Military Functions and Courtesies
At all social functions, all invited guests should try to speak to the guest(s) of honor and be sure to bid goodbye to the hostess and/or host.
Always be punctual for social functions; do not come early when the function is held in someone’s home. You may come early to meetings, however, so that you can socialize before the meeting and the meeting can start on time.
At a ball or dining out, everyone stands for the posting and retiring of the colors. They also stand for all the toasts except the toast “to the ladies.” If you do not drink alcoholic beverages, you may lift your glass for the toasts as a token. Ladies may stand for a standing ovation for a guest speaker.
When entering or leaving an installation with a guarded gate at night, dim your headlights 50 feet before the gate so you won’t blind the guard.
Although the military has a defined rank structure, spouses have no rank. Senior Army personal should be addressed by their rank. It is still proper to address senior spouses by their last name, until they ask you to do otherwise.
A chaplain may be addressed as chaplain or if catholic by “Father.”
A doctor is addressed by military rank, although in a clinic setting you may find “doctor” more comfortable.
You are welcome to attend a change of command ceremony without a specific invitation. Attendance at the reception following an event or ceremony should be by invitation only.
Military social life is one of the nicest traditions. Friendships and camaraderie grow out of this tradition. It is characterized by the exchange of visits, invitations, and other courtesies. The thoughtful and conscientious military couple realizes that when they accept an invitation to a dinner, party, or any social function, they have a responsibility to return the hospitality. (Special occasions exceptions, e.g., weddings, receptions, and unit parties). Also, be assured it is not necessary to return a sit-down dinner for a sit-down dinner. Remember to be yourself, to do what is comfortable for you, and to keep it within your budget. This way you will do the entertaining because you enjoy it and soon will find you are building friendships.
There are a variety of invitations to choose from depending on the type of event. You may use informal notes, boxed invitations, or handmade creations. On an invitation use only ONE of the following requests for a response: 1) RSVP, 2) Regrets Only. If using two or more telephone numbers include the corresponding name or names.
Types of Responses
Nearly every invitation will have request for a response in a lower corner.
RSVP is French (Respondez, s'il vous plait) and means “please reply.” Call to tell the hostess if you will or will not attend.
--Always call your hostess/host when you are unable to attend. Never assume that you will not be missed.
To Go Or Not To Go?
Frequently, you may find a conflict of obligations and interests when it comes to deciding which functions to attend. Of course, your family is your top priority. When you receive an invitation, remember your old-fashioned good manners and reply promptly within 48 hours. Consider the waste of time and money if the hostess prepares food for twenty people and only eight come. If, after receiving an invitation, you see the hostess, you
may refer to the party but do not consider that as your RSVP. You must still RSVP by phone or by written note. When you decline an invitation, an explanation is not required and should never be requested. Once you accept an invitation and an emergency arises, you may call the hostess and decline. Remember, once you decline an invitation, you cannot reverse your response.
Thank you notes for hospitality and courtesies received are a must and a sign of gracious manners. If your hostess is a close friend, a phone call is sufficient. A handwritten thank you is appropriate for any occasion whether it is for a meal, a gift received or simply a kind deed. Address thank you notes to the wife and send it within five days.
Social occasions are opportunities to get to know the people with whom your spouse works with and to discover new friendships. This will lead to unit "esprit" which is a very special part of the overall military tradition. As part of his/her job as a professional soldier, you the spouse must also be loyal to his/her unit and the commander. Your soldier must pull duty, go to the field, and may someday fight a war. He/she has chosen to defend our nation--not an easy task. We can use social gatherings to remain united. Your love and support can offer a refuge in a tough job.
This is one of the oldest of Army traditions. A newly arrived officer would make a social call upon his commanding officer. Today it is rarely used in the traditional sense. How-ever, some units still have some form of a courtesy call which enables the commanding officer or senior NCO to personally welcome a new soldier to the unit. In today's military, a unit "Hail and Farewell" can serve as a welcome for the new officers and
NCOs. Usually your unit Hail and Farewells and the spouses' coffees have precedence.
This function is usually held around 1100 and is a combination of breakfast and lunch. For females a simple dress, skirt and blouse, or pantsuit, would be appropriate. For a male a sports coat and trousers or casual shirt with trousers would be appropriate.
Unit coffees are usually held monthly and provide a wonderful opportunity to greet new arrivals, to farewell those leaving the unit, to get acquainted with the other spouses in the unit, and to find out what's happening in the unit and on post/base. Coffees are part of the support network military spouses enjoy. The refreshments or goodies that the hostess serves are light and may be plain or fancy, depending on the hostess' choice. Appropriate dress is the same as for brunch.
Most Officer Wives (Spouses) Clubs and NCO Wives (Spouses) Clubs have a luncheon or similar activity each month. There may be a social hour before and a program after the luncheon. Reservations are almost always required. A nice dress, suit, or pantsuit is appropriate.
A tea is held in the afternoon and is the most formal of daytime functions. It is usually given in honor of a person or persons such as a departing or incoming commander or senior NCO spouse. Coffee, tea, punch, cookies, and finger sandwiches are served on one main table. Appropriate dress is a suit, pantsuit, or nice dress.
