Whew, Y'all. This post is going to be a real doozy. If you’re a West Point gal, I hope you’ve come prepared with your favorite beverage in hand because I decided to cover West Point military balls in today’s post. I personally hate calling them a West Point military ball but I’m trying to make this guide easy to find so there ya have it. We’re gonna jump right into how to prepare for a West Point Military Ball but first, I’m going to explain why I decided to write this ultimate guide to attending a West Point Military Ball before we get started with the good stuff. Hold on to your hats (or coffee?) this is gonna be a long ride!
When Justin and I first started dating, I had no idea that West Point class events were a thing. In fact, my first class event wasn’t even a ball, it was Camp Illumination, which marks the end of a Cadet’s first year at West Point, after a few weeks of summer training. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who struggled with not knowing what to wear or figuring out what happens at these things. Camp Illumination came and went and I made my way through it but I absolutely hated the feeling of not knowing ANYTHING at all about the event.
Fast forward to my actual first West Point military ball and I still had absolutely no idea what to expect, again. While the West Point girlfriend’s Facebook page is helpful for figuring out what to wear, no one really is there to tell you what happens or like… how to make it through a receiving line without making a dang fool of yourself. The only time I’ve ever even heard of the words “receiving line” used in a sentence was for a wedding. Naturally, I panicked and literally two days before the event, rushed to the nearest bookstore to pick up an etiquette book. Which wasn’t actually that much help for surviving military events. So out of my anxiety, I decided to pull together a serious, down-to-earth (cause that’s the name of our game here) guide to attending a West Point class event/West Point military ball. If this post on West Point class events can help even just one girl, it will be worth it.
I hope this Ultimate Guide to Attending Any West Point Class Event takes all of the guesswork out of what to expect from a West Point banquet and gives you first-hand guidance on what to wear to a military ball so that you can be your most confident and beautiful self!
The Complete List of West Point Military Balls
We’ve already gone over the fact that I hate calling them that so here’s the lowdown: West Point Military Balls are designed to teach cadets how to function at big events. So if you’re planning on sticking with your cadet for the long haul, you might as well use this as an opportunity to learn as well. Each military ball is typically centered on a class weekend for each of the four classes (think: senior, junior, sophomore, freshman just different names). Each class has a weekend dedicated to them and their event. Think of these events as a celebration of your cadet’s accomplishments for that year. Oh, did I mention that they’re usually held in the winter, so remember to take the weather into account! Class events each year are:
Plebe (freshman) Year:
Plebe Parent Weekend – Typically happens the weekend before Spring Break. Celebrates the accomplishments of the Plebe class so far. Parents typically come as well as dates. Weather permitting, there is a parade. The class crest is unveiled. Plebe Parent Weekend is a formal event including a banquet, cadets wear Full Dress uniform.
Camp Illumination – The Saturday before Cadets are released from summer training going into their second year. Celebrates the accomplishment of completing summer training. Typically themed as a “garden party” Camp Illumination event is the only class even that takes place at Camp Buckner which is where your cadet is spending most of his summers while at West Point. So it’s not the most glamorous locations (you can see pictures of it from our engagement pictures). It is more casual/semi-formal attire. Cadet’s wear their India White uniform.
Yearling (sophomore) Year:
Yearling Winter Weekend – Typically held in February, celebrates the accomplishments of the Yearling class so far. Cadets typically only bring dates to this event. Yearling Winter Weekend is a formal event including a banquet and hop, Cadets wear Full Dress Uniform.
Cow (junior) Year:
500th Night – Typically held in January, this event marks the celebration of 500 days remaining at West Point. Cadets bring dates to this event. 500th Night is a formal event including a banquet and hop, Cadets wear Full Dress Uniform.
Firstie (senior) Year:
Ring Weekend – Typically held the last weekend in August, this event marks the beginning of the final year of West Point when First Class Cadets receive their class rings. Ring Weekend begins with an afternoon ceremony at Trophy Point on Friday, followed by a cocktail hour and banquet on Saturday. The Ring Ceremony is a dressy/casual atmosphere while the banquet is a formal event, Cadets wear India Whites for both events.
