Now look, I consider myself a pretty classy lady. I mostly prefer to dress teacher-chic, with twin sets, khakis and pearls. I’ve never in my life wondered whether I was wearing the correct outfit for an event.
Until I was dragged kicking and screaming into the cutthroat world of military ball gown shaming.
Can We Stop with the Ball Gown Shaming Already?
Every year around this time, I start to see the social media posts about ball gowns. Many of them are pretty tame. In fact, one of my favorite threads recently has been a snarky post encouraging people to share the most out of control formal wear available on Amazon.
Inevitably, a bright-eyed, new military wife (yes, wife, because women are the only ones subjected to ball gown shaming) asks about what she should wear to a military birthday ball.
Then the floodgates open and the tsunami of ball gown opinions are unleashed.
“You should only ever wear a complimentary color to your spouse’s uniform.”
“Your gown must be floor length.”
“Watch those slits and low backs, ladies.”
I get it. You’re all trying to be helpful, passing on your experience. And a lot of these comments can help the new girl on the block find a dress.
Somewhere along the way, it seems like these conversations, real or virtual, take a turn to Judgement Town.
Who gave you permission to judge a person by what she wears?
I mean seriously, I’d like to know. Is there a certification process? Did the commandant personally appoint you as Marine Corps Ball Dress Code Monitor? Because I’d like to see your official badge.
I’ve seen military spouses post pictures of their potential dresses on Facebook, only to have their selections obliterated with nasty comments.
There are several different versions of the “classy, not trashy” ball gown post floating around. It usually has this type of headline “5 easy tips to not embarrass your service member at their ball!”
I get that a military ball is meant to be a super formal, very fancy event.
But can we stop for a moment and consider that most women are really dressing for two reasons? First, they want to look nice in a way that they feel good about. Second, they want to be even just slightly comfortable.
Not everyone sees beauty or fashion in the same way. If everyone saw things my way, high-waisted pants would never have made a comeback. We’d all be wearing super basic and comfortable pieces in easy to mix-and-match colors.
One woman might feel really beautiful and glamorous in a floor-length gown with cap sleeves. Another lady might feel equally beautiful in a bodycon dress that hits just below her knees.
It’s not your call to dictate how another woman feels beautiful.
I prefer an old school gown with a looser skirt and a strapless top in a shade of blue. Witness my closet full of blue gowns from the last decade of balls. I just feel better with a loose skirt, and it leaves more room for cake. I also like a dress with pockets for my mid-guest speaker snacks. Someone else might prefer to have full coverage up top, a tighter bodice or maybe a two-piece ensemble.
It’s not my call to tell someone else the best way for them to feel comfortable in their own skin.
“It’s not about you, it’s about the service member.”
You’re right, it is. Which is why I always run my possible dresses by my husband first. Guess what?
He doesn’t care.
I could show him a burlap sack and he’d be cool with it.
OK, he’d probably notice the scratchiness.
But you get my point.
If their service member doesn’t care what ball gown they wear, why should you?
Just to reiterate: this is not your ball, military spouse. You’ve said it yourself in more than one article by more than one writer. It’s been mentioned on more than one Facebook post over the years and across the services.
This year, can we stop shaming other ladies for their personal style choices?
There is no official Dress Code Inspector for military balls. It’s not a thing.
Instead of passing judgment over the length of her dress or a slit or a low back, let’s be grown-ups. Remember that she was just as careful in her dress selection as you were in yours. She fussed over her hair and shoes and makeup, just like you.
This year, at your military ball, give a genuine compliment to another lady. Let her know that her dress’s color highlights her eyes or tell her that you like the way it sparkles. Maybe see if she’s packing snacks in her dress pockets too.