Formal Etiquette: Time to Get Gala Ready!

Today, I am taking a bit of “writer’s freedom” and subscribing to the #ThrowbackThursday movement.

At work, we are preparing for Project Cinderella (click to read about last year’s program)! With everything from a protocol and etiquette seminar to a dress boutique, this is a wonderful program which helps female military spouses and female service members prepare to attend balls/galas, formal ceremonies, and other high-visibility military events.

In conjunction with this event prep, I am re-sharing my 2 articles on Military Ball/Gala protocol and etiquette:

Additionally, there is a way for YOU to get involved! As a part of Project Cinderella, each attendee visits the Dress Boutique and is able to take home a gown! To grow our dress boutique, USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore is collecting new and “like-new” dresses/gowns, shoes, and accessories for cocktail, formal, and black tie events. If you have a gown (or a few!) to contribute, please do so at your closest USO-Metro center/lounge!

Project Cinderella - Dress and Accessory Collection

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Summer Transitions: Military Ceremonies Edition

The summer is typically a very active time in the military community. Many service members are changing duty stations (Permanent Change of Station or “PCSing”) and it is also a very common time for Change of Commands to take place.

This year, the summer is a very exciting time for my family – Next week, my dad is retiring from the United States Navy after 30 years of service. To say I am proud of him is an understatement. I am extremely excited to attend his Change of Command and Retirement ceremony and am looking forward to witnessing all the military traditions which will take place during the ceremony. In honor of my dad’s retirement, this week my focus is on military protocol and proper etiquette while attending military ceremonies.

  1. Arriving at the Ceremony
    • There’s no such thing as being fashionably late in the military. The military is a punctual culture and to them, arriving on time is arriving late.
    • At most ceremonies, there will be a greeter and escorts. At formal ceremonies, there will be reserved seating (by name or by section) for distinguished guests. These guests will be personally escorted to their seats.
      • If you are attending the ceremony as the guest or date of a service member, he should escort you arm-in-arm. Service members are not allowed to hold hands in uniform.
  2. The Ceremony
    • Read the program! An overview of the ceremony and event’s history is typically included as well as the background of your host/officiating officer and guest of honor (their biographies will be in the program).
    • Parading the Colors: Stand while the American and service flag(s) are brought into the room and remain standing while they are present. The National Anthem will most likely be played as well. If so, face the flag with your hand over your heart. If the service’s song is played, you continue to stand, but you do not have to keep your hand over your heart. Do not sit until the colors are retired (paraded out of the room) and you are told to take your seat.
      • This is NOT the time to take photos. You should stand in respect of the flag and the playing of the National Anthem, not be snapping photos of the event while this is happening.
    • Invocation: The Chaplain will say a prayer to begin the ceremony.
    • Speeches and Reading of Orders: Depending on what type of ceremony you are attending, the “Order of Ceremony” can and ceremonial pieces included can vary; however, the Guest Speaker and the Host or Guest of Honor will make remarks. Additionally, if it is a Change of Command, Promotion, or Retirement ceremony, the official military orders will be read.
    • The Ceremonial Traditions (my favorite!):
      •  Side boys: When the official party enters and departs the ceremony, “Two to eight side boys, depending on the rank of the Officer, will form a passageway at the gangway. They salute on the first note of the pipe and finish together on the last note.” (Source: Naval Customs, Traditions, & Etiquette)
      • The Change of Command: The current/outgoing Commanding Officer will read his/her new set of orders followed by the incoming Commanding Officer (CO) reading his/her set of orders to take command. Together, they will approach the Officiating Officer, usually a General/Flag Officer, who will relieve the outgoing CO of his/her duties and confirm the new CO reporting for duty. These steps will be acknowledged by the service members rendering salutes.
      • The Passing of the Flag / “Old Glory”: This is a beautiful ceremony in which the American flag is passed hand-to-hand by individuals representing the ranks the retiree has held while in service. While the flag is being passed, “Olde Glory” is read. For a full (Navy) description, you click here.
      • Reading of “The Watch”: One of the last parts of a retirement ceremony is to read “The Watch.” A junior service member will recite it to symbolize relieving the retiree of his duties and the acceptance of that responsible by those who remain in military service. After this is read, in the Navy, the Sailor “goes ashore” for the last time. To read The Watch, click here.
  3. After the Ceremony
    • If there is a receiving line, be prepared to shake hands (potentially a lot of them) and always go through the receiving line before entering the reception.
      • The host is the first person you will meet followed by the co-host, if there is one, and then guest(s) of honor.
      • You should not have anything in your hands. Keeping your purse in your left hand is OK, but be sure to keep your right hand free and ready for lots of handshakes!
      • This is not the place for long conversation. Give a simple greeting and congratulations/thanks such as, “Congratulations, Sir/Ma’am! This is such an exciting/special day, thank you for including me.”
    • The Ceremonial Cake Cutting: If it is a service or Corps birthday, the youngest person and the oldest person serving at the command or who are members of that service cut the cake together using a traditional military sword. If it is a ceremony honoring someone (Change of Command, Promotion, Retirement), that individual will make the first cut in the cake using his/her sword.
    • The Reception
      • If you are attending on your own invitation, be sure to mingle with those you know, but also introduce yourself to new people. This can be a great networking opportunity.
      • If you are attending as someone’s date, take his/her lead on who you need to meet. He/she often has many officers or senior officials who are important to greet.
      • Again, be prepared to shake hands! Always leave your right hand free to shake hands by holding your drink/food (and purse if you have one) in your left hand.
        • A quick review on introductions! Extend your right hand, say “hello,” and introduce yourself using your first and last name.
      • Before leaving, always thank your host!

