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What should I wear on my cruise?

by Amy Elliott | June 22, 2016

To be fair, the answer to the question of what to wear on a cruise depends on the nature — and the length — of your itinerary. There is also the issue of whether you’re committed to traveling light or happy to schlep the luggage necessary to accommodate 20 pairs of shoes.

But remove these variables and the one thing every cruiser has in common is that a typical day at sea has you constantly shifting between indoor and outdoor scenarios, each with its own dress code considerations.

If you’re a guy, you have it easy — just make sure you have some collared shirts and some pant options that are dressier than jeans. It’s more complicated for women, which is why we created this handy shortlist of cruise wardrobe essentials.

You’ll live in your flip-flops, which are perfect for most daytime activities. A high-heeled sandal or jeweled flat will cover nicer dinners. Throw in a pair of sandals that can be dressed up or down (try a gold or silver leather style), plus something unsexy and rubber-soled for stormy days (when the decks get wet and slippery) and shore excursions that involve lots of walking. If you are planning on taking advantage of the gym on board, sneakers easily satisfy the “walking shoe” requirement.

If you’ve spent the morning in your bathing suit, there’s no need to change at lunchtime — just throw on a cover-up (a requirement, you’ll find, at all but poolside restaurants onboard). This could be a caftan, a tunic, a sarong, a romper, or a drawstring-waist miniskirt. Even a pair of athletic shorts or yoga pants will do in a pinch.

It may be warm and sunny outside, but the cranked-up air-conditioning in the restaurants, shops, and casino will have you shivering. And that goes double if your hair and bathing suit are damp. Seasoned cruisers carry a lightweight cardigan or wrap with them at all times.

Planning on spending the day lounging by the pool? Sunscreen can only do so much. A brimmed hat is essential to save your scalp. Forget it and you’ll likely end up buying one on the ship out of sheer desperation. Save yourself the trouble.

Tote bag
Fill it with everything you might need for the day (like that cover-up or wrap). That way you won’t have to go back to your room for a full-on outfit change until dinnertime.

Knit dresses
A dress is an instant outfit — no thought or styling skills required — and two or three will take up less room in your suitcase than an array of shorts, pants, and skirts. Knit fabrics (like jersey or ponte) are ideal because they travel well. (Read: no wrinkles.) Stick to solid colors, then add jewelry and other accessories to elevate your look as needed.

You’re sure to see women boarding the ship with multiple garment bags containing long, spangled gowns. This is de rigueur for cruisers who embrace a “black tie optional” dress code with gusto. The reality? Unless you are on a cruise with a strict formal dress code, most evenings you can get away with a long, flowing sundress or your favorite Lilly Pulitzer.

That covers the basics. Ready to go even further? Click through the slideshow for strategies, from how to look your best in your vacation photos to the best ways to turn heads.

Amy Elliott

Amy Elliott is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Jetsetter.com and Brides.com.

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