How to save money and look great at the military ball
(Photo: US Marines, Lance Cpl. Jason Jimenez)

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, accessories and babysitters, 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 2017, Parris Island’s Operation Ball Gown event is September 27. Check with your local base to see if they offer a similar event.

At some military bases, like Langley Air Force Base, you can find places like Cinderella’s Closet, where women donate dresses that are loaned out for free (you might need to put down a deposit). If  you’re lucky, you might be able to find shoes and jewelry there as well. Check with your local installation to see what they offer.

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 10% 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’s offers 20% off full-priced items. Participating New York & Company locations offer 15% off your total purchase every day. And every Monday is “Military Monday” at participating Old Navy stores, when you can receive 10% off your entire purchase. (Some Old Navy locations even offer a military discount every day.)

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, and Tanger Outlets offer a free coupon book.

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.


No night out is complete without reliable child care. can help you find a babysitter for your big night out with military discounts on memberships. Search through a listing of sitters in your area that includes background checks and parent reviews, and post specific jobs you want filled so the sitters come to you.

How do you save money when preparing to attend a military ball?

By Heather Sweeney,

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