100th Night – Typically held in February, this event marks the celebration of 100 days remaining at West Point. Cadets bring dates to this event. 100th Night is a semi-formal event including a cocktail hour, banquet, and theatrical performance to celebrate the class; Cadets wear semi-formal attire, typically a suit.
Graduation – Typically held in May, graduation is a weeklong event consisting of three parades, a garden reception at the Superintendent’s house, a formal banquet, the graduation ceremony, and the commissioning ceremony. With the exception of the graduation banquet, the other events for grad week are dressy/casual (your Sunday best). The graduation banquet is a formal event and Cadets typically wear India Whites.
What to Wear to Any West Point Event
While each of these events marks an entire weekend, there is typically only one event that happens (with the exception of Plebe Parent Weekend, Ring Weekend and Graduation). The standard class event is going to include a cocktail hour (depending on the year), a banquet, and a hop (i.e. the dance portion). We’ll go into more details later on about what happens at each of these events but the outline is pretty standard for most of them!
Now, let’s get to the good stuff. What I know Y'all are really here for: what the heck do you wear to a West Point class event? Again, this is going to vary by event but I’m going to break it down a few ways and discuss what my go-to is for each type of event. I also put a fun little slideshow together of all of the outfits I’ve worn to the West Point military balls I’ve attended up to this point. Because I know I personally LOVE seeing pictures of what everyone has worn!
Parades, Ceremonies, and Casual Events
West Point parades are one of those things where what you wear is going to vary based on the occasion for the parade and obviously, the weather. Parades held during football season and that aren’t tied to a specific event, are definitely way more casual than I would say, the Graduation parade is. While there’s not a dress code for parades, my go-to for any type of parade outside of football season is going to be Lilly Pulitzer but you can honestly wear pretty much anything to these things. Also of note: you should probably skip the heels, unless you have a pair that you know for a fact are the most comfortable things ever. West Point requires A LOT of walking.
Banquets and Hops
With the exception of 100th night, West Point banquets are usually all formal events. At Military balls, the formality of an event is typically dictated by what your Cadet or service member will be wearing. For formal events, dresses should fall no shorter than below the knee but typically you’ll see mostly floor-length gowns. There’s also that little thing about your shoulders being covered but this Military.com article seems to believe that’s a non-issue nowadays. Just make sure you’re not showing too much skin. Also, this should go without saying, but make sure your dress actually fits you, don’t wear something too tight, but also definitely don’t wear something that makes you look like a sack of potatoes.
My favorite dress: My favorite gown that I’ve worn so far has got to be the dress I wore for Yearling Winter Weekend. I scored this dress for seriously $10 after I decided I hated my other dress at the last minute (this is a real trend for me that I’m trying to break). Anyways, it was everything I envisioned the perfect formal gown to be.
- Black so the color is timeless, classic, and can be worn again.
- The shape was flattering with a defined waist and neckline.
- The sleeves made sure that I was subtly covered without being too modest.
My least favorite dress: My least favorite gown was also an impulse purchase but only because I had previously gotten a big red ball gown (not kidding) to wear and decided that I was not the type of girl who could walk into something wearing such a statement piece. So I found this dress at an online boutique and, well, I hated it.
- The color was too pale for my skin tone and made the dress feel out of place at a winter event.
- The full skirt did not flatter my figure and the material made me look juvenile.
- The neckline was too low cut ant the bodice too tight meaning I was uncomfortable the whole night and also showing probably a little too much skin.
My Go-To Places to Shop for Military Balls
Surviving a West Point Event
My biggest fear when I went to my first West Point event stemmed from the fact that I had no idea what happens at a military ball. Honestly, I felt like Roxy in the show Army Wives, where she thinks the President is actually going to be at the banquet when they do the toasts. Remember when I said that I bought the etiquette book? It was for things like, which fork to use when, how to greet people, etc. I was freaking out. I knew all of that stuff, of course, but it’s like the minute I knew I was going to this big military event, it all fell out of my brain. Not kidding. Anyways, I don’t recommend dropping $50 on an etiquette book unless that’s something you’re into. Instead, look at things like this post from Military Wife and Mom, which I love, about Military Ball etiquette because she covers all of those little things including Receiving Lines, which I find to be the terrifying part no matter how many times I’ve done them.
