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

Wedding Guest Etiquette: Variations of Black Tie

With wedding season upon us, so many of you are receiving invitations and preparing to attend beautiful ceremonies! As the excitement leading up to the big day rises, you suddenly realize you need to plan your outfit. Then, it hits you… “Black Tie,” “Black Tie Preferred/Requested,” or “Black Tie Optional” are possibilities for the attire. Cue perplexed face and the question “So, what am I supposed to wear?” Not to fear! Here are my tips to help you navigate the the various “Black Tie” requests 🙂

  1. Black Tie
    • For the Ladies – A formal, floor length gown is the way to go! Get ready to play dress up! 🙂
      • NOTE: A formal, floor length gown does not have to be extravagant or super “glitzy,” it can be simple, elegant, and understated.
        black tie - women
    • For the Gentlemen – A tuxedo is a must!
      Photo Credit: Friar Tux Blog

      Photo Credit: Friar Tux Blog

  2. Black Tie Requested/Preferred
    • This means the couple really wants their guests to dress up, but understands if you are not able to do so. For some, a tuxedo or a floor length gown is not affordable and the couple realizes this. As a result, they do not want to exclude those individuals from their celebration. If you can afford black tie attire then please wear it, but if you cannot, a formal cocktail dress for ladies and a full, dark suit for men is certainly appropriate!
  3. Black Tie Optional
    • For the Ladies, I see two main options: A Formal Cocktail Dress or a Floor Length Gown
    • For the Gentleman, there are also two options: A Full Suit (with tie or bow tie) or a Tuxedo

      My dad and brother are in dark suits while my mom and I both opted for cocktail length formal dresses.

      My dad and brother are in dark suits while my mom and I both opted for cocktail length formal dresses.

    • When deciding between these two options (whether a lady or a gentleman), consider the following:
      • Ceremony/Reception Venue: If the wedding is being held at a formal location (think historic building/library, a ballroom, castle/mansion), you can certainly lean towards to the floor length gown or the tuxedo. If the ceremony is at a place that could lend itself to a less formal feel, a formal cocktail dress or full suit is absolutely appropriate!
        • NOTE: Always be respectful of cultural or religious aspects. Religious venues tend to be on the 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. It is also usually required and most respectful to have your shoulders covered.
        • Another option is: Wear one outfit to the ceremony (If it’s in a church and calls for something more modest) and change for the reception (wear something a little more fun or flashy if that’s what you prefer).
      • Time of Day for the Ceremony: For evening, I always think long gowns or tuxedos are a classic/sharp look! If the ceremony is during the day, you may be more comfortable in a formal cocktail dress or full suit.
      • Cultural or Local Tradition Influence:
        • If you are going to a wedding with strong cultural ties, be sure to research what is appropriate. One of my favorite examples of this is at an Indian wedding, the bride wears red so stay away from that color. However, other bright colors are encouraged! Additionally, individuals of Indian heritage and those in the wedding wear saris.
        • Depending on where in the United States or where in the world, there may different, local understandings of what “Black Tie” means. For example, there is such a thing as “Texas Black Tie!” (if you cannot tell from the exclamation point, this a personal favorite!) In Texas tradition, gentlemen wear their best, formal cowboy boots with their tuxedo and ladies wear a floor length gown with the option for boots underneath 😉
      • Leave the White Ensemble to the Bride!
      • Personal Preference: No matter what, you know what you will feel most comfortable wearing. If being around people who are dressed more formal than you makes you feel uneasy then opt for the floor length gown or tuxedo. If you are more comfortable in a formal cocktail dress or a full suit, then select that option.

No matter which variation of black tie your celebration calls for, always remember to think sophisticated and elegant. This is someone’s wedding and the spotlight should be on them! Additionally, family members of the bride and groom will be present and you do not want to be embarrassed by wearing something inappropriate. Now, go celebrate these very joyous occasions in fashion! To all those getting married, “Congratulations on your Happily Ever After!”

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