How to Save Money and Look Great at the Military Ball

Military spouses look through racks of donated dresses to choose a dress for the Marine Corps birthday ball during Operation Ball Gown, Sept. 8, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Sarah Cherry)
Military spouses look through racks of donated dresses to choose a dress for the Marine Corps birthday ball during Operation Ball Gown, Sept. 8, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Sarah Cherry)

Fall is almost here, and we all know what that means: military ball season!

Military balls are fun nights out with your spouse. Unfortunately, between dresses, shoes and accessories, one night of fun can be costly. But it doesn’t have to be.

Before hitting the department stores and preparing to max out your credit cards, try the following tips. By taking advantage of shopping opportunities on base, military discounts off base and friends who wear the same size as you, it’s possible to show up at the military ball looking great without going broke.

On-Base Options

Many military bases have thrift shops, most of which are operated by the base spouses' organization or the services' relief society (like the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society), and profits support charitable causes like scholarships and youth activities. You never know what you can find at a thrift shop, so check it out and see what you can come up with.

Operation Ball Gown is an event that gives spouses of active duty service members an opportunity to choose a formal ball gown for free. For example, in 2018, Parris Island's Operation Ball Gown event is September 25. Check with your local base to see if they offer a similar event.

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Military Discounts Off Base

Can't find anything on the base near you? Then grab your military ID and start shopping with military discounts.

Banana Republic has a great selection of dresses, and they offer a 15% military discount.

Of course you’ll need shoes to match your dress. Payless ShoeSource offers a military discount every day, and Rack Room Shoes offers a 10% military discount every Tuesday.

Don't forget you'll need accessories to complete your look. Claire'sNew York & Company and Old Navy stores all offer a military discount.

If you're wandering around a mall, make sure you ask about a military discount at every store you hit because many offer discounts that may or may not be advertised. For example, the MacArthur Center in Norfolk, Virginia is a shopping mall with 140 stores and lots of them offer military discounts.

Need a fresh hair cut before the ball? Signature Style and SmartStyle salons are offering active duty, veterans and retired service members a 10% off any service discount.

Other Tips

Would you prefer to rent a dress instead of dishing out the dough for something you'll probably only wear once? Check out Rent the Runway.

How does it work? Search their website for the perfect dress. Book that perfect dress for a 4-day or 8-day rental period. (They have accessories too!) Wear the dress to the ball, and then return it. Just send everything back in a pre-paid envelope, without even so much as dry cleaning. They may not offer a military discount, but it’s a great alternative to buying a dress.

And if all else fails, raid your friends' closets. If you wear the same size and have similar tastes in fashion, you won't pay a dime to swap dresses for a night. You might even be able to find a group on base or a Facebook page dedicated to dress swapping, so start asking around.

Keep up with all military discounts

Whether you're an active duty service member, a military family member, or a veteran, stay on top of all the military discounts you're eligible for, from travel accommodations to auto and entertainment deals. Sign up for a free Military.com membership to get full access to all discounts.

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