Cruise travel agents and experienced cruisers all say that one of the most frequently asked questions they get from first-time cruisers is, "What kind of clothes should I take?" The answer to this question has become more complicated as our culture has evolved into a more casual society. Many old timers would agree they would have never thought that most traditional office workplaces would now allow business casual or even casual dress. In addition, more and more people work at home, using a telephone and Internet access to do their jobs and meet with colleagues or clients.
So now you might ask, how does this relate to dressing for a cruise? Well, as our culture has changed the definition of "dressing for success" in the work place, cruise lines have become open to a more casual atmosphere. Sailing ships and many yacht-like ships such as those operated by Un-Cruise Adventures have a casual dress code. Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, and other cruise lines with traditional "dress-up" nights have loosened up their recommended dress code for dinner on some ships as they have moved to open seating for dinner.
Other cruise lines have also made formal attire optional or decreased the number of formal nights.
Cruise lines are making an attempt to match what is going on in the work place. If passengers aren't having to buy dress clothes for work, they might not want to buy an entire new wardrobe just for their vacation. In addition, to attract younger cruisers, ships believe they need to provide more flexibility for passengers in dress, shore excursions, and shipboard activities. Finally, people today are much more likely to express their individuality and diversity than they were when the first cruise ships started sailing in the 1970's.
On the other hand, there are people out there who love to dress up, and going on a cruise gives them a good excuse to do so, especially now that our society has gone more casual. If you have purchased a gorgeous formal dress with sequins or a fine tuxedo, you want a chance to show off. And, we all look so good when we make the effort. However, if half the people at dinner are dressed in khakis and golf shirts, it tends to ruin the overall atmosphere for the formally-dressed passengers. In addition, many passengers do not want to stand out in a crowd as being overdressed.
Don't you remember that your mother always said it was better to be overdressed than under-dressed? However, even that rule seems to be changing.
Traditional luxury cruise lines usually have one or two "dress-up" nights on each seven-day cruise. Men sometimes wear tuxedos, but dark suits or even sports coats have become more prevalent as our society has dressed down and cruise vacations have become more mainstream. It's a little harder to determine what women should wear. Cocktail dresses (long or short) seem to predominate on "dress-up" nights, but "Sunday dress" seems to be just as prevalent. But we ladies certainly have more flexibility than the men do.
For the other nights, standard dress for men and women is often "country club casual", which means no jeans, tank tops, swimwear, or shorts.
You will see sport coats and collared shirts on most men and pants suits or casual dresses on the women if you are on a ship that features "country club" or cruise casual for the entire cruise. Sometimes at the captain's dinner, it will be a little more dressy, but as noted before, you will see a diversity in dress.
So what's a cruiser to do? First, if dressing up (or not dressing up) is one of your key factors in a successful cruise vacation, then be sure to confirm what the dress code is for dinner before you book. Your travel agent, cruise line, or Internet bulletin boards/forums should be able to help determine the appropriate dress code. (If dress code is NOT that important, then focus your cruise line/ship selection on what is important to you such as destination or price). The best thing about the whole cruise dress-up debate is that with all of the many cruise ships available, there is something for everyone!
Use this cruise packing list to help plan your cruise wardrobe.