If you get invited to one of these ceremonies, I hope you take the opportunity to attend! Military ceremonies are beautiful, touching, and very patriotic. If you are attending as someone’s date, remember you are an extension and a reflection of your date – You will be meeting your date’s Chain of Command (his/her bosses) as well as the service members he/she leads and it is incredibly important to leave a positive impression on them. For all those attending, be polished, positive, and poised while also having a wonderful time and experiencing some great military traditions!

To conclude on a personal note, it’s been an amazing life growing up in a Navy family. I am incredibly proud of my dad and thankful for his service. With that, I would be remiss if I did not mention my mom in that same thought. I know my dad could not have succeeded as he did without her by his side. Dad and Mom, thank you both for your service. Wishing you “Fair Winds and Following Seas.” Go Navy! ⚓️

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

The 3 Table Settings You Need to Know

Whether it is knowing how to set the table properly or being knowledgeable of your place setting at an event, learning these three traditional types of table settings will help you in any dining situation!

Basic Table Setting

Photo Credit: Emily Post

Basic Table Setting Diagram Credit: Emily Post

  • This table setting is to be used on an everyday basis. Whether hosting a casual luncheon or setting the table for your family dinner in the evening, this is perfect!
  • An easy way to remember the placement is B – M – W
    • The Bread plate (or salad plate) is to the left of the main plate.
    • The Main plate is in the center of the place setting.
    • The Water glass is to the right of the main plate.
  • Use a simple 3-piece flatware setting – Fork to the left of the plate. Knife and Spoon to the right of the plate with the knife closest to the plate (blade facing it).
    • A butter knife should be added to the bread plate if rolls are being served.
  • Always remember your Essential Table Manners!

