A heavily-debated topic amongst cruisers, cruise wear is something of a grey area and one of those things that experience can teach you well.
A good place to start is by checking your cruise operator’s specific dress code. Websites and brochures contain this sort of information, and cruise-related discussion boards or community forums are great places to go to hear advice from those with experience.
For every dress code, there are always some who try and bend the rules to fit them. If a tux is required for dinner, someone will try and get away with just a suit, but there are cases of people being turned away from the dining rooms for not being dressed appropriately.
A remnant of a bygone cruising golden age, the requirement for formal wear at dinner is merely a tradition that is favoured amongst regular cruisers and it all adds to the experience. More modern budget lines are looking to cater for those who don’t own formalwear and still want to cruise, meaning that each cruise line has its own set of rules.
During the day, no matter what ship or cruise line you are on (varying only due to itinerary), you’ll find men dressed in t-shirts, polo shirts and shorts or khakis. Women are similarly dressed in casual day dresses, skirts, shorts, t-shirts and cardigans. It’s only the dining time that the ship’s crew ask passengers to dress up for. Shorts are generally a no-no, but a smart-casual dress will probably cover more possibilities if you’re not sure what to pack.
Luxury lines are more likely to ask you to ‘suit up’ for dinner, whereas the more mainstream lines will either have dedicated formal nights or dressing smart-casual will do.