WWYD: Flustered by Formalwear

October 15, 2013 | By | 41 Comments

I stood in the Bloomingdale’s dressing room, uneasily squinting at my reflection in the typically unflattering fluorescent light. Behind me hung a stack of long column dresses – some sequined, some chiffon, but all a far cry from my normal workaday wardrobe.
Few traditions in the cruising world produce as polarizing an opinion as formal nights. On the Cruise Critic message board, the topic unleashes many members’ inner Joan Rivers, with fast and furious pronouncements on what not to wear, complete with pictures. Who wants to end up on the wall of shame?
With all the hub-bub, it’s not surprising that many cruise lines have cut back on formal nights, in official and unofficial ways. I remember carting several cocktail dresses, most leftover from sorority events, with me on a family cruise on the Carnival Fascination in 1995; my father proudly packed his tux while my mother made salon appointments. These days, I doubt we’d make the effort; there are always Guy Fieri burgers or specialty restaurants to try instead.
The debate over dressing up spills out within our own household. My husband, who regularly puts on suits to visit clients, hates dressing up, especially on vacation. So I wasn’t surprised when he turned down the opportunity to come with me on my upcoming Cunard cruise on the notoriously formal Queen Mary 2.  “That doesn’t sound fun to me,” he said when he begged off (he’s saving his time off for a barefoot sailing cruise in the Caribbean instead).
As for me, I still enjoy the chance to get a little girly. I’m not high-maintenance by nature, but something about formalwear makes me OCD. If I’m going to the effort to get glam, I want to go all the way: Jewelry, heels, evening bag, shawls. Some might say that’s a lot of effort to put into an event where you’ll never see anyone again, but for me, it’s as close to red-carpet ready as I’m going to get.
I ended up buying a long navy lace dress by Lauren that fit like a dream, with just enough sparkle and stretch to make me feel special. That night, I vamped around the house in it, preening and pretending that I was entering a ballroom instead of picking up piles of clothes in our bedroom.  Formal wear isn’t part of my daily routine, and that’s exactly the point: Who doesn’t want a little escapism on their vacation?
Do you participate in formal night – or ignore the hype? Tell us in the comments.  
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    41 Responses to “WWYD: Flustered by Formalwear”

    1. queens triper
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:17 am

      I feel that it’s a personal choice; I don’t see the point of overdoing it. I have seen hair teased and piled high and enough make-up to require a spatula to remove! I opt to just kick it up a notch from what I may have worn to the dining room the night before.

    2. H
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:18 am

      I usually participate. The food in the Main dining room is usually a step above because of the affair. Its usually the night they have Filet, Escargot or Lobster.

    3. Karen
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:21 am

      Prefer not to do formalwear. Such work to pack and figure out ahead of time… Prefer to be casual dress (you can still be girly)

    4. Vicki Wroclawski
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:23 am

      We just returned from cruising on NCL’s Dawn. I would say about half the guests participated in Formal Night. We did not, but we still continued to dress every night as if we are going out for a nice meal. Unfortunately, most of the other guests decided on this cruise to dress down in the evenings as if they came out of the Goodwill box. We saw ripped jeans, old sneakers and worn t-shirts in the dining rooms – something that NCL never used to allow. I agree it’s tough to participate in formal nights as it’s more clothing to bring along (and sometimes you might have to purchase the clothing), and after an active day I really don’t feel like getting all decked out. But I feel that NCL may have relaxed their evening dress rules a bit too much. Honestly, on this particular cruise, I felt overdressed in dress pants and a nice silk blouse!

    5. Karen
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:29 am

      Prefer not to do formalwear. Such work to pack and figure out ahead of time.. Prefer to be casual dress (you can still be girly) Such a wast of space to pack clothes you wear once/twice. for a couple hours….

    6. Mary
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:30 am

      Gave up formal night after the 3rd cruise. With the extra cost for baggage on flights it just wasn’t worth it to us We use that night as our buffet or pizza night..

