Main menu:

Does the Term “Cruisewear” Still Apply

Written by:

In last week’s Blog we talked about the “Demise of Traditional Cruise Dining”, and included some discussion of the moves being made within the industry that I viewed as moving closer to a amusement park or resort mentality/atmosphere onboard.

Somewhat in that vein, this week’s Blog follows up on those thoughts talking about the possible demise of recommended dress codes on cruises.  Even before the industry began the attempt to “resortify” cruise ships, most lines had begun broadening their rules and regulations as define acceptable dress guidelines for passengers.

Less than a decade ago the vast majority of cruise lines still had pretty well defined guidelines addressing the type of clothing that they would like to see their passengers wearing when entering the dining rooms, and for the duration of the evening. A typical seven day cruise included 2 nights of formal wear, where tuxedos for the men was most certainly encouraged, and dark suits deemed acceptable, and seeing the ladies in gowns was quite commonplace, as well there were 2 informal (or semi-formal) nights, meaning men were expected to wear sports coats as well as shirt and tie. The remaining 3 nights were “resort casual”; which translated to khaki slacks and collared shirts for men, and matching type of attire for the ladies. Any kind of blue jeans, shorts, or T-shirts were frowned upon. The “casual nights” were the first night of the cruise as people were settling in, and the last night of the cruise – as people had to pack for departure the next day, and one other night during the cruise.

The “dress code” landscape has changed quite dramatically in recent years. Some will argue that it was part of the “dumbing-down” of the industry, as it strived to reach further into the general vacation market; to attract new people to cruising.  Others would argue it was the cruise lines responding to the wishes of it’s passengers. Whichever is the reality of the case, the cruise lines got very lucky with the timing of the metamorphosis of their dress codes in conjunction with the airlines first beginning to impose weight restrictions on their passenger’s luggage, and more recently charging extra for checked bags.

Therefore any backlash they may have experienced from the “ dress-code traditionalists” has been blunted by passengers acceptance of the restrictive policies put in place by the airlines.

(How amazing that airline passengers accept these changes with a shrug of the shoulders at check in, yet on a ship they’ll stand in line for an hour to complain about the slightest change to any change in policy different from the last time they cruised?)

Wearing my “old curmudgeon” hat once again, I have to wonder … just how far is the relaxing of the “dress codes” going to go?

In regard to relaxing of dress codes, Norwegian Cruise Line was once again the innovator (instigator) when they introduced “Freestyle Cruising”, they all told their guests they could dress how they wished for while dining as well… with the exception of blue jeans and shorts in the dining rooms and restaurants in the evening.

The other cruise lines have followed along, though some more slowly than others. Slowly tuxedos have more or less disappeared from the cruise industry landscape (with the exception of some luxury lines). Though still called “formal night” just about anything short of coveralls and a painter’s cap is now deemed acceptable for diners entering the dining room. Semi-formal has come to mean a sports jacket, with no tie required… but in most cases if you show up to the dining room clothed you’re welcomed by the Maitre D’.

In the spring of 2008 Carnival took perhaps the boldest step basically removing any real structure to their dress code policies. Formal nights were no longer called “formal nights”. They dubbed them “elegant nights”, telling guests if they wish to dress formally, feel free to do so, but other than torn blue jeans, sleeveless T shirts, shorts, and ball caps, guests could wear whatever they please. And for the first time on a major cruise line shorts were made acceptable attire for the dining room on casual nights…. Which is now all nights, other than the “elegant” nights on a cruise.

I recall even a decade ago my own mantra about cruise line dress codes was… why have them, and publish them in the ship’s daily schedules, if they weren’t going to enforce them? Even with the relaxing of the dress codes, that question still seems to have some validity. As the cruise lines have relaxed the “codes”, the passengers seem to want to push that envelope even further, to see just how much further underdressed they can get. The argument seems to be that cruise passengers simply want to be dressed comfortably. The problem with that seems to be whether passengers in general are responsible enough to determine what is comfortable for them, yet still socially acceptable. I know we certainly like to think we are. However there’s so many varying opinions on what’s acceptable. Some people say that it’s fine for people to wear whatever they want as long as it’s clean…then who determines cleanliness? Some people say that, of course, people should be dressed neatly, but no cut-off jeans, or gym shorts should be allowed. Just where is the line in the sand if there is one?

The point is there are always judgements to make as to what the final “bottom line” should be when covering our bottoms. As the cruise lines move to making cruises more similar to a resort experience, the dress guidelines are moving in that direction as well.

I suppose I question just what level of “casual dress” is going to be the mean in the cruise industry?  I’ve personally judged my attire for any restaurant or dining room (on land or at sea) in one way… thinking I should be dressed at least as well as the staff serving me.

What do our cruisemates think? Should everyone be allowed to dress however they please on cruise ships, with no restrictions at all? Should it matter at all to us how those seated next to us in a dining room are dressed?

I predict that this movement to dress down will certainly continue and gain momentum, and in the not too distant future, with rare exception, we’ll see the demise of any “dress codes” and “suggested dress codes” on cruise ships. Does that prospect worry you, or appeal to you?

