Mental Health & Wellness

My Spouse and I Are Attending an Official Event, Now What? by Ashley Shulski

Have you ever been excited yet stressed when you your spouse comes home and says “honey, we’re going to a change of command and I just RSVPd for the two of us to attend”. I get excited every time my husband tells me what formal/informal event is coming up. For me personally, we attend every Airman Leadership School graduation; every Air Force ball; every SNCO Induction ceremony; every single event whether it is formal or informal. I attend everything because I feel it is in my best interest in the roles I have as a Key Spouse Mentor and being married to a First Sergeant.

Many military spouses, old and new, contact me fairly often (or post a question regarding what to wear for this or that event via our local installation’s many Facebook groups for spouses) inquiring on what type of dress or outfit is suitable for the event they are attending. Believe it or not, as a military spouse we have certain protocols we should be following that includes a dress code for the military spouse. For some, reading their invitation lends enough information as to what type of attire should be worn. For others, reading the invitation might as well be written in a foreign language because this is their first time attending any military event.

protocol photo

As I mentioned earlier, the invitation usually indicates the type of attire; however, if in doubt, you have a few options. You can call the host of the event and ask what the appropriate attire will be. You can ask your military member what he or she is required to wear. Or, you can be even more proactive (I am a huge fan of taking ownership and learning the correct answers myself) and learn what each category is, what types of events are within each category and what attire options are appropriate for each category. Air Force 101, A Handbook for Air Force Spouses includes the five categories for the spouse’s dress code. They are as follows:

1. Very casual:

  • Corresponds with type of function (barbeque, hayride, sporting event, etc.). Usually jeans or shorts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc.
  • For very casual events, the military member would probably also be wearing civilian clothing.

2. Casual:

  • The casual civilian dress at military official functions is typically what would ordinarily be worn to work on a day-to-day basis. For civilian guests from outside the military community, appropriate attire could range from slacks and open neck shirt to business suit.
  • At civilian casual functions, dress for men will normally be a short or long-sleeved open-neck shirt, perhaps a sweater or sports coat, but not a tie. For ladies, any casual dress, slacks, pants suit, blouses and long or short skirts are appropriate.
  • Military members would wear the “duty uniform”, usually either BDU’s, the light blue shirt with or without tie, or flight suit, depending on the duty section.

3. Sport Coat and Tie:

  • This is the next stage up the ladder towards more formal attire and would be appropriate for some icebreakers or dinner at the commander’s home. For men, this means a sports jacket or blazer with color-coordinated slacks and tie. Women have the option of wearing an appropriate dress or dressy slacks outfit.
  • When the invitation specifies “sport coat and tie”, the military member would usually be expected to wear civilian clothing also.

4. Business Suit/Informal:

  • This form of dress most closely equates to “informal” and for men, attire should be a dark (subdued) suit with a tie. It can include a three-piece suit as well. Women should wear business suit, or a dressy street-length or “Sunday” dress.
  • The military counterpart to “business suit” is Service Dress uniform. They types of military functions where the Service Dress uniform is appropriate include ceremonies, parades, reviews, retirements, official visits of civilian dignitaries, changes of command, and afternoon receptions.

5. Formal:

  • Also known as “black tie”. For the active duty member, this is the Mess Dress or Semi-formal uniform and is appropriate attire for functions like dinings-out, some commander’s holiday/New Year’s receptions, and military weddings (if you are one of the participants), and various civilian “black tie” affairs like charity or holiday balls.
  • The civilian equivalent to the Mess Dress uniform is a dinner jacket or black tuxedo with black bow tie. Appropriate attire for the ladies would be long or short (knee length) evening dress or gown.

So, as you see, it can be cumbersome to some military spouses who may not attend official events regularly. Learning and knowing your options for each type of event will bring less stress each time your military member spouse comes home and says “There is an event coming up and we need to be there”. At some point, hopefully, you will find deciding on what to wear to which event fun because it can mean a shopping trip.

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