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Minimizing Dress Codes – Is There A “New Formal”?

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For some time now life has been on the move to becoming more casual. While it used to somewhat normal to run into the occasional restaurant that required all male customers wear at least a sports jacket and tie, those places have now practically disappeared. Many offices now have at least a “casual Friday”, and many places of work have taken off the ties, and moved to a more casual dress requirement every work day.

Cruise ships in fact may have been one of the latest holdouts in this movement; holding onto much more traditional dress codes onboard, including Formal dress on at least 2 nights during a 7 day cruise. But during the past decade each year has brought more changes, and less restrictions, on how the cruise lines are asking their passengers to dress.

It’s telling that even luxury lines like Regent and Seabourn, which one might expect to be bastions of “traditional” cruise wear, including tuxedos and gowns, have moved to “elegant casual” or “formal optional” for suggested dress codes. Crystal seems to the luxe cruising bastion of set designated Formal Nights, where you’re still likely to see a large share of men wearing tuxedos.

When Norwegian Cruise Line introduced “Freestyle Cruising”, it moved to almost a “dress as you please” structure as well, with the exclusion of shorts in the dining room. And as other lines followed NCL’s lead introducing more versions of “anytime dining”, they also began to introduce less restrictive dress codes. Where there used to be two “Formal Nights” on every seven night cruise, some lines now have only one night designated as “Formal”, and Carnival Cruise Line has even changed the language to designate “Elegant Night”.

Even on lines which still cling to the “Formal Night” one shouldn’t expect to see many men in Tuxedos or ladies in long flowing gowns. On the contemporary cruise lines the fanciest one can realistically expect to see on the majority of male guests wear is suits for the men, and cocktail wear on the ladies. In fact, on many sailings you shouldn’t be surprised if you see at least 50 % of the men not even wearing suits.

My first thoughts, when thinking about this for the Blog, was that it was the cruise lines adapting to the wishes of their passengers. Shortly after the move to more casual dress on cruise ships took place, the airlines began charging all sorts of baggage fees, and weight restrictions, with more fees for overweight and extra pieces of luggage. This gave the passengers who preferred to dress more casually a great excuse as well.

The fact of the matter, when it comes to suggested dress codes, is even when the cruise lines intended “Formal Nights” to mean formal dress, very few attempted to enforce their dress code policies, by turning passengers away at the doors to the dining room if they weren’t dressed appropriately.

Now that the suggested dress codes have become less restrictive, that reluctance to enforce even the new minimum levels continues. And that reluctance on behalf of the cruise lines serves to aggravate passengers, just as it did when finer dress was the rule.

I think it just plain “pisses people off” when a business (or any entity, and even their government) makes inconsistent judgments on which of their own written rules to enforce, and which rules they should ignore. It’s possible the backlash results in people following their example, and themselves choosing which rules to respect and which to ignore.

I asked our CruiseMates readers if they thought the definition of Formal Night was changing, and what they would prefer in reference to keeping or doing away with “Formal Nights” entirely. Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, the majority said they would prefer there still be at least one formal night during a seven day cruise. I suppose they still want to give a bit of a nod to the tradition of getting decked out in  finery while cruising.

But they also noted that whatever dress code a cruise line puts in place, they would very much prefer it be enforced. It’s a complaint that was common when cruise information web sites first hit the Internet more than a decade ago, and even as dress codes have become more minimal, the complaint seems to still be prevalent and relevant. One would think after a decade, the cruise lines might listen.

Wonder why the cruise lines can’t just “act like adults” and quit printing a suggested dress at all? Or just print an absolute minimum of what is acceptable dress in their dining rooms?… and actually stick to it; rather then just ease it further the next time they print their brochures.

Do you even care what the people around you in the Dining Room are wearing? Do you want to see the designated Formal Night continue? Do you plan to wear whatever you like on your next cruise? Would you like to see the end of strings about dress codes on ships?

– A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising –



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Comment from Judy burke
Time February 2, 2011 at 4:07 am

I don’t see the concept of Formal Nights as a problem. I think we’d all agree that dining rooms on luxury ships are the equivilent of any four star restaurant ashore, and just as one would not go to an elite restaurant in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, a luxury ship’s dining room deserves the same respect. On Formal Nights, that means either a tux or dark suit and tie for men, and dressy attire for women. This can all be scaled down on less formal nights. Further, on the Seabourn, if one decides not to dress up, one can have the identical Formal Night menu simply delivered to one’s suite, where you can have an intimate dinner on your veranda–in your robe, if you choose!

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time February 2, 2011 at 6:30 am

Dress codes on cruise ships have changed, but not as drastically as it may seem of late.

One needs to look back at what the 1980’s were like for cruise passengers. One big TV show, Dynasty, with Linda Evans elegantly begowned, and Joan Collins outdoing “Crystal Carringtons” charcters wardrobe, and John Forsyth donned in tux and cufflinks, came into millions of US and Canadian homes each week. These TV fashion trends were reflected on cruise ships, most notably, Cunard, Home Lines and Royal Viking Line. Passengers dressed to the nines then, a carry over from the early 20th century dress at sea. Soon, the Norway followed suit.

Have any of you noticed how people dress for church? It is apalling. How people dress for lets say, Outback, Olive Garden, Ruth Chris’s Steak House, Shulas? They look like they just finished shopping at Walmart, as guessed by their attire. Casual, reigns supreme, and not only a less code in ship board dress, also in ship board dining. Just what people dine at when they go out at night. Personally, I find it in poor taste, BUT, there are ships where this type of dress and that level of food is offered, so, and audience was born.
The truly casual -lack of – dress code has been around a long time. The country club casual as well, Sea Goddess was an earlier try at what Seaborne now offers. Chandris had a “sort of” dress code, even RCCI did not enforce one.

