The Move To Casual Dress On Cruises

by Ming Tappin

Dressing up for dinner - will the tradition continue?

Casual nights at sea are now more prevalent than ever

Hamming it up with a fellow crew member on formal night.

Resort casual - what is your interpretation?

Cruise ship dress code is always one of the top FAQs when clients are preparing for a cruise. Just as important as "What time is dinner?" - you'll be sure to get asked "What should I wear?".

In the golden days of cruising, dress code was never a topic of debate. Everyone was expected to, and did dress formally for dinner every night.

But as our world evolved into a more casual environment where hoodies and yoga pants are now de rigeur street wear, travellers began to treat the formal dress code as an objection to a cruise vacation.

Those whose workplace requires suits and ties tend not to want to dress up when they cruise. Wearing a suit on vacation may make them feel like they are still at the office, even though it may be required only 2 nights during the week.

Some may lead very casual lifestyles at home where dressing up isn't part of their normal routine, and therefore balk at having to purchase acceptable evening wear.

With these objections in mind, the cruise lines took action to deter potential clients from turning to resort vacations, by relaxing the evening dress code.

Mass market lines reduced the number of formal evenings, or even made them optional (read: eat at the buffet or order room service if you don't want to dress up). Premium deluxe and even a few luxury lines caved to pressures by going "country club casual".

In 2013, the most formal cruise line of them all - Cunard - announced that ties are no longer required on informal nights, although jackets still are.

I couldn't help but wonder, is a tie really a deal breaker for someone to choose between cruising and not cruising? While that is a question best answered by a man, Cunard apparently felt so.

The newly designated "country club casual" was confusing to a lot of people. The term exudes a sense of snobbishness, and the vast majority of the traveling public do not belong to country clubs to know what that dress code is. But I guess the cruise lines felt it had a nice ring to it.

And as for "resort casual", one person's interpretation might be a collared shirt with khakis, while someone else could conjure up a tank top and flip flops.

When lines are blurred, the result is a mish mash of formality, or lack thereof. While the public is happy with the freedom to dress, and cruise lines are happy with paying guests, many veteran cruisers lament the loss of another age-old tradition.

One trend I am saddened to see on formal nights especially on mass market lines, is passengers changing into shorts and t-shirts immediately after dinner is over. It is disappointing to have the elegant atmosphere disrupted by the increasingly many who choose to go this route.

For now, a more casual environment on ships is the mainstay. Those who prefer a more formal environment can look to cruise lines that still follow tradition.

But just like how every trend seems to come back in "retro" style, maybe the formality will return. Perhaps in our lifetime, formal nights will make a comeback, where evenings at sea will once again feature ball gowns, dinner jackets and tuxedos.

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with 20 years' experience in the industry and has sailed on 36 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is passionate about cruising and has just launched her new business - Your Cruise Coach Consulting.

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