date is for the upcoming ball and where it will be held…thanks

  14. Bella says:

    I have a question about shoes. Don’t laugh, but I found some black platform flipflops embellished with rhinestones that actually look like evening shoes with my floor-length black dress. The flipflops have an extra strap across the toes that makes them look like strappy sandals, not just plain V-shaped thongs. The only time the whole shoe would be revealed as a flipflop is if I sit funny or dance crazy, neither of which is likely. Are these shoes absolutely out of the question?

  15. 90 says:

    its not that the woman would be judged its simply inappropriate for the ball you are a direct reflection of the marine you have attended with so it needs to be classy it can be sexy but you dressing trashy sexy is not acceptable

  16. Marine's Mom says:

    I agree with Christina’s reply below. It’s a very distinguished affair and an honor to be attending.
    If you look up the definition of “Black Tie Event,” you won’t find anything that says have class, and wear a “below the knees” dress. It is implied that a woman would and should know to wear a long gown or tea length “conservative” dress.
    Absolutely not sexy, but the opposite.
    My advice to any woman attending is to dress as though you’re dining with our Commander-In-Chief, or a member of the Royal Family. Specifically the Queen.

  17. Mom says:

    What is the date of the ball and where is it located at?

  18. Brittany Ciuferri says:

    I agree. I met the commandant at my husband’s ball and I would have been very embarrassed if I had a slit up to my lady parts or my boobs hanging out. A little skin is ok, but you really don’t need to put on a show.

  19. Brittany Ciuferri says:

    I agree that they wouldn’t be appropriate. And I think even a bright shade of red is ok as long as it is a classy dress. You don’t want too much of anything hanging out. I even try to make sure my dress covers my tattoo as much as possible which is hard because it’s pretty big and on my back. I’ve even considered airbrush make up for it.

  20. Brittany Ciuferri says:

    I wore 5 (possibly 6) inch heels last year and I won’t ever do it again. At least not that particular pair…the fit was questionable when I bought them (something wasn’t right, not sure if they were too narrow or the arch was just too different from the shape of my foot) If your heels are “comfortable” and fit you well then I would say go for it. If you have a hard time standing in them at all, it is a big fat NO! Plan on being in them around 6-7 hours (go with the thought that there will be a cocktail hour, a dinner, a ceremony and then dancing/mingling). I would compare it to something you could wear if you were a bridesmaid in a black tie/white tie wedding. There are all different styles and either closed or open toe would be fine. Like I said before, think formal wedding with a fun reception (both style and duration of wear). Also, sometimes people like to go out afterwards, so you may want to consider keeping a change of clothes with you (like in the car). If you are sitting or going with a group, try to talk to them and see what the general consensus is. And one rule of thumb you could apply would be if your job consists of you dancing around a pole, don’t wear your work shoes (or anything comparable).

  21. Ronald Charles Renfro says:


  22. Victor Morales says:

    Im happy for my wife she got invited by our son to The Marine Ball 2012 :)

  23. Lee says:

    Just looking for more advice on the shoes. How long would you be standing for? I have 5 inch pumps that will go with my dress, but I might need to change them for a shorter heel if anyone thinks I’ll be in pain for most of the night. What type of shoe do most girls wear?

  24. Julie27z says:

    Cowboy boots are NOT appropriate. Have her read this article and anything else you can find about the ball. Also red is fine but maybe not fire engine red.

  25. christina says:

    I disagree. The way a woman dresses directly influences the way her actions are perceived. Therefore, if you dress inappropriately people are more likely to remember even the slightest ways in which you acted inappropriately. This isn’t about dressing as sexy as you want, it’s about being appropriate and making a good impression. Everyone (men and women) should understand the importance of dressing appropriately for the occasion, whatever that occasion may be. Knowing how to dress appropriately and professionally is an incredibly important life lesson, the ball is no different.

  26. Missy Lynne says:

    No, It is not like going to prom all over again!!! Did you read any of this?! (Refer to #2) It’s much more formal, and with much classier dates than any HS prom…mmk. Thanks for touching on the animal print!!!! Oh, and the flashy colors.

  27. Semper Real says:

    I hate how someone can infer something about another person just by the dress they choose. Class isn’t wearing a “below-the-knee’s” dress; it’s not gossiping like little schoolgirls about that person when they decide to. How a Marine’s date decides to dress doesn’t reflect poorly on that Marine. How a Marine’s date decides to ACT does.

    Ladies, if you’ve been invited – congratulations. You will have a blast. Be confident, wear something sexy you’re comfortable in. Just because someone else isn’t comfortable wearing it, doesn’t mean they can make you feel the same.

  28. james says:

    this is my first ball and my girl is wanting to wear some type of red dress (she wants it to be a surprise) and she says she wants to wear cow girl boots. now i didnt think it would be that appropiate considering its our ball but what do yall think?

  29. CB says:

    Now what if it ‘HE’ is lucky enough to be ‘Her’ date…

  30. miranda bishop says:

    that is really sweet. you should be happy to get to spend an evening with whom ever is in the Marine’s. It’s like going to prom all over again. We aren’t going to be here forever. I’m happy I’m going to be able to see my brother in a few days. :)