What You Should Wear to a Military Ball

two couples in formal wear at the birthday ball
(Mallory S. VanderSchans/DVIDS)

Although there's still lingering debate in the world about whether or not yoga pants are real pants, there should be one no-questions-asked fashion rule: Lingerie is not clothing. We think your mother would agree.

Which makes it hard to figure out what to wear to your military ball if you've recently wandered the aisles of any department store. Dresses that have more cut-outs than fabric, sparkle-encrusted busts and hemlines that are dangerously short regardless of the occasion seem to be the mainstay of offerings. But you don't believe the hype! You don't have to settle! You can look gorgeous, glamorous and appropriate ... without breaking the bank.

A lot of people commented on our What Not to Wear (again, lingerie as clothing) that investing in one good dark-colored gown that you can wear every year is the most cost-effective way to go. Hey, your date gets to wear the same thing every year, you can too!

If you're looking to be prepared and stock your closet with some ready-to-go options, here are some of our suggestions.

The Infinity Dress - Talk about a winner. This dress, which comes in a variety of colors from a variety of retailers gives you, yup, a variety of options. Seriously. Wear it one way one year and another way the next year and no one will know the difference!

The Simple Strapless Black Dress - Classic and easy. Think Jackie O' with the possibilities of dressing up a simple, strapless black dress. Hair up or down, shawl or ribbon to add a pop of color, big accessories or a simple look -- they can all happen with the same gown. Really, having one of these in your closet for the last minute "we're going to the ball after all" phone call would be a good idea.

The Favorite Dress - Do you remember that time you put on a gown for the ball and fell in love with it? The one your spouse drooled over? The one everyone complimented you on all night long? Yup. Keep it. Wear it again with confidence. Whether you rotate it through a selection of others, or just wear the same thing every year, no one is going to notice and you're going to look -- and feel -- amazing.

Accessories are a great way to change the look of a gown from one year to the next. And these are easier to swap. Get with your friends and see who has what to match your gown for this year's ball. Make it an event and enjoy some pre-ball fun.

But maybe you want to buy a dress, wear it this year, and then sell it or add it to a rotation of a few, affordable, simple yet elegant dresses in the closet. Enter Amazon. I've bought the last two ball gowns I've worn from Amazon. Quick shipping, easy returns and some great, affordable options.

And I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm a big fan of renting my gowns from Rent the Runway. Because we all know that honestly, we could spend that money elsewhere, and returning the dress the day after the ball and picking out a completely different one next year is a lot more fun than buying.

On top of renting dresses that retail for $900 for just $100, there is no dry cleaning involved and excellent customer service. One year, I reserved my dress and then found out I was pregnant. No problem, they sent me two different dresses to choose from. Several friends have used the service with excellent feedback.

So wives, girlfriends, meddling mamas, ball attendees: do not be disheartened. There are many glamorous, sexy, fabulous, work-appropriate options out there. Because yes, while this is a very fun, very fancy and very expensive work event -- it's still a work event.

And while the focus may be on those gorgeous service members in their nice uniforms and fancy medals, we're there looking absolutely awesome, too.

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