If you want to really dress, cunard is the ONE, along with Fred Olsen, and P&O UK, go all out, dress. and feel elegant.

Comment from Norma Bowman
Time February 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I like to see Formal or at least Dressy
attire for dinner. There are so few places
that you can go to dressed up and not
look ou of place.

Comment from Tracey
Time February 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I just think that Cruise Ships are trying to hold on to a dying tradition. But things change, passenger demographics change and they need to keep up. Set a dress standard and enforce it. Ball Gowns and Tuxes have no place on modern cruises. Flowriders, Ice Rinks, Rock Climbing walls and tuxes. Doesn’t go anymore. Cunard, sure but the RCL, Princesses of the world should just do away with them.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time February 3, 2011 at 7:13 am

If cruise ships, it is not the ship, a ship is not a living thing, but the cruise lines, manned by humans, wanted to hold on to or do away with traditions, then, there would be no ships, no cruise lines, and certainly, no cruises, they would just have died off long ago. I applaud the new ships and what they have offerd to newer, perhaps more adventurous passengers.

I can weed my garden, go to a water park, ride coasters, get filthy and sweaty and then clean up, and put on a suit, jacket and tie, even my tux, and dine in a quality restaurant, and attend theatre or symphony, why then should’nt a passenger do the same during a cruise?

I think the diversity and choice offerd with the many cruise line options is great. It is nothing new.

I was not old enough to ever have seen the grand Green Goddess, Cunards famed Caronia. She was a true cruise ship, circa 1950’s. She offered a departure from the formality offered by the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. This alternate to the Queens was also offered in the 1970’s with the Cunard Adventurer and Cunard Ambassador, which I did sail, and offered again during the 1980’s, with the Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess (I loved the Cunard Princess).

Wave machines, rock walls, and the like, are akin to greasing up with sunscreen and getting beach sand stuck to your skin. Hopefully, one cleans up after their day ashore.

Dress codes on cruise ships have been an issue for decades, and will not go away. enjoy the cruise, there are so many wonderful choices from which to choose.

Comment from L.D. Schiller
Time February 3, 2011 at 11:36 am

Tuxes and formal dresses caused DW & I to abandon Crystal, Seabourn and Silversea. We now cruise on Oceania, which has a “country casual” environment. Much nicer and one less suitcase to lug through an airport.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to tell someone else how to dress on a cruise. If they pay my fare, then ok…otherwise, MYOB.

Comment from JJ
Time February 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

My husband wore a uniform for 23 years–no way is he going to don suit and tie — that is why he likes NCL and like ships to cruise on

Comment from Maria
Time February 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm

One of the things I always look forward to on a cruise are formal nights. I enjoy dressing in an elegant gown or fancy cocktail dress, doing my hair and dawing my best jewelry being escorted to dinner on the arm of my husband in his tuxedo. I realize our lifestyles have changed to more casual in most every aspect of life, but I sincerly hope the formal night doesn’t die a slow death.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time February 4, 2011 at 5:26 am

Oceania – I too love this line, their ships and everything they offer, INCLUDING the country club casual dress code. Nothing wrong with THAT, but, what I wished to say, and will pen it without mentioning the specific cruise line, is this:

One any ship where a cruise line imposes a dress code, say, the formal one, then, dress. It is not a secret that suggested dress is required, its in the brochure, paper or e-brochure, for pitys sake. Not dressy dressy, choose another line.

This is the crux of the matter for me. On one former fav of mine, passengers, 99% male, that do not wish to dress along with the ones that do, wear jeans, tees and other casual clothes at night, and heckle passengers that do observe a dresss code. ALso, they are let into the MDR, whereby a sign is posted with the evenings dress requirements.

Interestingly, on Cunard, Queens Grill, I have seen men loaned a jacket and tie from the Maitr D’hotel, for admission to the
Grill – later, I observed, one man purchasing a sports jacket while on board, wore it every night.

Comment from Denise
Time March 2, 2011 at 8:28 am

Being new to ‘cruising’ – one of the appealing aspects of this type of vacation was the ‘formal night’. I enjoy dressing up and seeing my husband in a tux. We enjoy the casual dining as well, but there is definitely something very special about ‘formal night’ and I hope the major lines continue the tradition.

Comment from Deb
Time March 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I was on a recent cruise and was surprised to see that formal nite has now been turned into an elegant wear nite. My husband and I enjoy getting all dressed up for the formal evenings. Him and I will be cruising in June and we will be packing our “formal” wear!

Comment from gary
Time April 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Hi,can I say something to you ? I will marry with my girlfriend at next month. I love her very much. I promise to hold a good wedding ceremony and give her a beautiful wedding dress. But I have visited weeding shop already, I found the wedding dress are so expensive, and looks bad. I was so bother about that. When I search the internet, I found a online shop Weddingdress(dot) It sell many kinds of wedding dresses and prom dresses. I found it so cheap, and the picture looks so beautiful. But I still doubt about that. And I can not help but temptation. When I get a wedding dress from the online shop, I found it beautiful. And the most important my wife likes it very much. When she wears it, she looks so beautiful, and I can not recognize her. The quality also good too, when you touch it, you can feel the material are best. Thank for the shop, now we are so busy to prepare the wedding, I will love my wife forever.

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