Etiquette Bootcamp

Published: March 28, 2017

Many of us have been there. Uncertain, with questions swirling around our head. Where to stand, what to say, and worst of all, what fork to use! Whether we are new to military life or someone that has spent decades as a military spouse, we are confronted with moments of uncertainty regarding military etiquette and protocol.

Military in all its ups and downs, is a flurry of activities. From military balls and informal events, to ceremonies, luncheons and dinners. The exciting and challenging life of a military spouse is a roller coaster of the known and unknown, the foreseen and unforeseen and that is where etiquette can help. The more you learn, the more comfortable and confident you feel. And, yes, even able to enjoy yourself more!

At Etiquette Chics, we are passionate about etiquette, but we are also a proud U.S. Army military family. Knowing military etiquette and protocol will help make you look good and your spouse look great. We have made it our mission to make etiquette fun and modern. Classy not stuffy! And this is our same mission for military etiquette. That’s why we use videos and blogs to help make it more comfortable, approachable and easier to learn. We have compiled a list that we think are some of those murky areas of a military spouse etiquette. There may be some variety and differences regarding some of these, depending on the branch of service. But, many of these are transferrable regardless of the branch. If you find some do not apply to you, then just skip over and go to the next bullet. And, possibly invest in doing some of your own research. I find myself having to often look up new areas that cause me some uncertainty. That’s okay, that’s learning, and part of the life of being a prepared and ready military spouse. These are some areas I found through my own personal experience of being a military wife for over twenty years that may be helpful. So, uniform up and let’s jump into…

Etiquette Boot Camp!