    7. gary
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:31 am

      I was on the Royal Princess pre Inaugural cruise. I have been on aver 30 cruises, but this one re dinning was the worst. The main dinning room was either “Smart Cassual” of “Formal”. On “Smart casual” the staff let people in wearing shorts and T-Shirts. The “formal night” they wore Jeans and t-shirts. In my opinion they should have gone to other restaurants. What do you think?

    8. john
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:45 am

      I participate in formal nights, one tuxedo and a few shirts and ties don’t seem like a lot of effort. There are other venues for people who don’t want to get dressed, so I don’t see the point of cruise lines cutting back on formal nights. The world has gotten way too casual.

    9. Mike Sweitzer
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:51 am

      Avoid Formal night. Too much trouble to pack dress clothes

    10. PlanoCJ
      October 15th, 2013 @ 11:55 am

      I went on my first cruise recently to the eastern Caribbean and our family are casual smart dressers. Mom-in-law was telling us we needed to bring suits for the guys and dresses for me. Knowing that we would have to purchase suits due to being so long since the guys wore a suit we opted to just bring smart casual clothing. We had fun people watching for the people who did dress up. Even they can overdo on the dress up. We saw teens and young girls with short dresses to where they could no bend OR stoop if need be. ;/ The night we went to dinner we didn’t look out of place but there were many people there dressed like for a fast food restaurant and wearing baseball caps at the table while eating. Our family has voted to not dress up period on a future cruise but definitely avoid the main dining areas when they do have formal nights. I just want to have a good time and relax. We don’t have to have the formal nights to have fun. We’ll leave that for the ones that need it. I for one think that on formal nights they should only allow ones that are dressed for it. There are many other dining options for us that do not want to participate. That’s my two cents.

    11. Rosa Myrna Riley
      October 15th, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

      I’ve been cruising for over twenty years and I enjoy formal nights. It completes my cruise just how this type of traveling had been designed years and years ago. I just bring one formal gown that isn’t bulky nor heavy and roll the wrinkle-free attire into my suitcase. I create other gowns out of it by adding a shawl, bolero, or some accent. It’s nice to watch fellow cruisers dress-up for formal nights.

    12. Geri
      October 15th, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

      My husband brings his tux and I have a lovely plain black gown which I accessorize for each night with different jewelry and jackets. It’s comfortable and easy to pack especially with weight and luggage limited when flying. But I do love Azamara with the Cruise Casual every night. It’s much more sensible for traveling abroad.

    13. Trish Coppock
      October 15th, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

      We love formal nights! Cruising is a wonderful way to holiday and the formal nights gives us a chance to dress up and enjoy the evening. There is so little opportunity to dress up anymore, most people now prefer to dress casually.It takes very little effort to pack a few lovely dresses, however I’m aware formal dress isn’t for everyone. As long as folks make a little effort to look smart in public areas I’m happy.

    14. joan a cuervo
      October 15th, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

      I love formal night. It’s the only time I can dress up.
      On my recent HAL cruise they turned a young man away from the dining room on formal night because he was wearing old jeans and a faded flannel shirt. Go, HAL.

    15. Donald Harlan
      October 15th, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

      Enjoy formal nights and always honor dress code. See trend toward ignoring dress code by many and most lines do little if anything to enforce it. Just sailed Caribbean Princess last week — probably 60-70% did not wear formal wear & most of those not even coat & tie. Formal nights were more causal than formal. Jeans & sweatshirt in Crown Grill allowed & not challenged!

    16. Rosemary Kopec
      October 15th, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

      We have cruised often, and years ago we would drag all the fancy clothes along for formal night. Really didn’t like it, we are on vacation. We now look for a more casual form of cruising and love it. Resort wear in the dining room is fine. Unfortunately there are always some that push the envelope of bad taste. Shame on them!

    17. AudalSomerset
      October 15th, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

      Having been on 25 cruises and was quite enthusiastic about formal nights have now had a complete turnaround. We dress smart casual for most nights as we like to eat in the dining room and dress as if we were out to a restaurant at home. Formal nights we make an effort but don’t go all out anymore, husband just takes suit and I take evening skirt and different tops. If cruising in the Caribbean it seems more people dress down because after a day in the sun it is more comfortable to relax. Also love people watching people past the mini skirt age looking ridiculous and overweight people dressed in meringues. Have they not got mirrors at home.