Informal Place Setting

Diagram Credit: Emily Post

Informal Place Setting Diagram Credit: Emily Post

  • This place setting is used for informal three-course dinner (soup/salad, main course, dessert).
    • (a): This is where the plate will be placed.
    • (b): Two Forks – The smaller fork to the outside is for salad. The larger fork to the inside is for the main course.
    • (c): Napkin – Once seated, place the napkin on your lap.
    • (d): Knife – The knife is placed with the blade facing in (towards the plate). You may use this knife throughout all courses, but not for your bread and butter (review (h)).
    • (e): Two Spoons – The rounder, larger spoon to the outside is for soup. The spoon to the inside is for dessert.
    • (f): Glassware: The water glass is to the left. The wine (or alternate beverage) is to the right.
    • (g): Salad Plate – If salad is served as the first course, this plate will take position (a). If salad is to be served during the main course, you do not have to set a separate plate, you can put it on the dinner plate. NOTE: Some people prefer to have their salad on it’s own plate so the dressing does not get on the other food; therefore, a salad plate is a good idea!
    • (h): Bread Plate and Knife – Be sure to use your butter knife to spread the butter, not your dinner knife (d).
    • Dessert Flatware – Not shown here. Typically, a dessert fork and teaspoon will be provided prior to dessert being served. If you prefer to set the table with the dessert flatware out, place both pieces of flatware above the dinner plate with the spoon on top (handle facing to the right) and the fork below (handle facing to the left).
    • (j): Coffee Cup and Saucer – This does not have to be placed on the table for the entire meal. If you prefer it is, place it to the upper left of the dinner plate on the outside of the glassware and flatware. If you prefer to bring out the coffee after the meal, set the cup and saucer in that place then pour the coffee.

Formal Place Setting

Diagram Credit: Emily Post

Formal Place Setting Diagram Credit: Emily Post

  • This place setting is used for the most formal of occasions which typically have several courses.
  • NOTE: This is just one example of a formal place setting. Depending on what food is being served, and how many courses this place setting and the utensils may vary. The guiding rule for flatware is: set the flatware so you “work from the outside, in.”
    • (a): Service Plate or “Charger”: This plate is stationary throughout the early courses and serves as an underplate for all courses prior to the main course. When the main course is served, the charger will be removed for the main dish to take it’s place.
    • (b): Bread Plate – Sometimes, individual butter slices/balls will already be placed on this plate.
    • (c): Dinner Fork – Use this for the main course.
    • (d): Appetizer/First Course Fork: Depending on what is being served, the smaller fork to the outside is used for the first course(s).
    • (e): Salad Fork: If the salad is served following the main course, it is set to the inside of the dinner fork (as shown above); however, if it served prior to the main course, it should go on the outside.
      • Dinner Order: Salad, First Course, Main Meal – Set the forks in the order listed (Left to Right) with the salad fork the furthest to the left of the plate and dinner fork closest to the plate.
      • Dinner Order: First Course, Main Meal, Salad – Set the forks as the diagram shows.
    • (f): Dinner Knife – Use this for the main course. The knife is placed with the blade facing in (towards the plate).
    • (g): Fish Knife – Only include this in the table setting if fish is being served.
    • Salad Knife: Not shown here. Just like the placement of the salad fork with the others, this depends on order of the courses.
      • Dinner Order: Salad, First Course, Main Course – Set the knives with the salad knife the furthest to the right of the plate and dinner knife (blade facing in) closest to the plate.
      • Dinner Order: First Course, Main Course, Salad – Set the knives with the salad knife the closest to the right of the plate and first course knife furthest from the plate.
      • All knives should be placed with the blade facing in (towards the plate).
    • (i): Soup or Fruit Spoon – Only include this in the table setting if soup or fruit is being served as one of the initial courses.
    • (j): Oyster Fork – Only include this in the table setting if oysters are being served. This is the only fork placed to the right of the charger, all others forks are always placed to the left.
    • (k): Butter Knife – Be sure to use your butter knife to spread the butter, not one of the other knives.
    • (l): Glassware
      • (la): Water Glass
      • (lc): Red Wine Glass
      • (ld): White Wine Glass
      • (le): Champagne Flute or Sherry Glass: Only include this if there will be a champagne toast or if a desert wine is being served.
    • (m): Napkin – Once seated, place the napkin on your lap.
    • Dessert Flatware – Not shown here. Typically, a dessert fork and teaspoon will be placed prior to dessert being served. When placed, both pieces of flatware go above where the plate will be placed with the spoon on top (handle facing to the right) and the fork below (handle facing to the left).
    • Coffee Cup and Saucer – Not shown here. This will be served after the meal and set to the upper right of the dessert plate.