– A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising –

Related posts:

  1. It’s Getting Easier To Cruise Without Clothes To those who haven’t been watching, there’s been a sea...
  2. Minimizing Dress Codes – Is There A “New Formal”? For some time now life has been on the move...
  3. How Cruise Packing Has Changed Cruise packing has changed considerably in the 21st century.  Even...
  4. First Cruise Basics – No Question Is Too Dumb For many first time cruisers, after they’ve booked their first...
  5. Part 2 – Things You Need to Pay Attention to When Cruise Planning In Part 1 I hopefully helped you through the booking...


Comment from Paul Motter
Time July 1, 2009 at 5:18 am

In my experience, every time I think I can get away with being casual I get on a ship and see most of the men in a tux.

It seems to me that new ships and “top of the line” ships like Solstice for Celebrity still can be pretty formal.

Now, I do see people wearing jeans and t-shirts on formal nights, but they stand out like sore thumbs and basically are only embarassing themselves. But I just think back to my younger days before i knew how to dress better and I don’t let it bother me.

When I got my first job on a cruise ship I did not own a suit let alone a tux. Now I have tuxes I have “outgrown” in my closet. I remember buying GQ just to get a sense of what drssing up meant. I still have the argyle socks and pocket kerchieves somewhere.

I honestly don’t care if people dress comfortably, as long as they try to look nice.

Here is the one thing that gets to me – and I am sorry if I get flack for this, but…

If you have a tattoo (men or ladies), consider that formal might the one time you choose to cover it up. The one thing I have seen that makes me crazy is someone who obviously spent a lot of money for the perfect dress to show off her tattoo. Do you what I mean? The little black dress with one off-sleeve and on her arm is ‘lil Devel on a Harley’ or something or other. OMG! Showing of your tattoo in a modified muscle shirt is not formal, even if you are wearing high heels.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time July 1, 2009 at 8:36 am

I haven’t packed my tux for a cruise in at least 5 years. It just isn’t comfortable and I am not going to truss myself up like a holiday turkey just to please the other passengers. However I do wear a suit on formal nights and have no problem in doing so.

When Carnival officially allowed shorts in the dining room last year I wore them on the “cruise casual” nights. And I went with the minimum on the “cruise elegant” nights, which meant slacks and shirt. On our recent cruise with RCI our waiter even told us “don’t worry about dressing formal if you don’t want to, a collared shirt and pants is fine”. No doubt he was motivated by tips and good scores on the comment card, and didn’t want to anger anybody by insisting on a coat and tie.

I don’t care if someone at my table is wearing jeans. I don’t understand why this is such a problem for many people. As long as they are clean, and not tattered and full of holes, what is the problem with them? I guess it is a regional thing. Blue jeans are a common thing to see worn in restaurants, even in church, here in the south. Is it the mere thought that drives so many from the fashion police into fits? When they are seated you can’t see their pants anyway. Maybe they ought to speculate if someone is going commando under their tuxedo trousers.

As long as the people are clean and neat in their attire I don’t care. I am more interested in having pleasant conversation with my table mates than worrying about their attire. I have seen the drunk, sweaty slob wander into the dining room after a day at the pool bar, still in their smelly t-shirt and shorts, and that bothers me. But the teenage kid wearing a clean t-shirt and blue jeans on a casual night doesn’t.

Comment from Trip
Time July 1, 2009 at 8:46 am

No matter where the line in the sand is drawn, there will be those who say.”this is my vacation, and I will wear what I want.” So, as the cruiselines dumb down the dress code, and allow the shorts in the dining room, there will be those who will walk in, in daisy dukes. Then, when they say, ok, daisy dukes are fine, some poor soul, will walk, in a thong.

This has become a game, and crimes of fashion, will get worse. Woe is us, who still care:(

Comment from Mike M
Time July 2, 2009 at 7:33 am

I think Paul said it best: “I honestly don’t care if people dress comfortably, as long as they try to look nice.”

Yes: I have seen cruise dress become more casual. It works on some lines and I feel it goes too far on others.

I no longer do the tuxedo unless it is required on a higher end line. Then I will accept it. When I cruise I accept the dress code and do make an effort to dress for dinner.

I love cruising NCL, Azamara and Oceania. They are CC casual in their dress and I have yet to see anyone dressed poorly or that they didn’t make an effort to put on something “nice” for dinner.

However; my last two cruises have been on Carnival and I have seen “wife beater” t-shirts, torn jeans, cutoff, bathing suit tops and many tank tops and shorts in the dining room. No one was asked to change. There is a line and it will always be crossed and the line is crossed more often when the line is fuzzy or it’s a short cruise or a “bargain”.

The “bargain” may sound snobby but it has been my experience that the less the cruise costs, and the shorter it is, the more “super casual” clothing is seen.

