What to Wear to the Marine Corps Ball; Dress Code & Ball Etiquette Tips

Diving into dress code, etiquette, and what NOT to wear to the biggest event on the USMC social calendar: the Marine Corps Birthday Ball

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Marine Corps Ball Gown

The United States Marine Corps Birthday Ball happens every year sometime around the official “birthday” of this branch of the U.S. military; November 10th. The event is considered a black-tie event, which means that ladies who aren’t in uniform should wear evening or ball gowns, an elegant heeled shoe, and hair and makeup befitting an exceptionally formal event. Men who aren’t in uniform, a formal suit or tux is appropriate. Aside from that note, this post is mainly geared toward women. I’ll cover ball etiquette briefly and simply in a list of DO’s and DON’Ts because you would be shocked at how common the occurrence of these exact “don’ts.”


  • By no means, at any point in the evening should you change into sweat-pants or like, and reemerge at the party in leisurewear.
  • Bandage dresses, mini-dresses, cut-out dresses that leave nothing to the imagination are NEVER acceptable. These are neither appropriate for the occasion, self-respecting, or included in what is considered a “black-tie” dress code.
  • DO NOT “PREGAME.” Don’t be that person that’s being carried away at 6pm because they’ve already passed out. Similarly, I’ve seen many women dressed beautifully but lacking the behavior to match thanks in part to the spirit they’ve been consuming at an alarming rate all evening.
  • If you are a guest of a Marine/Sailor, don’t invite your mom, your aunt, your sister and treat this evening as a trip to the club.


  • Wear an elegant pair of heels (any height). Most people stay for less than 3-4 hours, which is very much doable for even the least experienced, and more so if you’ve chosen a comfortable pair of heels.
  • Practice your hair and makeup in advance, or book your salon appointment if you, like me, are foredoomed to failure in all areas hair and makeup!
  • Wear the proper undergarments so that no unsightly bra straps slip out. (Recommendations linked below)
  • Make conversation with your table mates. People are very cliquey at the ball (in the military in general) and usually stick to their own small group of coworkers/friends, so you will probably have to be the one to strike up a chat.
  • Do refrain from drinking more than one drink – if you must drink at all. You are there to represent your spouse, and should conduct yourself in such a manner that dignifies your family.

The gowns

Now for the fun part, the gowns! The only requirement set by the USMC is that they are in line with “black-tie” standards. Other than that, it’s up to you! While many spouses choose to match their Marine in by pulling colors from his uniform, you certainly don’t have to. I have worn red, green, white, gunmetal gray, and this year I’ll be wearing ice blue to accompany him.

Of equal importance is to make sure, whatever gown you choose, that your undergarments are discreet and run no risk of exposure. This can be difficult with backless dresses, tight-fitted trumpet style silhouettes, and strapless gowns, but thankfully there are plenty of clever products on the market to address these exact dilemmas.

Gold, Silver & Metallic

Gold Marine Corps Ball gowns

Shop: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |

All Red

Red Marine Corps Ball Gowns

Shop: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

Navy or Black

Blue Marine Corps Ball Gowns

Shop: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

Green & Pink

Pink and Green Marine Corps ball gowns

Shop: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

Dresses Under $250

Dresses Under $100

Each of these dresses comes in multiple colorways and all that have reviews are positive! I love that this website provides recommendations for accessories too – it’s your one stop shop that takes the stress out of dressing for the ball.

Whatever color or style of gown you choose, truly, the most beautiful thing is your conduct. Well-mannered, self-controlled, modest and respectful are traits sometimes lacking from this event. Stand out from the crowd in the best way possible by remembering that you’re there, at a business/work event to represent your other half. When you behave like a lady, you can enjoy your evening without any embarrassments or regrets to follow you into the next day!

xo, Mia

1 Comment

  1. […] See my 2019 updated USMC Birthday Ball gown guide here! […]

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