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Dressing to Sail Takes the Gift of Garb


Across the board, shipboard dress codes have relaxed considerably, but this does not mean jeans and T-shirts. The fashion police are still aboard many ships, and you may get stares or frowns if you turn up for dinner wearing the wrong kind of casual.

The new casual, also called "resort evening wear" or "country club casual," usually consists of open-necked linen or silk shirts and slacks for men and dressy pantsuits, caftans or silk and linen separates for women.

Don't confuse "informal" attire with "casual," as many first-time cruisers do. On most cruise lines, informal means jacket and tie for men and cocktail dresses or dressy pantsuits for women. On Crystal Cruises, only a jacket and slacks are requested for men; ties are optional.

Generally, the longer the cruise, the more formal the wardrobe, with 100-day around-the-world sailings requiring lots of dressy evening outfits. (We knew a retired man who carried 20 tuxedos and dinner jackets on a world cruise.) Even today on a transatlantic crossing aboard Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2, on every evening except embarkation day, male passengers are required to wear a tuxedo or dark suit.

Despite the relaxation of dress codes, many large ships still designate one or two formal nights a week. A tuxedo is not obligatory; a dark suit, a white dinner jacket or even a dark blazer and pants often will do. If you hate ties and refuse to wear one, you can still pass muster with a silk turtleneck or a shirt with ascot on most traditional ships.

If you would like to dress up in a tuxedo but don't own one, some cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity, Princess and Royal Caribbean, rent them. Usually rentals are arranged in advance; ask your travel agent or the cruise line when booking.

Traveling light and practical packing are also important in these days of increased security. During our 20-plus years of cruising, we have developed simple rules for packing for cruises, any of which can be broken occasionally but all of which work in the long run. For three months on the road in Europe last year, we each carried only one roll-aboard suitcase small enough to stow in the overhead and one carry-on computer/camera bag, but had along everything we needed for vessels from a QE2 crossing to riverboats and barges. Here are some tips:

* Don't take anything new. The temptation to splurge on a cruise wardrobe is great, but remember that none of your fellow passengers has seen your existing wardrobe. Also, you know how your outfits are going to work and what accessories go with them.

* Take half as many clothes as you think you need. Closet and drawer space on ships is limited, and laundry and dry cleaning service is available.

* Consider the climate. Stick to cottons and linens in tropical climates, such as the Caribbean, Mexico, South Pacific and Southeast Asia, with a sweater or sweatshirt for breezy days on deck. For transatlantic crossings, Alaska or northern Europe, take jackets, rain gear, caps and scarves and one or more daytime outfits for those unexpectedly warm, sunny days.

* Dress modestly ashore. Shorts and halters or tank tops are fine on deck, but shore excursions to tropical ports need more conservative clothes, say Bermuda shorts and short-sleeved T-shirts. Some temples and churches may require covered knees and shoulders.

* Plan for purchases ashore. Because you may be tempted to buy garments in ports of call, leave space in your suitcase. Limit gift shopping to small, unbreakable, easily packed items such as scarves, necklaces, place mats and small leather goods.

* If the shoe fits, take it. Comfortable flat shoes for deck and shore wear are essential items. Feet swell in tropical climates, and some ports of call have cobblestones and potholes in their streets. Save the fancy footwear for the captain's cocktail party.

* Less is more. Pack travel sizes of toiletries, sample vials of perfumes that department stores hand out, and small vials of shampoo from hotel rooms.

* Plan your wardrobe around the ship's personality. A list below identifies cruise lines that expect a dress-up outfit at least one night a week and those that allow resort-style garb or casual clothing every night.

Take a tuxedo or dark suit on Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard Line, First European, Holland America Line, Peter Deilmann, Princess, Radisson Seven Seas (except in Alaska and Tahiti), Royal Caribbean International, Royal Olympic, Seabourn and Silversea.

A jacket and tie will suffice on Disney, Orient Lines, Radisson Seven Seas ships in Alaska and World Explorer.

Don't even pack a tie on Norwegian, Radisson Seven Seas in Tahiti, SeaDream Yacht Club, Star Clippers, Windjammer Barefoot or Windstar. The same goes for all expedition ships and for small American-flag lines that cruise rivers, lakes and the coastal U.S., such as American Canadian Caribbean Line, American Cruise Lines, American Safari, American West, Clipper, Cruise West, Delta Queen Steamboat Co. and RiverBarge Excursions.


Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month.

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