Cocktails are usually served from 1700 or 1800 until 1900 or 2000 (about two hours). Simple hors d'oeuvres or appetizers are served. A dressy dress is appropriate.
This literally means the home is open to guest between set hours. Guests are to arrive and depart between those hours.
A buffet supper is a dinner party served buffet style. It is a convenient way to serve guests, especially a number of guests in a limited space. At a buffet supper, the plates, silverware, napkins and platters of food are arranged on the dining table, or buffet table and guests serve themselves. Guests then find a comfortable place to sit down in the living room or den. A variation of the buffet supper is the sit-down buffet. In this case the tables are set and arranged around the room. Guests serve themselves and then find a place to sit (place cards may designate the seating arrangements). For any "dinner" invitation, it is important to arrive at the specified time on the invitation, never early. Dress is informal.
Informal Sit Down Dinner
This is a seated dinner with as many courses as you may wish to serve. The food can be served by the hostess and host or by hired help (teenagers may enjoy this type of part- time job). Seating may follow a specific format. The lady of honor is seated to the right of the host and the gentleman guest of honor to the right of the hostess. Place cards may be used for the seating arrangement. Coffee may be served at the table with dessert later in another room (living room). Dress should be indicated on the invitation and will probably be informal.
A time-honored tradition is the promotion party given by an officer or NCO or a group of officers or NCOs with similar dates of rank, shortly after being promoted. It does not have to be a fancy affair but provides a chance to invite friends and their spouses to share the good fortune.
Although the unit is usually the host, unit members and guests share the cost and planning of the party. The most popular unit party is "Hail and Farewell" which welcomes the incoming members and farewells the departing members. Most units encourage their officers and NCOs and their spouses to attend these functions. These parties build on the unit esprit and camaraderie and are successful only if everyone supports and participates.
The dining-in is an old military tradition that has been passed down from the British. As the most formal of events, a dining-in allows officers and NCOs of a unit to celebrate its successes and to enjoy its traditions and heritage. It is strictly an Officer/NCO affair no spouses are invited.
A reception is usually held in honor of a special guest or guests or after a change of command ceremony. There may or may not be a receiving line. Guests should mingle about and visit with the other guests. Conversations should be light and of short duration. When you wish to move on to greet other guests, a simple "Excuse me" will do and
then leave. Before departing for the evening, be sure to thank the hostess/host and bid good-bye to the guest(s) of honor.
When children are included it will be specified on the invitation. Children are welcomed at parades and reviews as long as they are quiet and well behaved.
What To Wear: Usually the correct dress will be stated on an invitation, if it is not ask the hostess when you RSVP. Remember jeans are only worn if it is directly stated on the invitation.
The following guidelines are to help you find the "safe dress" or your comfort zone when arriving at a new post. Don't forget that the commander's spouse or first sergeant's spouse, "old timer" spouses in the unit or the hostess of the event are valuable resources.
The military teaches your spouse to project an example to be emulated. One of the most important factors, which create this image, is appearance--which should be immaculate and above reproach at all times. As a professional NCO team member it should be your desire to accent your spouse by dressing appropriately for each occasion.
: For informal social occasions the suggested dress code is self-explanatory,
"informal." It really depends on the type and location of the event.
Semi-Formal: For semi-formal social occasions the suggested dress may vary for females, a dress or a woman's business suit, or a pantsuit. For men this usually requires coat and tie.
For formal social occasions the suggested dress for females is after-five attire and for men a black suit with bow tie, or tuxedo.
*The Army Wives Website gives additional/proper guidance on dress at:
To a Formal event:
Soldier wears: Army Blues or Whites w/bow tie; Army Blue or White Mess
Army Greens, white shirt w/ bow tie/Tuxedo
Spouse can wear: Long or short formal dress or tuxedo or Suit w/ bow tie
To an Informal event:
Soldier wears: Army Blues or Whites w/four-in-hand tie; Business (dark) suit
Spouse can wear: "Dressy" church dress or suit. Army Greens with four-in-hand tie; Business (dark) suit
To a Coat and Tie event:
Soldier wears: Business suit or sport coat and tie
Spouse can wear: Dress, suit, skirt and blouse, not as dressy as informal;
Business suit or sport coat and tie
To a Duty Uniform event:
Soldier wears: BDUs, Class B’s, etc., the uniform of the work day
Spouse can wear: Slacks, jeans, etc
To a Casual event
Soldier wears: Open neck shirt (no tie), slacks with sport coat or sweater; Open neck shirt (no tie), slacks with sport coat or sweater
Spouse can wear: Simple dress, skirt and blouse, dress slacks
To a Very Casual event:
Soldier wears: Slacks, jeans, etc.
Spouse can wear: Slacks, jeans, etc.
To Ladies Only get-togethers:
Simple dress, skirt and blouse/sweater. Another to be sure and consider the W's. Dress varies greatly depending on your post, size of group, type of unit, etc. If in doubt, ask your hostess when you RSVP.
Luncheons: Dress, suit, skirt and blouse.
Dressy suit or dress. Traditionally, this is our dressiest daytime function.