This is the most frequently asked about question, even for seasoned military spouses. What to wear, what to wear, what to wear? I have been to a few balls while my husband was at West Point but none since he’s graduated, our first is early next year. And I’m really excited, I’ve already picked out my dress!
It is ball season though, so in the spirit of picking out a dress, here are my tips:1. Wear something you are comfortable in. If you hate tulle, don’t buy a dress with lots of tulle. You’ll be wearing this through a long dinner and meeting people so you don’t want to be fussing or itching or whatever. Which brings me to point two…
2. Make sure it fits! Something too small or too big just won’t work. Talk to the salespeople about what looks good on you, or bring along a friend that’ll be brutally honest. Because you don’t want to be falling out or swimming in your gown.
3. Cover the ladies. And the belly button. And your butt. Your date’s boss will be there. And his date. And your date’s subordinates will be there, and their dates. Sure some cleavage is fine but pretend that you’re going to the Golden Globes or Oscars, not the VMAs. Everyone will be looking at your dress, and you want it to be for the right reasons. I once saw a girl whose butt was barely covered. And I still remember it two years later. The girls in dresses that covered their bodies? Well, nope not so much. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing (I can tell you what my friends wore) but you want to be remembered for the right reasons. Like your excellent taste, because you have it! Honestly blending in is not a bad thing. This is a night for your service member and you’re there as support.
4. Look in the formal dress section, not the prom or homecoming section. First of all your date is in their dress uniform, they only pull it out a few times a year, so this is a big deal. Think of it as a tux or 3-piece suit. This is the tricky part, gowns tend to be either prom or mother of the bride. You most likely will need to go to a lot of stores. But it’s worth it. I think shopping for formal dresses in your adult years, before late middle-age, is difficult. Because a happy medium is really hard to find, you want to be fashion forward but not look dated, too young or too old.
5. I don’t think you have to go for a full-length dress, but don’t wear a mini (see #3). I’ve worn knee length dresses and felt just fine. In fact, since I’m short, I prefer them (saves some money on alterations). The only full-length dress I’ve worn since high school is my wedding gown. Seriously. (And the gown for our next ball, yes I have it planned already, more on that soon.) So, I think you have some leeway here. That being said, full-length is the safest bet.
6. Accessorize well. Less can be more. A friend recently told me that she saw a girl with a great dress, but then she overdid it with a giant patent belt, crazy sparkly heels (not in the good way), way too much makeup, and lots of jewelry. A lot of formal dresses don’t need a lot of accessories. Again, talk to the sales people and some brutally honest friends for advice.
I wish it could be a top 5, but I think 6 covers them all. My newest obsession (and where my next gown is from) is Rent the Runway. No they didn’t ask me to try them out or plug them, this is a 100% honest review: I’ve used them and loved them. Basically you rent a designer gown for a fraction of the cost to buy it. You get two sizes and just return in a pre-paid envelope, no cleaning required. Each dress has fit details to help you figure out if it works on your body type. It is a bit nervewracking not knowing if it’ll fit, honestly renting a long dress I triple checked lengths and my height and shoes in my closet. But I’ve found the reviews and fit info to be pretty spot on. If neither dress fits that you order, you call them ASAP and return the dress within 24 hours to get a credit for your next rental. (This happened to my friend so they really do this!)
I’ve had success shopping at Dillard’s, Macy’s and Nordstrom. There are also some great organizations out there helping spouses get dresses as well, such as Cinderella’s Closet. People donate their dresses and they are given to other women who may not be able to afford one.
Those are my tips for picking out a dress for a military gown, What are your military ball gown-shopping tips? Any stores that you suggest to look at? Did I miss anything?