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How to pull off a military ball on a budget

Look and feel glamorous for a fraction of the cost!

CH (CPT) Tony Hunley and wife Beth in Fort Lee, Virginia. Photo credit: Beth Hunley

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Formal balls aren't common in the civilian world, as they are a special tradition in military life reminding us where we came from, and who came before us. They are a wonderful experience full of military customs, and you don't have to break the bank to enjoy yourself.

After your tickets are purchased, your gown will be the next most important purchase to make. Many gowns retail for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, more if you want something custom or altered. Santa couldn't even pull that off, but fear not, you have options. Start by checking out This website provides designer dress rentals, from breezy to very formal, for prices starting at $30 and up to $450. We're talking a $1,290 Badgley Mischka dress for $180 for four days. If you're worried about the fit, they provide you with one free backup size, and a second style for only $32.50. With thousands of dresses to choose from, you'll be sure to stand out in an off-the-runway look.

Most gowns are worn only once, so definitely browse through the huge assortment of second-hand gowns at the Fort Lewis and McChord Thrift Shops. They usually have a good size shoe selection, plus jewelry as well. You can also ask around your community if anyone is selling, looking to trade, or willing to loan out any gowns. Reach out at the next FRG meeting or on your neighborhood Facebook page.  Whether you rent or buy, there are thousands if not millions of affordable gowns out there to choose from.

Next up, your beauty regime. Bartering online is a great option for finding someone to do your hair, makeup or nails as well. Do you have a knack for organizing, cooking, baking, or any skill at all? You could even offer to drive someone to the airport or watch their kids if they can pull off a fancy up-do for you. Also consider the abundance of make-up and hair tutorials available on YouTube. Spend a few nights practicing before the ball, and try out a few different looks. Some techniques are more difficult than others. If you really don't have the skills, then try outsourcing to the talented artists at Sephora inside JCPenny. They often offer free mini makeovers, or if you buy $50 in product you can get a free 45-minute full face custom makeover. They also offer Happy Hour Hair: a 20-minute service from their Drybar Menu for only $20 at participating locations. Remember to consider your gown, you may only need a simple understated hair and beauty look if that suits your dress' style.

The honor of representing your servicemember at a formal military ball is very special and exciting. For most people, the last time they prepared for a formal event was either prom night or their wedding day, so this isn't an event to miss. Don't let a strict budget stand in your way of enjoying a magical evening full of military tradition.

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