Ask Alison: I’M ON A BOAT! What Do People Wear On a Cruise Ship Anyway?

Lynn writes: "I'm going on a cruise to Italy in a few weeks and have no idea what to wear. What do people wear on cruises? Can you recommend some outfits?” Duh, Lynn, of course I can!

Aug 10, 2012 at 10:30am | Leave a comment

You guys ask the best questions. Every email I’ve gotten asking me to weigh in on various wardrobe conundrums has been so clever and smartly written. Some of them have really made me put on my thinking cap and do a ton of research! I love it.

For the record: even if I don’t feature your question in a post, I make a huge attempt to reply to you with my ideas about whatever wardrobe drama you’ve managed to cook up.

Some of you have seriously glamorous fashion problems:

“Hi Alison,

I'm going on a cruise to Italy in a few weeks and have no idea what to wear. What do people wear on cruises? A friend told me "resort clothing," I Googled it and saw a bunch of swimsuits emblazoned with anchors. I'm a working class girl, late 20s, and this is my first big vacation. Can you recommend some outfits that allow for a busy schedule?”

Thanks -- Lynn”

For Lynn’s sake, I hope her cruise to Italy isn't aboard the Costa Concordia. Cruise ships have always sort of freaked me out.

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The Costa Concordia off the coast of Giglio, Italy.

Have you ever Googled “cruise ship disasters”? I’ll give you my favorite headline: “The Carnival Splendor's engine room caught on fire in November 2010, causing passengers to cope with unflushed toilets, bags of vomit and only Spam to eat.” Jesus! I'd rather be onboard "The Poseidon Adventure".

My first instinct was fear for Lynn, but then I also felt a bit of jealousy. I want to go to Italy SO BAD! If I have to float there on a boat, so be it. I did a quick Google search as to what the weather is like in Italy in September. It ranges from 55-80 degrees, depending on what part of Italy you are in. Blissful.

I've never actually been on a cruise ship, but I envision it as being a floating version of Las Vegas. This could be due to the fact that everything I know about cruise ships I learned from watching "The Love Boat". It just seems so glam, like the instant you walked onboard the ship, you’d suddenly be taller, richer, have better hair and somehow be more exotic.

Lynn is dead right about cruise/resort wear being dopey as hell, full of striped clothing with sailboats and anchors and jaunty nautical memes. But I still think you have to take this golden opportunity to pack at least a few subtly themed pieces, right? Just a touch of kitsch, especially for the day the boat sets sail. (I’m envisioning how much she may end up loving the photos a few years down the road!)

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Stripe hat, $68.00. Anchor dress, $79.99. Striped TOMS, $69.00. Navy/gold link necklace, $220.00. Stripe blazer, $53.00.

Lynn’s personal style seems very clean and classic, so I think she’d love outfits that utilize some mix and match basics with a really crisp edge for daytime excursions both on and off the ship -- shopping, lunching, and sightseeing. I envision Lynn as a modern day Sophia Loren meets Jackie O -- a sleek, international, cosmopolitan-glam babe on a boat.

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Tops, from left: White/blk trim, $350.00. Blue printed tunic, $345.00. Yellow button up, $168.00. White pleated tank, $36.00. Denim button up, $34.82.

Bottoms, from left: Blue Ikat print shorts, $20.00. White drawstring pants, $17.97. Printed silk pants, $330.00. Green Ikat print shorts, $98.00. Cream lace shorts, $20.00.

I love a printed piece paired with a solid color that has some sort of interest to it. It’s the perfect mix of funk and class. A lightweight long sleeve shirt is a great thing to pack -- it protects you from the sun and also wards off a chill at night or in the air conditioning.

I’d also suggest packing a grip of dresses, because a dress really is the most versatile piece you can bring on vacation. They take up less room in your suitcase than jeans and separates, they keep you cooler, and they always look feminine and polished. If you have a few great basic dresses, you can style them down for a casual lunch, then turn around and add a sparkly necklace and high heeled sandals to the same dress for a dressed-up dinner look.

I usually wear my dirty dresses a second or 3rd time as a swimsuit cover-up by the pool. That way you aren’t dirtying up a whole new garment. Am I gross? Or smart?

I read a great piece of travel advice once that has since saved my life -- determine beforehand what your one shoe/bag color is going to be for the trip. That way you aren’t packing extra handbags to match endless shoe options. Black is too mentally heavy for a cruise, so I’d go for warm brown shades from gold to chestnut that will match anything. (I personally cheat on this rule a bit and always pack one extra pair of fun colored shoes.)

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Top row, from left: Cork sandal, $82.00. Suede multi-strap sandal, $107.99. Tan sandal, $119.00.

Bottom row, from left: Dark brown platforms, $139.00. Lime green sandal, $119.00. Gold T-strap sandal, $82.99. All, Bernardo.

I love Bernardo sandals whenever I am going to be doing a lot of walking on a trip -- they are the perfect mix of style and comfort. They have a brilliant padded foot bed that is invisible to your eye but so obvious to your footsies. Plus, they are total classics -- Audrey Hepburn, Jane Birkin, Twiggy, Ali Mc Graw, Katherine Hepburn, and Carly Simon are all legendary Bernardo fans.

I would also bring a ton of ladylike watercolored accessories for a cruise. Jewelry does’t take up a lot of room in your suitcase, and it’s an easy way to personalize your look depending on your mood. Plus a little sparkle makes anything better.

I love a swimsuit worn with a rhinestone necklace and a big hat poolside.

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Clockwise from left: Brown straw hat, $28.00. Panama hat, $288.00. Striped hat, $68.00. Cowboy hat, $79.00. Green hat, $157.00. Blue Missoni hat, $242.00. Peach straw hat, $28.00.

One last vacation thought -- if you don’t already have a signature cocktail, come up with one beforehand so you can order like a pro wherever you go! I love a cosmopolitan made with tequila served in a rocks glass. Please give Lynn any travel advice that I overlooked -- you guys really are the other half of my brain.

Lynn, have an AMAZING time. The rest of you, keep sending me your questions! I love them. XO

Email: Alison@AlisonFreer.com
Twitter: @IveyAlison