I know that seems like a lot, but just remember to review these on a case-by-case basis! For occasions involving both informal settings and formal settings, review my 8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips!

As I mentioned, there will be changes to these place settings. What variations to place settings have you seen?

Last, but not least – A little added fun, perfect for this topic! Check out this lovely “Preppy Fixins” Tee by Lauren James!

Happy Dining!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Attending a Military Ball or Formal!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote “You Got Invited to a Military Ball!” Well, the time is here! In honor of the Marine Corps Birthday and Veterans Day next week, I am sharing my tips for attending a military formal. Now that you have done all the prep work to get ready, it is time to attend this fabulous and fun event!

  1. Arriving at the Ball
    • There’s no such thing as being fashionably late in the military. The military is a punctual culture and to them, arriving on time is arriving late.
      • Note: With that said, cocktail hour does give you a little wiggle room. If it starts at 6:00pm, you should arrive no later than 6:10pm. The cocktail hour is meant for mingling and you are expected to do so. The dinner and ceremony will run on a schedule and you typically do not get up to socialize during them.
    • Your date will escort you “arm-and-arm” on his/her right (the place of honor). Since it is a formal setting with a social aspect, it is unlikely he/she will be required to render salutes.
      • Service members are not allowed to hold hands in uniform and PDA in uniform is a “no go.”
    • If there is a receiving line, be prepared to shake hands (potentially a lot of them)
      • The first person in the line is the announcer. You simply tell the announcer your name and do not shake his/her hand. The host is next followed by the guest(s) of honor.
      • You should not have anything in your hands. If the receiving line is not at the front door, make sure you skip the bar and appetizers until after you go through the line. (A purse in your left hand is OK)
      • This is not the place for long conversation. Give a simple greeting and thanks such as, “Sir/Ma’am, it is so nice to meet you. Thank you for hosting me this evening.”
  2. Cocktail Hour
    • Follow your date’s lead on who you need to meet. He/she often has many officers or senior officials who are important to greet.
    • Again, be prepared to shake hands! Always leave your right hand free to shake hands by holding your drink/appetizers (and purse if you have one) in your left hand.
    • Once you are introduced by your date, extend your right hand, say “hello,” and introduce yourself using your first and last name.
    • Under no circumstance should you get drunk. Even though this is a social occasion, it is formal and in no way appropriate to drink too much. It is still the military and your date will get in trouble if something goes wrong or you do something inappropriate. Do NOT be the sloppy guest who needs taken care of and embarrasses his/her date and the host/hostess.
      • If you do not drink, that is perfectly acceptable! Do not let anyone pressure you.
      • If you do drink, I recommend 1 drink during cocktail hour, 1 drink during the course of the meal, and 1 drink post-dinner (dancing and mingling time).
    • During the cocktail hour, check the seating chart/place cards so you know where you to go once you enter the main room.
  3. The Dinner
    • Once you find your table, stand to the right of your seat. If seating is assigned, do not move your place card and rearrange the table. If it is not assigned, you will sit to your date’s right. Also, in social settings, you typically sit alternating men and women.
    • Once everyone for your table arrives, take your seat by entering your chair on the right side.
    • To review dining tips, please refer to my post “8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips.”
    • Be social with your table!
      • If you are seated with people you do not know, be sure to introduce yourself.
      • Do not gossip at the table. No one likes sitting next to the “mean girl” who comments on what everyone is wearing or makes snarky remarks about other people in attendance.
    • If you need to get up from the table, simply say “Excuse me for a moment.” No one needs to know if you have to use the restroom or need to step outside for something.
    • Do not play with your hair or apply make-up at the table.
  4. The Ceremony
    • Read the program! An overview of the service’s and event’s history is typically included as well as the background of your host and guest of honor (their bios will be in the program).
    • Parading the Colors: Stand while the American and service flag(s) are brought into the room and remain standing while they are present. The National Anthem will most likely be played as well. If so, face the flag with your hand over your heart. If the service’s song is played, you continue to stand, but you do not have to keep your hand over your heart. Do not sit until the colors are retired (paraded out of the room) and you are told to take your seat.
      • This is NOT the time to take photos. You should stand in respect of the flag and the playing of the National Anthem, not be snapping photos of the event while this is happening.
    • Invocation: The Chaplain will say a prayer to begin the evening.
    • Toasts: Giving toasts is usually a part of the ceremony. At the beginning of the toasts, your glass will be “charged” (filled with champagne). Typically, several people give toasts and your champagne is expected to last for all of the toasts. Take small sips for each toast to avoid running out!
      • If you do run out, each service has different traditions for this, but typically, you get “charged” a fine and no one wants to be that person!
    • The Ceremonial Cake Cutting (my favorite!):  The youngest person and the oldest person serving at the command or who are members of that service cut the cake together using a traditional military sword.
  5. Time to Dance!
    • Yes, there is a dance floor and yes, you can have fun!
      • With that said, remember there are a lot of “higher-ups” in the room. Reserve your getting low and sultry moves for the dance club.
    • I highly recommend keeping your shoes on. It is much more proper than going barefoot and even if you have not, taking your shoes off may give the impression you drank too much and are not able to keep your balance very well.
      • If you truly cannot dance in heels, you may bring a pair of flats and discreetly put them on in the restroom before hitting the dance floor.

