Uniforms at the ball are for women too

Scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post I wish I had seen a long time ago. Before I even get started, I have to admit, I never wore a uniform to a service ball. I loved getting all dressed up in my finest gown. I never realized until now that I was part of the problem I’m now trying to fix.

Fleet Master Chief (retired) JoAnn Ortloff said it so much better than I ever could so most of this will be in her words. I’ll just chime in every now and then.

First of all, she is so shocked by the fact that many women don’t want to wear their uniforms to the ball that it is breaking her heart. Then she points out why.
“I understand some of you may feel that you can only have fun and look sexy or pretty in a gown and make up. But I would tell you, your beauty in uniform comes through in your commitment to something bigger than you.”

Marines ball

In this photo, Reserve Marine Sgt. Kelsey DeSantis took Justin Timberlake to the Marine Corps ball. She is proudly wearing her uniform, and looks beautiful doing so.

In her post, Ortloff also points out some of the things I have said in previous posts about fighting for equal recognition in society. You know what I’m talking about. You go out wearing your service pride t-shirt, and get asked what your husband/dad/boyfriend does in said service.

In her Facebook post, she strongly encourages all women in service to consider wearing their uniforms with pride for this one night. Then she shares her thoughts on pride and honor about our uniforms and the Navy Ball. Yes, she is Navy, and this was in a Navy forum, but I really feel like this applies to all services.

1. “If your command gave a choice to women but not to the men on whether you wear a uniform or civilian attire – OH MY GOD that is the biggest indication for you to absolutely wear your uniform. How dare they insinuate that a servicewoman needs the option but a serviceman understands the pride of uniform and does not get the option. Argh – the worst form of inequality ever, and making a statement that servicewomen need to dress up in a gown to feel proud in order to attend. Gads I wish I could record my screaming right now.”

I seriously never saw it this way, and I wish I had. I seriously hope the young service members are reading this and see the message that is being sent when women are given the choice, but men are not.

2. “Women before us have fought so hard for the honor of equally serving, including myself who fought so hard for women to have the honor to wear the iconic crackerjacks. Please, wear them for those who could not.”

I 100 percent agree with this. I really wanted to wear the crackerjacks and dixie cup in my blues, but it didn’t happen until after I retired. I’m so jealous of the women in the Navy now, like Petty Officer Erin Best (pictured below).

best crackerjacks

3. “So many who have served before you would be so proud of how amazing and professionally beautiful you look in uniform as you represent the Navy spirit, and theirs in memory when you attend and celebrate. A few years ago I went to the Northern California Navy Ball and the WWII Vets who could, wore theirs.”

ortloff ball waves

This is amazing. One of my favorite interviews I did during my time in the Navy was with a woman who had been part of the WAVES in WWII. She still fit in her uniform. She told me she was proud of what she had done, and was so proud of the women today that she wishes she could come back.

4. “The Navy Ball is not simply a party – it is a celebration of our Navy heritage, your part in it and where you are taking it.”

She’s so right about this. It’s a matter of changing our mindset. In the first photo below, the youngest airman present,  Airman 1st Class Hannah Walsh, takes part in the cake cutting at the Air Force birthday ball. In the second photo, Spc. Jill Johnson has the honor of being part of the cake-cutting because she is the U.S. Army Alaska Soldier of the Year. I’m sure she’s proud of that. The uniform is part of exhibiting our pride in service. As you can see from Ortloff’s next piece of advice, once the ceremonies are over, other options exist.


5. “Wear the uniform for the celebratory formal part, and change like the guys do after that for the follow on party and dancing part.”

This makes so much sense.

6. “Save the gown for the holiday party later.”

That’s perfect.

7. “If you are relying on the Navy Ball as a date night once a year so you can wear a gown, then I strongly recommend you schedule more date nights in the year and celebrate more. The Navy Ball night is a celebration of service and pride.”

