Cruise ship dress codes: Everything you need to know


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The Scots, according to the well-respected Scots Thesaurus, have at least 218 different words for types of rain, fog, and mist, (and that is totally dissimilar words, and not just compounds). Anyone venturing north of the border and wanting to know whether an umbrella will be required had therefore better learn the vital difference between dreich, plottin’, plowterin’, smir, haar, drookit, raff, weety, drush, vaanloop, glashtroch, etc. etc. to name but a delightful few. (‘Drookit’ for instance means ‘absolutely drenched’, whereas ‘dreich’ merely means dull, overcast, drizzly, cold and misty: in other words, a fine Glaswegian day).

Cruise line dress codes are exactly the same: a fabulous exercise in making the really quite simple an unnecessarily complex affair. And why? The Scots at least have a good excuse – they have had a millennium or two to develop their rainy vocabulary; but I am not so sure how or why the cruise industry has, in a mere smidgeon of time, come to develop a terminology for clothes that is so byzantine that packing for a short voyage becomes more of an intellectual exercise than a physical one.

No, it really IS simple.

In reality it is simple. There are those casual clothes that you wear out and about the ship during the daytime (and sometimes during the evening); and those you wear in the evening (smart or casual according to what you think is appropriate and/or desirable) when you want to dine. The only necessary addenda to make is that some ships have formal nights (so pack formal wear) and some ships have nice pools (so pack swimwear). Simple; even a meerkat could understand that.

But what does ‘casual’ actually mean?

Ah, yes: that is the question. The main problem is that cruise lines think (sometimes with some justification) that their clientele can’t be trusted to understand what the word ‘casual’ means, and so they have introduced all sorts of adjectives to qualify what they mean when they say ‘casual’. The result of this has been an almost comic collection of parallel dress descriptors: can anyone tell me, for instance, the difference between Smart Casual, Country Club Casual, Resort Casual, and Elegant Casual (all of them genuine cruise line terms)?

(Cynical sidestep: the answer to that question is in fact that it is nothing to do with you, the passengers, at all and everything to do with the cruise lines trying to find some unique terminology to better distinguish and brand themselves. They think that the terms Resort Casual, for example or Elegant Casual, whilst they may provide no help at all in telling you what to pack, say something about the cruise line that you have chosen to sail with. End of brand lecture).

So bearing all of that in mind, let us introduce you to the shortest and the only dress code guide you will ever need – one that is founded in the belief that if you are reading the Mundy website you obviously have some taste and sense and don’t need to be lectured about what the word ‘smart’ (for example) might mean.

What To Wear…

Formal: if your cruise has formal nights, you may want to check how many evenings this will involve. It is a time for the ladies to wear their most glamorous dresses, long is great but not absolutely essential, and their fabulous jewellery. For gents – black tie (although if you absolutely object to this, a dark suit is fine). And don’t do what I once did, and forget your cufflinks – not every ship sells them!

Informal: for gents this normally means jacket, shirt and sometimes can also mean a tie as well. The issue of trousers is a thornier area: as a rule cruise lines maintain that jeans are too informal. But if you look smart (rather than casual) then that’s the main requirement. For ladies, it’s simply dressy, but not formally so. (I’m sure you know exactly what we mean – not ballgowns!).

Casual: here the meaning of the word is dependent on whether or not it’s accompanied by an adjective. If it’s just ‘casual’, then it means things like a sport shirt and slacks for men and casual dress or separates for women. Loafing about stuff. Different people have different views on what constitutes casual, and a few eyebrows may be raised if you turn up in a jogging suit or football shirt..

If on the other hand it’s “XXXX casual” (e.g. Smart Casual, Country Club Casual, Resort Casual, and Elegant Casual etc) then it means the sort of clothes that won’t get you thrown out of a nice restaurant at night. That could mean jackets for the men (or a shirt with a collar), and stylish but not necessarily glamorous outfits for the ladies.

And, as always, be careful of jeans. Some cruise lines, like Harrods, think they are too casual.

And What Not To Wear…

Most cruise dining rooms will frown on you if you attempt to have dinner in the evening (and maybe at other times) wearing shorts, sport shirts and caps or baseball hats etc. And in the daytime, beachwear is not acceptable attire for indoor dining. It’s not that complex at all; it’s a matter of courtesy to other diners, and we are fully confident that you know exactly what we mean.

The only other big no-no that we can think of on a cruise concerns port wear. Again, we trust in your taste and discretion, but it’s especially worth noting that in certain countries a more conservative style (generally, but not exclusively, for the ladies) may well be required. Do make sure therefore that you do your research (which could be as simple as ringing us for a chat) if you are in any doubt.

In Conclusion

Don’t be thrown by the dress codes. It’s actually all just a matter of common sense, that has been confused by the industry’s daft vocabulary. And if in doubt at any time, then give us a call: providing you don’t ask us to explain the difference between Smart Casual and Elegant Casual


Thank you to our author: M Londsdale