From Kuki’s title I thought of the “Costanza Cruise Collection” from Seinfeld. The character Frank and Estelle Costanza (George’s parents) had “special” clothes that were kept in the attic and only worn on a cruise. This included moo moos, Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts. I always loved that episode. I do not have a cruise collection. I take the attitude that if I’m not comfortable wearing out to dinner at home, I won’t buy it.

Yes: Cruise wear is no longer in vogue and the level of dress is swinging the other way. Like most swings it will probably go to far and swing back. Ten years from now we’ll see everyone back in formal wear and ties on the other nights. The only thing you can count on is change.

Take care,

Comment from Tim Butler
Time July 2, 2009 at 11:05 pm

It is my vacation and I will dress as I want! I do not like to wear a suite when I am on vacation, they take up too much room in my luggage too.

I do believe that folks should wear the same type of clothing that they would wear when dining at a steak house or nice Italian eatery. Some folks wear sleeveless shirts and jeans everywhere, that is how they roll, this in no way detracts from my vacation.

I guess to sum it up……Different strokes for different folks. As long as you enjoy yourself, dress as you like, after all, it is your vacation.

Comment from Trackypup
Time July 6, 2009 at 11:12 am

I’d love to see the demise of formal nights, or at least good options on ships if you don’t want to dress formal. The buffet or room service shouldn’t be the only options. I’ve love it if every line had Azamara and Oceania’s dress codes and passengers smart enough to know what’s appropriate. I still like to “Dress” for dinner, but that doesn’t have to mean formal.

Comment from Varita
Time July 17, 2009 at 9:55 am

Oh my goodness! Most of these posts are from men who I know dress well and appropriately, but it is obvious that you don’t want to wear a suit and tie, or (yikes!) a tuxedo. Let me tell you from a woman’s perspective that when a man wears a tuxedo – it doesn’t matter if he has a pot belly, thinning hair, is not as handsome as he used to be – he looks like a movie star! James Bond, anyone? Or military men in their dress uniforms! Wonderful! I do think 2 formal nights is one too many. But for 1 night, most people can say I am going to do this up special – for great photos, for my spouse, to show my kids that variety is the spice of life, etc. And we women like to look like movie stars also with our long gowns and sparkly cocktail dresses. Oh, some women will grumble that they don’t like it – but watch them all – even the stauncest tomboy – smile when they are dressed up like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. If cruise lines take this away from us – where else can we do so? To me, a cruise is like a fantasy – not just a vacation. It’s a chance to get away from the everyday routine. But okay I must concede that times are changing. How about this? Those who want to dress formal should register for the dining room on the one formal night. And registering means that they will pledge to wear formal or cocktail wear. Those who don’t can do the buffet or the specialty restaurants. But registering means those who just drop by in their T-shirts would have to be told “I’m sorry, but we are full up”. Crazy idea? probably. Will it ever happen? Probably not.
But please – to all the cruise lines – please leave just one formal night.

Comment from Brandi
Time August 13, 2009 at 12:40 am

One of the best parts of a cruise is getting all gussied up for a nice dinner. Being from a small-ish town in the South, it’s not everyday that we get to get dressy, or formal for that matter, and go to a lovely dinner in a beautiful dining room. During the daytime hours, of course, by all means, put on your Hawaiian shirt and easy breezy sundress. But when the evening comes and everyone has on their formal attire and we all look like we’ve stepped out of a magazine, it’s almost otherworldly. It’s like a throwback to the 1920s when ocean liners were ocean liners. When there were no “best belly-buster” pool games or “hairiest legs competitions”. No, I’m not an old sour puss party pooper. I’m a 24 year old gal who has lost count of how many cruises I’ve been on since I have been a child. It was always the way my family vacationed and I’ve grown up adoring being on a ship, with the sound of the ship churning the ocean, the warm salty breeze, and being rocked to sleep every night by a multi-ton steel vessel. And my favorite part of these trips was knowing that every night for dinner, I’d get to put on a frilly dress and pretend I was on some old Victorian ship. I agree with the past comment that it’s nice to see men dressed up in tuxedos and ladies in their gowns. Coming from the South, you can only imagine the outfit creations we see around here. Shirts with sleeves and dark jeans and considered fancy. In February my mom and I are going on a 10 day cruise on the Celebrity Equinox and I’m actually a little excited that the dress code is a little more dressy than past cruises I’ve been on. Really though, where else are you going to put on a tuxedo or a gown and feel gorgeous while dining on whatever succulent meal you’re having? You can put on a pair of jeans and a shirt and go eat any day of the week at any restaurant in any town. But on a ship in a beautiful setting with moonlight reflecting off the ocean… Now really, could it get any better? Men, I’m speaking to you to. You can admit it, you like to feel pretty sometimes too. 🙂

Comment from Marquaita O
Time October 30, 2009 at 1:43 pm

I for one am truly looking forward to the “elegant” night on my first cruise. How often does one get a chance to really shine. Other than military balls or such type functions a normal evening out on the town would not include by best diamonds and cocktail dress. A vacation is sometimes about doing something other than the ordinary. I don’t normally go snorkeling but on a cruise, I am game for just about anything.

Write a comment