I was talking about this post to a female Army veteran here at the Veterans Services office where I work. She pointed out that junior enlisted women may not have the money to go on a date night that would include wearing a ball gown. So, I told her about number 6. She did agree, especially considering the garrison at Fort Meade, Maryland, did not have an Army ball, but they did have a holiday party. I also suggested springing for a good New Year’s Eve party with your significant other, or even with some friends. It does cost a bit of money, but not as much as a regular weekend meal where dressing that formal is appropriate. So, the options are out there.

8. “If you are dual military, the member whose service is celebrating their heritage absolutely should be in uniform. The military guest should wear theirs as well; however, they may wear a suit or gown since it is not their service celebrating. However, I would still wear mine to support a sister service. It’s not one or the other wears a uniform.”


The first two photos above are of Ortloff and her husband, who is a civilian. The first photo is her first Navy Ball and the second is her last. The bottom photo is of Chief Jackie Dyer with her husband. Although he is in civilian attire, she said he was going incognito, so his rank as a master chief (at a different command) didn’t outshine her at her command events. She said their attire was dictated by the occasion. I love that they are both proud enough of their service that the word “shine” is associated with wearing a uniform.

Looking at this I think back to Bahrain when I went to all the balls. I feel like I really should have worn my uniform at the Navy and Marine Corps ball, but my gown at Seabee Ball. After all, as rare as the opportunity to wear a ball gown is, the opportunity to wear a dress uniform in Bahrain was even more rare.

9. “If you do not feel comfortable in your uniform during the day, please please have it tailored to a comfortable feel. I tailored all my uniforms until I retired, so they fit me best. Having them tailored gives you the confidence to be proud to wear them anywhere, especially to your Navy Ball with pride of service.”

*head hanging in shame* I seriously never thought of that. I always felt like my whites were just too shapeless…but I did love the pants. I never thought to tailor it to my shape and size, while still keeping in regulations. This would have been so easy in a place like Bahrain.

10. “Finally, Women have only been in the Navy 101 years of the Navy’s 243 years. We have come too far to step back. The woman in the picture with me is SKCS(Ret) Rena Estes. She was in her 90’s at this Navy Ball and told me she was so proud to wear her uniform. She joined in 1943 and retired in 1963, passed away not long ago.”

And this is the clincher. We should want to wear our uniform simply because we can. It wasn’t always that way.

“Please reconsider. The uniform at a “uniformed” ball is so important to show your pride. Save the gown at a holiday ball or after the formal part of the Navy Ball where you boogy down in a gown.

“Respectfully, FLTCM Jo’ Ortloff (Retired)”

During my time in service, my excuse was that I was waiting to make Chief before buying the dinner dress uniform. As the top photo shows, it’s not necessary. Everyone in that photo looks like they are having fun, and they are all wearing their uniforms with pride, both men and women, in dinner dress and service dress. They all wear their uniforms proudly.

As always, I welcome comments. I want to know what you think about this. If there are men reading this post, and I hope you are…what do you think?

4 thoughts on “Uniforms at the ball are for women too

  1. JoAnn Ortloff

    Thank you Peggy, for sharing these thoughts. Our uniform is our nation’s cloth, and ours to wear proudly – even at a military service ball as we celebrate our heritage and history. “BZ” Shipmate 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Dittmer

    Yes, I agree with the sentiments above. However, there might bee times when a dual-service couple, one of the members might feel more comfortable in civilian clothes, especially when one is a prior-enlisted officer and the other is still enlisted. What would be your recommendation then? I was told that the one who’s command was holding the event, should be in uniform while the other member is in civilian clothes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with your suggestion. Some couples might make the choice to be in uniform. Others may not for one reason or another. You may have noticed my comments on one of the photos where Chief Jackie Dyer is with her husband, who happens to be a master chief. It is at her command, so she is in uniform and it is her turn to shine. Likewise, I never wore my uniform to my husband’s khaki ball. It would have been very uncomfortable to draw attention to the fact that I was not a Chief.


  3. Steven Pasco

    I agree, my wife prior enlisted LT with 20 years of service wears her uniform to every event (except the Khaki Ball). It is very important to show she is not Chief’s wife but an excellent Sailor with tons of sea time and has been serving since the 90’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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