    18. Carol Carpenter
      October 15th, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

      I feel you should. I do Disney cruises, and I love dressing as a queen. It’s a ball to watch the little princesses, gawk at me, then smile. Tiara and all.

    19. Melody
      October 15th, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

      Love the formal nights! My husband enjoys putting on his tux, especially when we cruise with the Scots in their kilts! I was a protocol officer for 30 years & still enjoy getting all decked out. The maitre’d always comments on how nice we always look, like the way folks used to dress on cruises. Doesn’t take anymore room to pack silk pants & sequined jackets/tops than casual clothes & tux is a carryon item. Enjoy it, make the night something special rather than mundane!

    20. Patty Goodell
      October 15th, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

      I love formal nights. My husband doesn’t care for them
      but puts up with them because I do. I normally don’t even wear makeup, so I get into it! I really like getting all dressed up and looking really nice. Most people I talk to are like me, it’s fun and not something we do unless we’re on a cruise! Some take the position that they’re on vacation and don’t want to have to dress up. To each their own. I love it and as long as Royal Caribbean has it, I will participate!

    21. Brian
      October 15th, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

      We’re quite casual most of the time. We even go to a casual church–not a tie in the place! But we do enjoy dressing up on occassion and acting like we’re celebrities. Our fun challenge is to purchase formal wear at thrift stores, so we end up looking like a million bucks for just a few bucks!

    22. Paul Hinds
      October 15th, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

      Formal or Not Formal?
      I would say this is definitely lady’s choice as they have a lot more shopping and packing to plan for.
      I admit – I have both a ‘tux and a white dinner jacket and rarely use them. However if doing a top specialty resturant or a formal night I do not mind the ‘tux.
      Cruising is for relaxation however so nice, comfortable resort wear is always preferred unless it is formal night. Hint – pack two shirts for that tux.

    23. Sherry
      October 15th, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

      I love the formal nights. Hubby and I are ballroom dancers and the dressy clothes just adds to the experience for me. It’s nice to be total girly once in a while.

    24. Sam
      October 15th, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

      I think our culture has allowed too much laziness. I think formal nights should continue and the cruise lines need to stop relaxing the dress code for the Hoi Poloi. We love to people watch and I don’t mean looking at cutoffs, sneakers, and tank tops in the main dining room. I’ve read posts on Cruise Critic from people that say the food stinks and I’m sure if you talk to most of them they only eat at the buffet because they don’t even like dressing cruise casual. We love getting dressed up and seeing others do the same.

    25. Bud K
      October 15th, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

      It goes back to Prom or Senior Ball on a formal night it’s your opportunity to be a star! However in the newer ships you don’t have a Grande Staircases or Entrances that you did on the older ships, One of my most treasured memories is Escorting my Mother down the stairs in our finest in Windward Dining Room on the SS Norway you just felt special being greeted and escorted to your table and enjoying a two hour dinner with great conversations and friendship that is what I like about FORMAL nights.

    26. Cheri Kelly
      October 15th, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

      I love the choice, participate or not. We sailed with the Royal Caribbean where they have professional photographers and we had some wonderful family photos taken. My Husband was not 100% into dressing up, but I think he was pleased with pictures too.

    27. Gordon
      October 15th, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

      I love formal nights. When else do you get a chance these days to dress to the nines and have formal photos taken that you don’t have to buy unless you like them. On a cruise with 2 nights I dress in full battle array with Kilt and all the trappings minus the dagger for obvious reasons. I make the ships film and get into a lot of conversations. Great fun. The second night I dress in traditional Tux. My wife wears a different gown each night. And yes, out luggage is 30% formal wear but it is worth it.

    28. Craig
      October 15th, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

      Definitely non formal. I did it on RCI and didn’t feel really comfortable, felt like a works do rather than on holiday.

      Since switched to NCL and so much better, relaxing, comfortable and you also dont feel like others are rating what you wear.

      Times are changing, leave the ties and suits for work, weddings and funerals!

