What is Smart Casual for Women on Cruises?
by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)
You’re all booked on your cruise and you have some idea of what to wear for formal nights (beads and sequins) and some idea of what to wear in the daytime (fun stuff)… but what the heck do they mean by “smart casual” for women? Well, it’s different on different cruise lines and on different ships and on different itineraries… but I’ll give you my best guess as to what to pack.
I might be a little off with some of my tips, but I can tell you that as long as you stay away from jeans, shorts, and flip-flops, you’ll probably be allowed into the main dining room on most ships… if you’re neat and presentable.
Of course, I don’t want you to just meet the bare minimum of acceptability unless there’s a good reason for it, like your ex decided to give all your clothes to Goodwill and he ruined your credit just for kicks.
As for the rest of you, we all know that half the fun of going on cruises is getting a chance to throw your mom jeans into the hamper… and donning those cute clothes that you never get to wear anymore. You know… dressing up and getting your girly groove back. So, let’s talk about what to wear if you want to fit in… or if you want to turn a few heads.
Country Club Casual
If you’ve never been on a particular cruise line before and you don’t know what to expect, you can never go wrong with a classic style I call upscale sporty:
- A twinset with a pair of white linen trousers and pearls
- A navy blue dress with red and white accessories
- A blue and white floral dress with white earrings
That sort of thing will always work for smart casual. Think country club dinner clothes on buffet night. The only difference is that you may have to wear lower heels if the sea is kicking up… so pack a spare pair of flat (or semi-flat) shoes in beige or white.
And, you may want to lean a bit more towards clean lines and strong colors, like red, white, blue, black, bold pink, orange, navy, etc., however, when doing nautical, don’t go all cutesy. Of course, pastels are always good if they suit your coloring.
Smart Casual for Cruise Dinners & Evenings
I have been on many cruises, but I have only sailed on a few different cruise lines. However, I am going to hold up Oceania (an upper-mid-priced line) as the gold standard for the best “smart casual” I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, my last cruise on Oceania was before I started writing, so I didn’t pay close attention to all the details, but I’ll do my best.
Oceania’s dress code is always “elegant casual” for evenings, and I’ve heard that the reason they have no formal nights is because single women would feel uncomfortable in evening dress without a male escort… however, I’m not sure if that’s the real reason. And, I remember seeing a few men in black tie, so my sources could be wrong.
The best cruise I’ve ever taken was an Oceania trip across the Mediterranean (from Italy to Turkey), so I’m using that for my example. The women on that ship wore outfits like these for dinner and evenings:
- Pantsuits: Casually elegant St. John Knits, Escada suits, and similar styles.
- Tailored Jackets: Worn with dresses or with trousers. Most jackets were plain. Some were printed.
- Twinsets: Often with piping. Made of lightweight cashmere or good cotton.
- Knee-Length Dresses: Tailored knits or silky, floaty prints.
- Tea-Length Dresses: Think Palm Springs in the 60’s… belted dresses with full or pleated skirts. Some made of chiffon. Some made of knit fabric.
I did, occasionally, see evening dresses or semi-formal separates, but these were the exception to the rule.
Accessories for Smart Casual Nights
On this fabulous Oceania cruise, there were quite a few chi chi cocktail dresses and fancy tops with lace and sparkles, but most outfits were elegantly simple. However, most of those simple outfits were transformed into a thing of beauty by the use of exceptional accessories, jewelry, and shoes. Of course, not everyone on that cruise was well dressed, but these were people with enough money to know that their clothing was of little importance, and there was never a thought of being turned away from the dining room.
Great accessories for jazzing up simple outfits:
- Statement Necklaces, Earrings and/or Bracelets: I like things that can be seen from across the room.
- Diamond Watches: Wear real bling or CZ styles that look like they could be real.
- Good Fake Jewelry: Wear large CZ studs, smallish CZ tennis bracelets, good faux/Majorica pearls, or good gold-filled bangles (if possible)… but don’t go crazy. One or two big pieces are better than a lot of little ditsy things… unless you know how to do pearls à la Coco.
- Great Shoes: Shoes will make or break your outfit when going for simple elegance.
Smart Casual for Princess, Holland America & Affordable Cruises
Now that I’ve talked about what to wear on a line that’s a bit more high-end, like Oceania (and probably Costa, Silversea, Crystal, and the like), you can use the same ideas for standing out at dinner on the less-expensive, more popular lines like Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and such.
My biggest tip: I’ve never been turned away on any ship (on any night) whenever I was wearing a dress, even when my dress was somewhat casual… so that’s a hint if you’re really stuck… or if you lose your luggage and you have to shop for a cheap replacement wardrobe in some foreign port. There is nothing wrong with taking a simple dress or pantsuit and kicking it up a notch with bold accessories.
For smart casual nights, I like color-blocked dresses, nautical pantsuits, simple floral frocks, or any sheath dress that could have been worn at a Mad Men cocktail party with a Frank Sinatra LP playing in the background.
What’s Your Itinerary?
Smart casual for northern seas (like the Baltic) or for the Mediterranean is somewhat different than smart casual for the Caribbean and Mexico. From what I’ve seen, clothing for warmer climates is a little more Jimmy Buffet in Margaritaville and a little less nautical. So, your smart casual in the Caribbean will probably include more tropical florals and wilder prints. This is up to you, of course, and it depends on your cruise line. Also, if you’re over ____ age (fill in the blank) you can show more skin, but you don’t want to look like a cheap whorina… if you know what I mean.
What Not to Wear in the Main Dining Room
Here are things that just don’t seem, in my opinion, to look right at dinner in the main dining room:
- Leather: Leather shoes and belts are fab, but leather boots, pants, and jackets look much better on excursions.
- Boots: Sandal booties are fine. Booties are a maybe.
- Midriff Cutouts: Possibly… in unique circumstances.
- Short Minis: No one wants to see your tighty whities.
- Shorts: City shorts are acceptable when worn as part of a suit.
- Plaid: It's just weird at sea, unless it’s Christmas.
- Boho to the Max: I’m very boho and there’s a way to do boho without looking out of place. Think St. Tropez… and try going blue and white like the second to the last outfit on the main photo. (Yes, I break my own rules.)
- Formal Gowns: Most of the time, formal gowns will look a bit odd on smart casual nights. A bit of lace or sequins… that’s a great look, but too much may be too much. However, we would rather see you in an evening gown than in a pair of jeans, and I guarantee that the maître d’ would feel the same way.
You don’t need to swap out elegance for comfort. Make sure you can breathe… and make sure you can eat more than a few mouthfuls without busting your zip. Smart casual should be simple and beautiful. And, it’s very easy to have a great time and to look wonderful on Facebook, as well.
More Cruise Fashion Articles for Baby Boomers & Friends:
Photo Credits: Prshots.com.
- Main Photo: Veramont, Jaeger, M and Co, Peter Hahn, East, East.
- Nautical Stripes: Isme.
- What is Smart Casual? M and Co, Fifty Plus, Peter Hahn.
- Smart Casual Can Be Lace and Bling: Lipsy, La Redoute.
- Smart Casual: Peter Hahn.
- Smart Casual Dress & Accessories: Jaeger.
- What to Wear for Smart Casual: Asos.
What do you think of this article? Do you agree or am I limiting your style? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.