If nothing else, the one thing I want you to take away from this post is: you are an extension and a reflection of your date for the evening. You will be meeting your date’s Chain of Command (his/her bosses) as well as the service members he/she leads and it is incredibly important to leave a positive impression on them. Smile at everyone you meet, enjoy the time with your date, and take this chance to learn about the history and tradition of the Service Branch and the Corps or specialty. Be polished, positive, and poised while also having a wonderful and fun evening!

Lastly, in honor of Veterans Day, please take the time to say thank you to those who have served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces. To the many service members with whom I have the privilege of working, the Wounded Warriors who I am honored to serve, all the men and women who wear and have worn the uniform, especially my Dad and Paps, thank you! Your service and sacrifice are appreciated more than words can express. God Bless America and all of you!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

You Got Invited to a Military Ball!

It’s one of my favorite times of the year… Military Ball season! Between growing up in a military family and working in the field of event coordination and protocol for the military, I have had the pleasure of attending several military events. One of my favorite formals is the traditional “Birthday Ball” for the services in the Fall.

There are many pieces to a Military Ball/Formal so I am breaking this topic into a two-part post. Today, I am covering preparing to attend a Military Ball/Formal.

  1. Be Fashionable, Yet Tasteful
    • Think classy, sophisticated, timeless elegance. Your date will be in his/her most formal uniform with full ribbons and medals; therefore, you need to dress to that standard. Civilian women wear floor length gowns or very formal cocktail dresses and civilian men wear tuxedos.
      • What to Wear – Here are some beautiful examples!
        What to WearWhat to Wear
    • Military culture is traditional and on the rather conservative side. Avoid neon/fluorescent colors, side cut-outs, excessive displays of cleavage, extremely high leg slits, or backs that plunge so low you can almost see your bum. I am sure you can rock those styles and look dynamite, but this is not the place to do that.
    • Be cautious of too much glitter and/or sequins, tulle, and poofiness. Believe me, I am the first one to go for the glittery gown (see photo below), but you do not want to look like a mirrored disco ball or an overdone pageant queen.
      • What Not to Wear: While shopping, I found the gown pictured below. I think this gown is so fun and a glitzy show-stopper; however, it is definitely not the look for a military formal.
        Deep v-neck + high slit + low back + cut-outs = A big no, no.

        The low v-neck on this gown shows a lot of cleavage and the high leg slit is rather revealing. The low back with cut-outs also shows too much skin. While the sparkles and pink are fun, it’s too much for a formal setting.

        The low v-neck on this gown shows a lot of cleavage and the high leg slit is rather revealing. The low back with cut-outs also shows too much skin. While the sparkles and pink are fun, it’s too “in your face” for a formal setting.