    29. Cherryl
      October 15th, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

      Don’t like them, with the $ for luggage on flights now, just takes too much space. I do like changing and dressing nicely for dinner each night, but the formal deal no. Most people look like they are trying to relive senior prom. Don’t want to bring along my good jewelry, husband’s jacket, dress shoes etc. Would agree that the MDR should not allow shorts and shabby jeans however.

    30. swo
      October 15th, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

      They are the best part of the Cruise.

    31. Sarah
      October 15th, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

      LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, formal nights! That is why we cruise, please don’t ever take it away from us! Formal nights make us feel special, in regular lifes!!!

    32. Joan
      October 15th, 2013 @ 6:12 pm

      I love formal nights on Celebrity. Everyone seems in great form having gone to the effort to dress up. It brings a touch of glamour to the evening. The Menu in the MDR also seems to be more special on formal nights.

    33. Patricia Scroggins
      October 15th, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

      Yes, always, it is a great part of cruising!!!!!!

    34. Karen
      October 15th, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

      We don’t do formal…..that’s why we cruise on Oceania or Regent. We don’t look like slobs but just don’t like the ancient practice of going formal like our parents did. We’re retired so we’re not kids anymore but just don’t like to participate. To each his own. People on Oceania and Regent do dress up if that’s what they want to do but we’re quite comfortable wearing our “country club casual” clothes.

    35. Eric
      October 15th, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

      Ok here’s the thing, I get it that people don’t want to pack extra clothes or want to stay casual etc but dressing up for dinner (whether formal or not), has been a tradition long held for a great many cruise pasengers. My wife finds that its one of the things she really enjoys when away from home where she can wear lovely outfits, make herself up and look forward to a lovely night out and feel wonderful dressing up..and yes you can also feel wonderful in torn jeans with holes and wearing caps haha

    36. HJ Bear
      October 15th, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

      Being a photographer I don’t need the photos, and I spent 20 years photographing celebrities. I don’t want to be anything like them. So yeah, I’m sitting formal night out in shorts, and a t-shirt. Want no part of it. Complain all you want, but I paid for a cabin, and I have the right to skip it. I don’t care if nobody likes it, because I’m comfortable. I don’t care if someone else is dressed up it’s their right. Also, I’m booked on the QM2 in six months, so don’t cruise with me.

    37. Belinda
      October 15th, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

      Yes, so far I have participated in the formal night on every cruise I’ve been on! I find it fun to have something like formal night dinning, I wish it would continue into a formal night ball after dinner

    38. Lynn W.
      October 15th, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

      We leave 10/19 for a 2 week cruise. Hubby decided not to take his tux but a dark suit instead. Black slacks and a couple sparky tops work for me. We generall do 2 of the formal nights and enjoy them. We’re retired and our life is so casual that it’s fun to dress up a bit. If there’s an extra jacket, HAL will seat gents not in a minimum of shirt/tie. Hubby was given a jacket 4 sizes too small when he showed up in his Hawaiian shirt (on the way there) despite my repeatedly telling him it was formal night.

    39. Roger Westmont
      October 15th, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

      Been on 15 cruises, never done the formal night. No way am I going to pay for extra bags. Blame the desire for casual on all the high tech companies, no dress code. Our son makes a seven figure salary, wears a polo shirt everyday. He will join us on cruise with his family but no formal night. Formal night is just fine for the ever shrinking number of cruisers who want it. I’ll bet the formal night folks don’t want climbing walls!!! Oh well!

    40. TERRY
      October 16th, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

      We used to do formal. We gave up it. We decided we wanted to cruise to relax. we dress smart casual. I think the MDR should enforce
      what they publish. I get tired of every kind of dress being allowed. We do enjoy seeing people dress up.

    41. Al
      October 19th, 2013 @ 8:05 pm

      The sound of the horn as you set sail, polished wood and brass, the dancing ,the shows, and yes the formal nights all are elements that make cruising more than just a resort that floats. Yes it takes more time, money and effort. Buy it allows you to be part of show. Most of us do not live like the “swells” but for a few night on this very special trip you get to be on the red carpet of sorts. Take an opportunity to make a memory.

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