Why Didn't You Tell Me About the Dress Code?


When I was active duty (which seems like a million years ago) I had a dress code. I was either in uniform or out of uniform.

I wore my uniform to work, to do some community functions (like going to schools and talking to students about being in the military, or recruiting new ROTC/Academy candidates), or when I was not at home -- I was in my uniform.

At home, I wore either gym clothing, because I was working out, or jeans and t-shirts.

I have since left the service, but I’m still married to it. I have been a military spouse much longer than I was active duty.  The one thing I didn’t know about was the dress code!

I’m not talking about the dress code to go to military balls or the expectations that one not be in pajamas at the commissary.

Having been in the military and having been told what to wear every day of my life for five years, I actually am vehemently opposed to dress codes.

My husband is getting “up there” in rank, however, and I have noticed that I am expected to dress a certain way or appear a certain way.

I have also been around when the other colonels wives whisper about what so-and-so’s wife wore to the Officer’s Club last Friday. The spouse they were skewering was my personal hero—she had just completed Ironman Hawaii, and was rocking leather pants.

I say, if you got it, it looks classy, than flaunt it. She wasn’t dressed over-the-top. There were no underwear lines showing. She was wearing black, leather pants, and a nice dressy top. She looked great.

In my closet, I have three types of clothing. I have jeans, I have running clothing, and probably one or two pieces that I could wear at a wedding, formal ball, or out clubbing.

I don’t own any business casual. I don’t have a blazer. I have never set foot in a White House|Black Market (until recently).  I had to get lessons on how to walk in heels, which I don’t do often.I spend more money on my latest pair of running shoes than I have ever on pair of dress shoes.

Two months ago, my husband found out he was selected for squadron command. I had heard about Command School, but I didn’t think I would ever go.

Well, sure enough, I am on his orders to travel to ACC and attend. Then I got the command school power point slide, and sure enough it states explicitly—business casual---no jeans, no running shoes, bring a sweater.

Say what?! I don’t own pants that are not denim. I don’t own shoes that are not athletic.

I get formal. I get casual. I get athletic casual. But what the Sam heck is business casual?

I went to the nearest mall, and went to store after store. I ended up at Banana Republic and White House|Black Market. Lucky for me (and probably for them too, as they sell on commission), I was paired with two really great stylists, who set me up with some pieces of business casual wear. And I am told that the pieces I selected were versatile enough that I could even wear them to work (if I decide to jump back into that bandwagon).

Unfortunately, I spent enough money on “business casual” to clothe a small army. I did have fun, and was surprised at how “professional” I looked outside of running shorts, running shoes, and covered in sweat.

My sister-in-law set me up with enough Mary Kay products so that I have make-up for day and evening looks (I didn’t realize that there was a difference).

I am slowly getting used to the idea of being a commander's spouse, I never imagined I would be one. But I am doing it, because I have learned that even though my husband will be doing the vast majority of the real work, successful commands are a family affair.

In case you, too, are puzzled about dress codes, Jodi provided the following:

Athletic: Athletic clothing

Casual: Jeans, t-shirts

Business Casual: dress slacks or skirt for ladies, khaki pants with shirt (sans tie) for gentlemen.

Semi-Formal: Cocktail dresses no more than 1” above the knee for the ladies; dress slacks, button down shirt, and tie for the gentlemen (sports coat recommended, but optional)

Formal: Floor length gown for ladies; Tuxedo or full suit for gentlemen.

Jodi Vetter is 37 (soon to be 38, shh don’t tell anyone, her kids still think she’s 21), a veteran and military spouse.  She is the coordinating editor for American Military Autism Support blog, a semi-professional author, a mom to two children, an advocate for adults and children on the spectrum and an avid runner.  In her spare time she sleeps and eats.

  Why Didn’t You Tell Me is a weekly feature that gives our readers a space to tell their own story.  If you have a story for us, please submit using the contact button above. All stories must be original and unpublished.

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