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Etiquette for an officer's girlfriend attending an army event?

(14 Posts)
Helenagrace Sun 29-May-11 23:16:49

Hoping someone can help me here!

A young woman who works for me is dating an army officer. She's been invited to a dinner at his HQ. I think he's an engineer but don't know where he's based. Anyhow she's really worried about what to wear and dos and don'ts on the night. I'm assuming it's a fairly formal event so an evening dress or cocktail dress? If it's anything like the really boring actuarial dinners I go to bare shoulders are a no no. Is there anything else she should avoid doing?

Can you give me any advice for her? The only helpful thing I can offer is to tell her which way round the table the port goes! I did tell her to post on here herself but she won't as she's not a mum!

Thank you in anticipation

mpsw Sun 29-May-11 23:38:36

Mess functions are usually a blast - she should have a great time.

She needs to find out the norms of that particular Mess in terms of skirt length - some Messes are more formal than others (have her ask her BF to find out from another wife or established GF). She will need to have her shoulders covered whilst sitting down to eat (shrug would be fine), but if the event includes country dancing, then strapless isn't advisable at any point!

The only thing to remember is not to drink too much before dinner and to go to the loo before going in (actually it doesn't matter too much if you do leave the table, but people generally don't so she may feel conspicuous if she has too). Just follow everyone else during toasts.

It helps if BF can explain the who's who in advance. Especially as he might get nervous if he finds her trading filthy jokes with a Brigadier!

PigletJohn Mon 30-May-11 00:04:11

there tends to be a lot of alcohol flowing. It is important never to be the most drunken person present. It is greatly preferable to be the least drunken person present.

wantmoresleep Mon 30-May-11 10:09:21

I'm married to an engineer officer, and generally the messes tend to be more relaxed on rules than some other regiments. I've often worn strapless/shoulders uncovered, but for a first visit it's certainly a good idea to have a shrug or similar just in case. Same with skirt length - probably better to go below the knee at first, although very unlikely to need to be full length. It's also much more usual now for the CO or PMC to announce a loo break during the meal when wives and girlfriends are around, although as mpsw said her best bet is to get the lowdown from someone who's familiar with that particular mess.
Hope your friend has a fantastic time - I'd love to be back at the young end of the table again!

TheOriginalFAB Mon 30-May-11 10:15:09

I am interested to know why bare shoulders are not allowed.

vintageteacups Mon 30-May-11 10:41:02

I have sometimes not covered my shoulders at dinner - in fact quite a lot. It's just an etiquette thing original.

Tell her she will probably go in (arm in arm usually) with man sitting to her left usually and she may not be sitting next to her BF.

In some messes (thankfully not as often now), they swap seats between courses - not sure how popular this is now.

You never leave (well, the guys) before the CO and if you needed to, he should ask permission.

Scootergrrrl Mon 30-May-11 10:49:19

Tell her not to be too scared of all the pomp and ceremony - I remember when DH was a baby subaltern and I was petrified of the whole thing. Now he's a grown up and PMC, I do feel sorry for all the new girlfriends who are too worried to enjoy what is, in fact, great fun.

EdithWeston Mon 30-May-11 12:02:46

No bare shoulders is because of the view the waiters get, and so you don't look naked to whoever is opposite you if you're by flowers or other centrepieces.

It's not just a military thing - it applies to all formal seated dinners during the sitting down parts.

PigletJohn Mon 30-May-11 12:34:37

you mean it's supposed to stop waiters looking down your cleavage? hmm

OfflineFor30Seconds Mon 30-May-11 16:06:07

Treat the CO like the Queen; i.e. don't start eating before he does and don't get down from the table until he does (unless a break is announced).

Also don't stand up if they toast the ladies! grin

I never knew about the dress code etiquette until I read about it MN, and when I questioned DH his reply was that it was bollocks smile - each Mess to its own, I suppose.

madwomanintheattic Mon 30-May-11 16:13:18

and don't touch the silver...

and don't put the port decanter on the table - just pass it along without it touching (although some messes have particular and different trads re port)

try and find out how many national anthems they are playing, and don't drink until the toast bit after each grin

but really, copy everyone else and it'll all be fine.

Helenagrace Tue 31-May-11 12:13:13

Thank you for all your tips. They've been really helpful.

whizzyrocket Tue 19-Jul-11 16:06:54

I can only speak for RAF functions but hide your name card as soon as you find out where you're sitting- otherwise they think it's fun to write things on the back you have supposedly said to be read out by the CO later on.

Also beware of other tricks like talcum powder in the napkins, a hole drilled through your wine-glass, or the chair that has been carefully weakened to collapse if anyone sits on it. These things do happen although generally when they guys know the butt of the joke really well, so it's more likely to be your chap.

It's bad form to go to the loo during the meal or speeches.

Don't show knees even if the dress length isn't full-length. If it's unclear, go for a full length dress. Do cover your shoulders.

Later, after you've all got up from the table, you can leave your wrap in the ladies'.. I've hung up my shoes there in the past too. Once the boys start quaffing in earnest noone cares any more!

Blurry29 Tue 19-Jul-11 21:47:24

watch out for numbing solutions on glasses or forks............

Chairs that have been tied to the table

Talc in napkins

Oh don't you just love a good mess bash smile

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