What to expect at a formal ball

A discussion of the etiquette, attire and dancing at a formal ball. Includes invitations, dinner manners and amenities.

A formal ball is just that - formal. Everything is done to a "T" and a certain etiquette is expected. The first order of business after receiving an invitation to a formal ball is to respond to the invitation. The occasion calls for anice "thank you" card sent to the hosting couple stating that the invitation is being accepted. The note should be written in the best handwriting possible and never typed.

Attire is usually black and white tux with black tie for men and ball gowns or formals for women. Pantsuits are all but forbidden. If dinner will be served women wearing gloves should remove them just before being seated to eat. The gloves are placed across the lap until after the meal. During the meal the napkin is folded in half and placed atop the gloves. The gloves are not placed back on until you have risen from the table. Formal wear can show some cleavage but nothing racy or provocative.

Hair and nails should be meticulously done. Hair should be upswept or otherwise arranged in a formal do. Perfumes are fine but not overpowering aromas.

Upon entering the establishment each individual or couple is normally announced to the room of guests. At that point there is sometimes a line of people waiting to greet. These are usually the host and hostess, prominent guests and other distinguished visitors. Men give handshakes that are not based on a power struggle. It is not acceptable to try to squeeze harder than the other man. If the men previous to yourself are kissing the hand of the women in the greeting line you should do the same. Women usually offer their hand to the entire line of greeters giving a small courtesy to the host and hostess. For extremely formal affairs, such as meeting the Queen, a full to-the-floor courtesy is expected from women, a full bow from men.

Never head straight for the drinks. Initially most guests will be standing aroundin conversation. Join in but never approach a group and just start talking. One member of the group may be mid-sentence and your interruption will be considered rude. Participate in conversation, never interrupt and always give others a chance to speak rather than overpowering the conversation. Cursing or lewd terms are explicitly taboo. Laughing is fine but nothing loud or shrill. Do not say rude remarks to someone even if you don't care for their personality. If you are the host or hostess treat all guests in the same manner rather than playing favorites to some.

When the music begins the host and hostess or a couple for whom the ball is being thrown usually take the first dance. Others form an outside ring to watch and do not join in until invited by the host and hostess. If an official invitation does not come for dancing it is acceptable to join in on the second dance number. It is usually expected that the woman will wait for an invitation from a man.

During dinner the women are seated by the gentlemen and napkins are folded in half before placing in the lap. Each time the napkin is used it should be again placed in the lap. Please,thank you and no, thank you are offered each time someone hands you a dish or asks if you would like more of something. Talk and laughter is permitted at the table to a certain extent but loud voices or extreme gesturing is not acceptable. Never laugh or talk with food in your mouth.

After the evening's festivities thank the host and hostess before leaving. Say goodbye to guests to whom you have spoken during the evening. Within a week of the ball send a nice "thank you" card and handwrite a little something about how much you enjoyed it.

Things to never do at a formal ball: apply make up or brush hair anywhere but the bathroom, kick off shoes, rub feet, pick or floss teeth, belch, scratch, put fingers in ear or any other orifice, spit food out, speak out loud of something they are serving that you don't like, gossip about other guests, point, smack someone on the back or lay your head down on a table.

Things to always do at a formal ball: thank the host and hostess, eat but not excessively, make nice comments on the decor, music and what others are wearing, converse, laugh when appropriate, use good manners and thank each partner for each dance.

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