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“Fashions fade, style is eternal.” Yves Saint Laurent

One of our BLUFs (Bottom Line Upfront) in The Army Spouse Handbook states, “Understanding the difference in dress terms can help you be the belle of the ball instead of wearing bell-bottoms to the ball.” Complementing a service member’s uniform is a good guide; e.g. Blue Evening Mess to a Ball would indicate that a female spouse should wear a formal-to-the-floor gown or dressy cocktail dress, while a male spouse should choose a tuxedo or dark dinner jacket. However, how can we tell what to wear to a “dressy business” or “dressy casual” event? They are almost oxymorons.

Though there are traditionally only three dress terms—Formal, Informal and Casual—many other dress codes may appear on the invitation. The bottom line is we wouldn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable if they dressed inappropriately for an event, so it’s best to define the dress code in the invitation within a parentheses; e.g. Texas Casual (jeans, cowboy boots, cowboy hat) or Aloha Crisp (muumuu, aloha shirt with slacks). Never hesitate to call the host or hostess for clarification. 

Formal: Evening gown or cocktail for ladies, tuxedo with bow tie for males;* Blue Mess for military

Informal: Cocktail dress or dressy slacks for ladies, business suit or sports coat and tie for males; Army Blues or Army Greens with four-in-hand tie for military

Casual: Casual dress or simple skirt/slacks for ladies, slacks, open-collar shirt, jacket for men; BDUs for military 

*Bow ties are usually worn after 6 p.m. for the military unless otherwise stated. If bow ties are desired for a formal afternoon event, specify on invitations.

For more information on attire and how to tie a bow tie, please see The Army Spouse Handbook, Chapter 10: “Dress for the Occasion,” pages 93-101.

Traditions: The backstory:

Army associations have awards for service members, and the majority of branches also have branch awards for spouses. Awardees should wear their branch award with intense pride and decorum. They must, however, be judicious in their choice of occasions and clothing for wear. The medallion may be worn at almost any military function such as the Army birthday celebration, military balls, dining-outs, and regimental functions. It may be worn with either formal or informal dress. Wearing it with casual wear is considered inappropriate.

Field Artillery branch awards, featuring The Ancient Order of Saint Barbara on the left and The Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher on the right. A print of Molly pitcher is featured in the center.

The Ancient Order of Saint Barbara recognizes Field Artillery members who stand above their peers in conspicuous service. According to legend, Saint Barbara was a beautiful daughter of a very wealthy heathen. Because of her beauty, he kept her in a tower to protect her from the outside world. In contemplating the world from the two windows of her tower, she gradually came to accept the Christian faith and added a third window to symbolize the Holy Trinity. Upon seeing this, her father told her to renounce her beliefs, which she refused. Enraged to anger, he took her to the top of the mountain and killed her. On the way home, he was struck by lightning and his body completely consumed. The legend of the lightning bolt caused her to be called upon as protector against accidents from explosions, to include those that were common in early artillery pieces. Saint Barbara was venerated beginning in the seventh century and became the patroness of all artillerymen. 

The Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher recognizes those individuals who have voluntarily contributed in a significant way to the improvement of the Field Artillery and the Air Defense Artillery. An artillery wife, Mary Hays McCauly, better known as “Molly Pitcher,” shared the rigors of Valley Forge with her husband, William Hays. Her actions during the battle of Monmouth in 1778 became legendary. She brought pitchers of cool spring water to the exhausted and thirsty men. She also tended to the wounded and carried a crippled soldier out of reach of the hard-charging British. On her next trip with water, she found her artilleryman husband wounded. The piece, its crew too depleted to serve it, was about to be withdrawn. Molly stepped forward and took the rammer staff from her fallen husband’s hand and served as a gunner for the rest of the battle. For her heroic role, General Washington himself issued her a warrant as a noncommissioned officer.

Go here more about these awards.

Look up your Soldier’s branch award; they have a fascinating history!


  • Protocol and Etiquette Team

    Ann Crossley and Ginger Perkins are the authors of "The Army Spouse Handbook," the go-to guide for the 21st century Army spouse. The 440-page book describes situations that you may encounter as an Army spouse, irrespective of your spouse’s rank or assignment. The book is not meant to be read from cover-to-cover, but kept handy and used as a reference book when you need to know what to expect in social situations. Michelle Hodge, a seasoned spouse, has taught protocol and customs classes and continues to be an advocate for soldiers and family members. Lynda Smith, the newest member of the Traditions and Protocol team, enjoys finding new ways to bring old Army traditions to life with fun and humorous experiences, a little old-school vibe, and a modern twist.


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Supporting Our Military Children

Supporting Our Military Children

One thing that has been most important to me, as a military spouse, is figuring out how to best do this life while supporting our children with the changes and difficulties. When my children were very small, there were many times that my husband was away, and I had to parent my children alone.

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