What happens at a West Point Class Banquet
West Point Class Banquets take place in the Cadet Mess Hall and typically will start around 7 o’clock. Receiving lines are usually the first thing that happens at these things which is great because that means you get the most nerve-wracking stuff out of the way quickly! The receiving lines are typically held leading to the mess hall and while there are ways to sneak around them, I wouldn’t suggest it. When you approach the receiving line your Cadet will introduce you and himself to the usher who will present you to whoever's receiving line you’re walking through. You will walk in front of your cadet and be introduced to those people, shake hands, smile, and nod, etc. once through the receiving line, congratulations, you’ve made it to cocktail hour (depending on the year)!
Starting Cow year, alcohol is served at class events. So for 500th Night and all of the Firstie year events mentioned above, there will be a cocktail hour prior to the actual dinner portion of the evening. The cocktail hour takes place pretty much the hour before the banquet and is exactly what it sounds like. You have a few drinks, walk around and chat, there’s also some small bites of food such as cheese and crackers. Make sure to eat something before the cocktail hour so you’re not starving while waiting for the banquet! This is also a great time to meet up with friends and take pictures. Once the cocktail hour has ended, it’s time to take make your way to your assigned seats! Feel free to take pictures of the place settings and name cards! However, it is customary to remain standing once you arrive at your table.
A program will be provided at your seat that will explain the rest of the evening's events, including the toasts. The toasts are kind of fun, in my opinion, and are outlined in your program. By the time you reach Firstie year, you’ll probably have them memorized. Your Cadet should at least be familiar with the banquet portion of the evening so be sure to ask them if you have any questions!
Basically, once you get the toasts over with it should be pretty smooth sailing from there. You’ll eat and chat with the people at your table. Everyone is usually very nice and friendly. I always make sure to put on my best smile and pull out those Southern manners. Eventually, people will start giving speeches and I also try my best to really take in the message and remember what is being said because those are memories you’ll want to have come graduation.
A few more things about attending a West Point class even that I want to add emphasis on, just from personal experience.
Don’t drink too much. I’ve made this mistake (not at the event but before) when we had a prior engagement to the banquet. We all know that things get a little sloppy when you’re drinking too much. Use the less is more rule and drink water in between drinks.
Wear comfortable shoes for god’s sake (I CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH). you are not going to enjoy yourself if your feet are killing you. I killed my feet at the last event and couldn’t feel my toes for months. Events at West Point generally require a lot of walking, regardless of whether or not you’re coming for a parade, a football game, or a military ball. If you’re wearing a formal gown, no one is going to see your feet anyways, so choose comfort.
Check the weather before the event. I remember one year for 100th night it was seriously like -20 degrees. As I said, most of the West Point class events are in the winter months in New York so you might as well go ahead and prepare for cold weather and snow. It’s been so cold here that I switched my dress at the last minute to something with sleeves for this very reason. I also recommend investing in a nice dress coat. There’s a coat check at the winter class events so no need to worry about losing it. Take one of these events as a good opportunity to get yourself a closet staple!
Don’t be afraid to re-wear a dress, or to rent a dress. These events can get expensive (along with flying out to visit, hotels, gas, ect.), so don’t be afraid to go for cheaper options! I personally love it when girls re-wear dresses from previous events. Maybe not your high school prom dress but if you buy a classic navy blue lace gown for Yearling Winter Weekend and want to wear it again for graduation, knock yourself out! I’m dying to wear my Yearling Winter Weekend dress again (it’s seriously my favorite ever) but it’s unfortunately too big for me now, which is heartbreaking.
Above all, remember to be yourself and have FUN. The reason why I tend to change my dresses at the last minute is that I’m either trying too hard to fit in or because someone says my choices are something an old lady would wear. Wear what you’re comfortable in and stay true to your own personal style because ultimately that’s what’s going to make sure you’re the best version of yourself and that you feel confident at any event!
What is one thing you would tell your younger self before going to her first West Point event?
Thank you so much to every gal who provided pictures for this blog post!