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Among the practical considerations facing cruise passengers, the question of what to wear can be a significant point of contention.

A gathering of well-dressed fellow passengers, we can all agree, adds to the general atmosphere of a cruise. With aesthetically pleasing ports and scenery forming such a large part of a cruises appeal, many passengers consider dress codes to be important means of sustaining the exotic tone of their cruise experience. And to some, dressing up is fun – a chance to feel special in a special locale. For these folk, arriving at a formal dinner or cocktail soiree looking like something out of 1920s period drama only to find Joe Blow has rocked up in jeans and a T-shirt, outrage is the only natural response to them.

For others, the rigid aesthetic control of dress codes smacks of everything they go on holidays to avoid. A cruise is a time to relax both physically and mentally. To be required to climb into a formal ‘uniform’ for an evening they are paying good money to enjoy is like paying to experience the disciplinary quality of work or school.

As with most topics for which debate is common, there are those, of course, that position themselves somewhere in between – fence sitters on the dress code spectrum, you might say.

For cruise lines seeking to please as many passengers as they can, this presents a quandary. Cruise lines managers and their staff no doubt occupy varying points on the dress code spectrum also, but with customer satisfaction primary some careful decisions need to be made.

The resulting dress code requirements on cruise ships throughout the world are by no means uniform and often contingent upon the audience to which the cruise experience has been targeted. The degree to which the codes, once established, are enforced is also highly variable. Some cruise lines, it seems find it difficult to turn passengers away – even if they have openly flaunted the stated requirements. Often this comes down to who happens to be working on the door on the particular night in question. As a result, passengers of the ‘non-disciplinary’ school will tend to stretch the rules as much as they can. Other cruise lines will simply send you back to your cabin.

In the old days things were much more simple. The democracy of apparel choice, perhaps less diversified by capitalist interests, was practically non-existent. Before the 1920’s formal attire was required after 6pm on all areas of the ship – men wore white tie and ladies wore evening gowns. Those of the traditionalist school need only cite the James Cameron classic Titanic as an example of the visual benefits such rigidity can provide. Black tie gradually became more acceptable over the coming decades, but in the 1960s, with modern cruising, budget cruise lines were taking on travelers who didn’t even own formal attire while major ships started designating formal and informal evenings. These were, however, enforced.

There has been a significant change in the last decade however. Cruise lines are targeting first-time cruisers and society as a whole has, arguably, become more casual. Whatever the cause, cruise lines are loosening their dress codes – and the aforementioned debate has resulted. Some cruise lines only apply it to the main dinning room. For others, formal nights are optional.

Things have got a little out of hand and now it can be hard to know what you can get away with wearing and, for that matter, what everyone else will be wearing – which can make people a little uncomfortable.

There is, unfortunately, no easy guide to this dilemma. For those of you to whom formal or informal eveningwear is preferred, however, the following two cruise lines dress codes may be of interest when planning your next cruise:

Formal, semi-formal and elegant casual dress codes:

  • Formal: black tie or dark suit for men and evening dress for women
  • Semi-formal: jacket and tie for men and cocktail dress or pantsuit for women
  • Elegant casual attire: jacket (no tie required) for men and dress, skirt or trousers for women

Dress codes apply throughout the public areas in the evening. A six-night cruise will usually feature one informal night, two casual nights, and three formal nights.

Dress code is ‘resort casual’. Formal attire is optional. No bare feet, tank tops, caps, bathing suits, or jeans are allowed in the dining room or specialty restaurants.