Inspired Luxury, Inspired Experiences

The cruise wardrobe

The cruise wardrobe

Are you a first-time cruiser who has succumbed to the ‘unpack once’ marketing pitch? So just what do you pack? Cruise diva Maggy Oehlbeck provides some tips.

Ah, cruising! An opportunity to channel your inner diva and wear all of those fabulous frocks you watched with envy on Dancing With The Stars or Oscars night? Well yes, and no. Undeniably, cruising is one of the few occasions where we can dress to thrill, but taste and decorum should still prevail. Basically it means observing The Dress Code. We consulted the experts – Crystal Cruises, Cunard, Seabourn and Silversea – all of whom operate some of the most desirable cruises and cruise ships at sea.

There are three codes of dress – formal, informal and casual – or four if you count daywear. Each day, the dress code is published in the ship’s newspaper, which is delivered to your stateroom. A simple rule is that formal nights are almost always on sea days, seldom on shore days. On an average-length, 10–14 day cruise, there will be three formal nights. It’s OK for men to wear the same dinner suit (tuxedo) on each occasion. And if you are lucky enough to have a butler, he will make sure it is brushed, pressed or dry-cleaned in time for the next event.

Women, however, wouldn’t be seen dead in the same thing twice – unless they are on a world cruise where they can rotate their wardrobe continually. (One lady passenger on QM2 famously booked an additional suite just to accommodate her wardrobe. She was superbly poised, groomed and turned out and would change up to five times a day!)

Formal evening attire

For ladies, full-length evening gowns are pretty much moth-balled these days – except perhaps by traditionalists in the Queens Grill on one of the Cunard Queens. An excellent solution is a long straight skirt made of silk, satin or velvet (with a sexy split to facilitate a few twirls on the dance floor). Voluminous chiffony frocks or kaftans are hard to discipline and you can look like a Spanish galleon under full sail. Evening pants are always appropriate. You can alternate these basic pieces with a variety of glamorous tops – something feminine or sexy (hold the cleavage) with a few sparkles, but not those spangled tops in lurid colours that matronly ladies wore in the 1980s. The perennially chic wear stylish designer numbers, often no more than an LBD as a backdrop for some serious jewellery. Fun, statement pieces are just fine. A great advantage of cruising is that you can wear jewels in safety as there is locked storage in every room. And no thief is likely to make a quick getaway by jumping overboard. For gentlemen, black-tie (i.e. dinner suit or tuxedo) is the norm. A dark suit and tie is also perfectly acceptable.

Voluminous chiffony frocks or kaftans are hard to discipline and you can look like a Spanish galleon under full sail.

Informal evening

Ladies can wear a cocktail dress or anything that is a step up from street or business wear. Pants are fine with a lovely blouse or elegant shirt, but no jeans. For gentlemen, don a suit, or sports or reefer jacket. Ties are optional. It is important to note that jeans, shorts, sports or T-shirts are not permitted in the dining room or any public area after 6pm.

Casual evening attire

Smart casual is such a vexatious phrase. It lacks definition. Americans call it Country Club casual. Casual dresses, pants and tops are fine for ladies. For gentlemen, sports shirts and slacks are de rigueur. Jackets and ties are not required. Shorts, singlets, jeans and/or bare feet are NEVER suitable in the dining room or specialty restaurants. The Lido Deck, the gym or poolside, maybe.


Daytime dressing is tricky. Some serious cruisers have special cruise wardrobes, but this is not necessary. Capri pants with bright-coloured espadrilles, shirt and hat will suffice. DON’T stroll around the ship in your terry towel robe. If you are sunbathing, make sure you have a wrap. Wear ordinary clothes to the spa, as there are change rooms there. As for exercise daks, use them only in the gym, then melt out of sight. Many ships turn on High Tea. This is often a lovely event. On the Queens – i.e. Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth – they are more like thés dansants, with a string quartet, white-gloved waiters passing sandwiches, petit fours and of course, scones and cream. If you have a nice day dress, lovely. Gentlemen, no shorts, jeans, singlets or bare feet please.

The body

Meticulous grooming is essential. Book beauty treatments the minute you board – manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, cellulite treatments and more. Emerge on deck daily, body-brushed and lightly tanned – a picture of glowing health.