How to dress on board a ship

This is something that is very easy to get wrong. I’ve packed shorts and thongs for a cruise in which my fellow guests have worn diamond-encrusted stilettoes. To breakfast.

I’ve gone formal, only to find myself looking like a try-too-hard next to the effortlessly casual glamour around me.

The learning here is that you have to do what suits yourself (but without the suit). And that before you even think about packing, you have to do your homework.

First, check the weather apps for average temperatures for day and night – the difference can sometimes be extreme.

Then, ask yourself what type of cruiser you are. One that wants an invitation to the Captain’s Table and front-row seats to the show, or one who will live in shorts, do all the fitness classes and get your meals sent to the cabin?

For most people, the essentials would include the following.

Great sneakers for the travel days and shore excursions – and for those first couple of days when you walk the length of the entire ship several times while getting lost trying to find the bar/restaurant/swimming pool of choice.

Slip-on, slip-off footwear for the pool. I don’t care how beautiful your new sandals are, you don’t need to bend down and wrestle with buckles.

A small but chic knapsack or tote for water bottle, cap, sunscreen and book.

A snazzy cardigan/jacket for evenings in the more air-conditioned of restaurants, and for men, a collared but lightweight linen shirt (tip: $49 at Uniqlo).

Be warned, there may be a Gala Night on your itinerary for which you will be expected to go the whole hog. It may even have a theme. While a sparkly dress or a bow-tie will suffice, consider embracing it. Playing dress-ups is a traditional part of cruising (though not, by any means, on every ship) and really adds to the fun. A couple of constant cruiser friends of mine are ready for anything, having invested in full formal gear for any All White theme, and purchased special costumes in Venice in case there’s a Masquerade.

Cunard, a cruise line that knows a thing or two about gala nights, advises wearing “something you would wear to a stylish restaurant or the theatre.”

There are also, naturally, a few “Don’ts” to being fashionably ship-shape.

Don’t buy a complete new outfit just for the cruise. New clothes are not your friends, as you don’t know how they will react, crease, itch, or stain. Go through your wardrobe and choose all the clothes you love the most. Then identify any gap you might find (mine was a pair of sandals glam enough to wear with a formal dress) and go shout yourself something.

Don’t take anything too tight. Depending on your ability to eat multiple Danish pastries for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, scones for afternoon tea and roast beef for dinner, there’s a good chance they will get even tighter.

Don’t worry about packing too much. Pack too much. Take too many outfits. Come on, who cares? It’s your holiday. Besides, it’s not as if you have to pack and unpack your case every day.

And finally, don’t take too many crystal-embellished, be-feathered, tropical-swirl, leopard-print caftans, or you’ll risk getting lost in the crowd. If you really want to stand out on a cruise ship, a simple little black dress is a radical choice.

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