  • What side to walk on or stand when your spouse is in their uniform? This is so simple and one I wished I had known sooner rather than later. This can simply be remembered by thinking about the hand that your spouse uses to salute. Since their right hand needs to be freed up to salute, you as the spouse or guest, need to be certain you stand to the left (the left hand of the one in uniform.) Now, have we all inadvertently gripped our spouses other arm at an event? Probably. No need to focus on it. Just move forward and remember, “Left is best.”
  • The National Anthem. How precious we hold this as military families, don’t we? Of course many Americans do, military and non-military. I cry or at least tear up with emotion almost every time I hear our anthem. The information we are providing here just touches on a few areas of flag/anthem etiquette. Books have been written on this topic and further blogs are coming that cover our flag, the anthem and our pledge, in more detail. Here are some very simple guidelines to start with. It is customary to always stand for the National Anthem. If the event is taking place outside, place your hand over/on your heart. At an indoors event, your hand can go over your heart, at your side, or behind your back. To simplify the life of a military spouse, because we certainly have enough complicating it, as a rule, I just always place my right hand over my heart. It is a safe response and one that is never, ever wrong. Of course, if wearing a hat for some reason, remove the hat and no obvious blunders such as gum chewing, eating or drinking during the anthem. These are common sense guidelines that I hope remain common for all.
  • This one was always tricky for me because in day to day life outside of the military, I sometimes say “Sir.” When addressing someone in uniform, remember you are not (as a civilian spouse) to address them as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Use their rank instead. Say, “Good Afternoon, General Washington.” Save the “Sir” or Ma’am” for outside of military circles. Practice this before events and be certain you have the correct rank. Maybe the only thing worse than uncertain dining etiquette is being uncertain about the rank, which leads me to my next point. Learn rank insignia.
  • Learn Ranks. There are many wonderful publications (or just google it) for your branch of service and learning ranks for enlisted and officers. Although this will require some studying, it will prove immensely rewarding. To not have to wonder what rank the insignia stands for, will prove beneficial, and like many forms of etiquette, it keeps you from making obvious, embarrassing blunders such as saying the incorrect rank. And, go back to it, and revisit studying it occasionally until you feel like you have mastered this 100%. Then, when it comes time for your next military event you will know exactly how to address each individual. By doing this, you remove one big hurdle that can cause nervousness and avoid a possible big “oops.”
  • Who of us does not enjoy an event where a new dress, outfit or suit is in order? This can be exciting, fun and most of all, super confusing. So here are some of the main categories with a quick outline for each. They are: Formal, Informal/Semi-Formal, Coat and Tie/Business, Casual, Very Causal. This also requires an entire segment of its own. But to summarize, “Formal,” “Informal/Semiformal” range from service uniforms with bow ties to a four-in-hand tie. Spouses: this ranges from a long formal dress to a “dressy” dress or suit. “Coat and Tie” and “Business” attire is a service uniform and tie. Spouses: wear a dress, skirt/blouse or a suit. “Casual” is just that, casual. Both parties dress casual for this and wear a choice of, dress pants, casual shirt or a simple dress. “Very Causal” is shorts, t-shirts etc. Avoid the inappropriate: too short, too tight, too much skin showing. Save that for your personal events if that is your choice attire. Good rule of thumb, ask the host or hostess for the exact attire category before the event, if uncertain. Do your homework and research exactly what is the appropriate attire. Showing up under or overdressed are never fun experiences. It only takes one time for you to say, “Never again!”
  • Receiving Lines. Okay, don’t lose me here. I know you may be thinking, blah, blah, blah, but actually this is so important. If you read this section once, you will most likely have a good grasp on it because it is so basic, yet needed. Those in the receiving line will be the honored guests, host/hostess and any guest speakers. Before going through the receiving line, put away or discard all drinks, and put away or place at your table, large purses, cell phones etc. so that your hands are free. Ladies, if you have a small eveningwear purse, place in your left hand or on your left arm. If possible place your purse on your seat before entering the receiving line. Women walk first at Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard functions. Ladies follow behind at Air Force events, and should we ever be fortunate enough, at White House events. Please note that typically, the first person in the receiving line is the “Announcer” and you do not shake their hand. If they reach out to shake your hand, then of course, reciprocate. Speak briefly as you make your way through the receiving line. This is the key to success in a receiving line. The goal is to meet each person, but to keep the line moving at a good pace. Basically make good eye contact, smile, speak briefly and have a firm, but not death grip handshake. And most of all, enjoy yourself and let “you” shine through. These are often proud, exciting events and let’s treat them as so, truly an honor to be there.
  • Promotion Ceremonies. These are truly the most precious of ceremonies, where we can recognize and celebrate our service member’s and family commitment and successes. Families are often a part of this proud event. When the ceremony begins and the presiding officer enters the room, all should stand. When “Attention to Orders” is called, civilians/family are not required to stand, but should out of courtesy. Spouses and children often participate in pinning the new rank insignia on one shoulder (usually the left) and the presiding officer pins on the right shoulder. I must confess, I spent more than one promotion ceremony wondering what to do. Trust me, this will make your military spouse life so much easier just by knowing the basics of the promotion ceremony.
  • Dining Etiquette. I could never possibly cover all there is to learn in this one bullet when it comes to dining etiquette. I also know that I have been to enough formal events, dinners and luncheons to know this is worthwhile in taking some time to learn. Etiquette Chics have videos that are only 30-60 seconds long that cover the ins and outs of dining etiquette: forks, knives, glasses, napkin etiquette and the list goes on and on. But, we have you covered! Our YouTube Channel, “Etiquette Chics” has all these topics covered in our fun, modern and quick videos that are jam-packed with information.

I hope these points prove insightful in helping you conquer military etiquette and protocol. These are strictly to encourage you and help you on this journey. Inspiration not condemnation! We all have been there and make mistakes. But hopefully this blog helps you minimize those experiences. And, as always, share your information and knowledge and encourage each other, we are all together on this journey called military life.

Welcome to Etiquette Boot Camp…your training has commenced!

By: Susan A. Vernick at Etiquette Chicks


“Emily Posts, Etiquette” 18th edition

“Basics from the Barracks” U.S. Army War College



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