    • Wear pretty, yet comfortable shoes!
      • There is almost always a cocktail hour before the Ball and mingling during the evening so you will be standing a lot.
      • There is dancing!
        • I highly recommend keeping your shoes on and not being the girl who flings them off at the table. It is much more proper to keep your shoes on and even if you have not, it may give the impression you drank too much and are not able to keep your balance in heels. If you truly cannot dance in heels, you may bring a pair of flats and discreetly put them on in the restroom before you start dancing.
  2. Makeup, Hair, and Accessories
    • Keep your make-up clean and elegant.
      • Simple and pretty fake eyelashes? Yes!
      • Red lips? Go for it! (Just be sure to do a more natural eye to avoid competing looks.)
      • Pure glitter or bright neon eye shadow? Not the best idea.
    • Style your hair how you like it: Straight, Curled, or Wavy – All Down, Half-Up/Half-Down, or an Up-do are all gorgeous, especially when they compliment the style of the top of your gown!
      • I advise against tiaras, large hairpieces/pins, and having a hair color that looks like it came from the rainbow.
      • Personal preference note: I tend to stay away from the low up-do. Females in the military always have to wear their hair in a low bun or braid to keep it off/above their collars. I figure my date sees that hairstyle a lot so, I like to change it up and do something different!
    • Get your nails done or do them yourself! You will be shaking a lot of hands and it looks so much better when you have nails that are clean and polished!
      • I suggest a nude color, pale pink, or a French manicure.
      • If you do choose to have colored nails, be sure it is suttle and matches your gown.
      • Stay away from overly long, bright, and decorated/bejeweled nails.
    • Jewelry – Keep it simple and make sure it compliments your gown.
      • I know I said simple, but girl, if you have big diamonds – Wear them! 😉
      • My personal fashion tips:
        • If you are wearing a one-shoulder gown, skip the necklace and go for drop earrings or a dazzling bracelet.
        • If your gown has beading/accents/etc. at the top, you may not need to wear a necklace. The accent in the gown may speak for itself and you do not want the necklace to take away from your gorgeous gown.
        • If your gown is plain and you are looking to sparkle it up a bit, add a broche or a statement necklace.
        • Avoid wearing a statement necklace and drop earrings together. The looks will compete and draw attention away from your gown and overall look.
        • Avoid gaudy pieces.
  3. Be Knowledgeable and Respectful of Military Culture and Tradition
    • Military Balls are FULL of tradition! From parading the colors (bringing in the American and Service flags) to the traditional cake cutting and so much in between, the evening involves an array of traditional elements. If you are unfamiliar with the traditions, ask your date to tell you about some of the important things to that branch of service and his/her specific Corps/specialty/MOS beforehand.
    • Military Rank. I highly recommend making yourself familiar with the rank structure. Here’s a great link to the rank structure and insignia.
    • Sir and Ma’am. Saying “Yes, Sir/Ma’am” and “No, Sir/Ma’am” is a BIG one in this setting! Any officer who is a higher rank than your date and all Flag/General Officers should be referred to as “Sir” or Ma’am.” Follow your dates lead on this!
    • History. Be sure you know the basic history behind and reason for the event you are attending. Your date and his/her fellow service members will appreciate it if you take the time to know the basics of their branch of service as well as why you are there that evening.
    • Current Events. Be up-to-date! Seeing as balls/formals are a social occasion, you will not be thrown into deep conversation and strategic talks about current events, but it is very important to know what is going on in the world. After all, it often dictates where these service members will be and what they do.
      • If you do not already read TheSkimm, I highly recommend it! It is a daily newsletter delivered to your inbox that summarizes the biggest stories and adds a little fun to your morning news report.

These tips are all meant to make you a successful and stunning date (fashion, etiquette, and knowledge wise)! You will be sure to “knock the socks off” your date while also impressing the host and other attendees with your poise and elegance! So, start getting ready because it will be time to attend a fabulous event in just a couple weeks!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra