What are the Best Tips for Choosing Cruise Clothing?

Lainie Petersen

Like cruise ships themselves, appropriate cruise clothing varies widely. When packing cruise clothing, it's important to take into consideration the cruise line, the length of the cruise, and its destination or destinations. It's a good idea to ask a knowledgeable travel agent for clothing suggestions as well as reading cruise literature and brochures for ideas as to what to wear while cruising. Finally, it is always a good idea to find out more about local standards in the ship's ports of call.

A man wearing semi-formal clothing, which may be required on a cruise.
A man wearing semi-formal clothing, which may be required on a cruise.

Different cruise ships and cruise lines each have their own ambiance and standards of formality. For example, some dining rooms on some cruise ships require that diners always wear formal or semi-formal attire at dinner and may ban shorts or tank tops during breakfast and lunch. Other ships have more relaxed standards. On longer cruises, passengers can usually expect at least one formal night, and the cruise ship may actually have its own tuxedo rental service that supplies evening wear for such occasions. Other cruise lines operate on a strictly come as you are basis.

While comfortable T-shirts are appropriate for relaxing on a cruise in a warm climate, more formal clothing may be required during meals.
While comfortable T-shirts are appropriate for relaxing on a cruise in a warm climate, more formal clothing may be required during meals.

The selection of cruise clothing should take into consideration the ports of call. On an Alaskan cruise, passengers will want to pack warm things, while a Caribbean cruise dictates lighter clothing, though passengers would be wise to consider the season in which they will be traveling. If the cruise ship has a swimming pool or the ship will be visiting places where swimming is a possibility, swimwear, flip flops, and a cover-up are good things to bring along. Passengers should also pack appropriate footwear, particularly if they will be participating in long walking tours or hikes. If the cruise ship has a fitness center, exercise clothing and shoes are in order.

Appropriate cruise line clothing varies from ship to ship.
Appropriate cruise line clothing varies from ship to ship.

When packing cruise clothing, passengers should consider cultural differences in the areas in which they will be traveling. For example, some destinations frown on people wearing revealing clothing in town and may forbid people wearing such clothing from entering houses of worship or cultural monuments. For this reason, women may want to pack a jacket to be carried in a tote bag while in port. This can be worn over sleeveless garments in places that mandate modest clothing. Finally, cruise passengers should pack clothing appropriate for their trip home. The cruise ship may be sailing in warm seas, but if it's cold at home, summery dresses and shorts will make for a cold ride from the airport.

Some cruise ships require formal attire at dinner.
Some cruise ships require formal attire at dinner.
Flip flops should be packed during a cruise.
Flip flops should be packed during a cruise.

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Discussion Comments


I pack everything with tissue paper. I lay the piece of clothing down and place the paper on top. I then fold it with the paper inside the clothing so the creases are "buffered". I had to go to San Antonio for several events and found that even my evening gowns were perfect and did not need ironing! I am the tissue paper queen!


I go through several wardrobe changes just on the way to my cruise ship. I live in Maine, and I like to go cruising in early fall. I have to travel to Florida to depart, and the temperature changes are vast.

When I leave Maine, I am wearing a t-shirt, a sweater, a jacket, and jeans. By the time I get to the South to spend the night in a hotel, I have shed the jacket and sweater.

I often stay in Kentucky on my way to Florida. Once I get to Florida, it feels like summer outside, so I change into shorts and a sleeveless shirt.

I pack mostly summer clothes for the actual cruise. However, I have another sweater, undershirt, and pair of jeans in my bag for the trip home.


@Perdido – I am definitely going to try your roll-up packing method. I need to save space in my suitcase, and because I try to be prepared for anything on a cruise, I pack so many clothes that I can barely zip it.

I pack shorts and sleeveless shirts for standing on the deck or sunning poolside. I pack several swimsuits. Also, I bring quite a few cute cotton dresses that could be considered either casual or semi-formal.

I bring a few sweaters, because sometimes, the cruise line will overcompensate for the heat outdoors by chilling the inside of the ship to an uncomfortable temperature. I bring two formal dresses for special dinners, and I also bring a couple of formal wraps to keep the chill off my shoulders.


My sister was going on an Alaskan cruise last year, and she knew that there would be one formal dinner. She did not want to wear an evening gown in such a cold location, so she sought out a nice pants suit.

She found one that had a turquoise sequin long-sleeve shirt, a navy blazer, and wide-leg navy trousers. It looked perfectly formal, but it was so much warmer than a dress would have been.

She was even able to wear leggings underneath the trousers for extra warmth. She said that several of the passengers told her that they wished they had been as smart as she had in planning her cruise wardrobe!


@robbie21 – You are so right about rayon. I folded up a rayon dress to take on my cruise, and it got so wrinkled that I was ashamed to wear it!

Most clothes made of polyester or containing a bit of spandex will not wrinkle at all. Generally, anything that doesn't wrinkle when you have it folded up at the top of your closet for months will be wonderful to take on a trip.

I have discovered a way to keep clothes from wrinkling in your suitcase. If you do want to bring garments along on your cruise that are prone to wrinkling, you can roll them up tightly and pack them close together to prevent this.


I have been on lots of cruises and I think that cruise wear should be light and versatile. You really should pack light and only bring two formal outfits for formal nights. The best thing to do is to check your cruise itinerary because it should state when the formal and semi-formal nights are.

I know that for men many cruise ships offer tuxedo rentals so men may not have to pack their suits if they don’t want to. I always try to pack only a few things because I know that I want to leave room for the things that I want to buy.

I always try to buy a few outfits when I go to one of the ports of call. This is why I pack the essentials but I don’t bring everything with me.


Another consideration is the kind of fabric. Cruise dresses made of rayon? Bad choice. It'll wrinkle like nobody's business.

A nice polyester jersey won't wrinkle even if you wad it up and stuff it in the bottom of your suitcase, and that material comes in a wide variety of levels of formality. Another advantage is that it dries quickly, so if you (ahem) get a little spill on it, you can clean it up and wear the dress again.

Sometimes nice, crisp cotton can work well for traveling, too; it will wrinkle a bit, but you can hang it up and spritz it with a little water and the wrinkles will fall out.

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