Tips For Dressing For Your Cruise's Formal Night

The dress code on cruise ships is generally much less fancy than it used to be. This is great news if you are looking to relax as much as possible and kick back in a flowy caftan or some cute and cozy leisurewear. But what about the fun of dressing up for an evening of glitz and glamour? Fortunately, many cruise ships have one or more "formal nights," where guests can put on their fanciest outfits and strut their stuff during an evening of fine dining under the stars at sea. 

Formal nights are an opportunity to wear something that makes you feel gorgeous and confident — but it can be intimidating. If you're stuck on just what constitutes a good formal night outfit, we're here to help. There's no need to sacrifice your personal style; there are plenty of options ranging from black tie to cocktail and semi-formal. Let's break it all down and find some stunning looks.

Do your dress code research ahead of time

Most cruise lines will send information ahead of time concerning dress codes and expectations for formal night and other events that will take place over the course of the trip. Some are more formal than others. It's always better to be slightly overdressed than slightly underdressed, so if you're unsure, amp up the glamour and be confident that you'll look amazing.

Since each major cruise line has a different dress code, you'll want to research yours beforehand. Most of the popular cruise lines have at least one formal night, so you'll want to plan accordingly depending on their code. You'll want to, at the very least, follow cocktail party attire — if not a little fancier. 

What is a cocktail dress, anyway?

Cocktail attire is a less formal designation than black tie, but it should still work for most formal nights on a cruise ship. You're probably more likely to reuse a cocktail dress than a black tie gown — they are generally knee to ankle-length and often come in fun prints that work for day or evening events. 

Choose black tie for ultra-glamour

Black tie attire is generally the fancier option when it comes to dressing for formal night on a cruise ship. What does that entail? When it comes to dresses, think gowns. This is the time to rock a sparkling floor-length frock, and if you wear heels, put on your strappiest and shiniest. Knowing how to do your hair for a formal event will also keep you looking formal-night-ready from head to toe. 

Black tie is all about luxurious fabrics

While most black tie gowns are floor length, sometimes with trains or capes, some are ankle, tea, or even midi length. The key is to choose a luxurious fabric — silk, velvet, chiffon, or even sequins — to elevate the look to the next level. Consider taking your dress to a tailor to get it fitted to you; good tailoring goes a long way toward making any garment look more expensive.

Why not try a tuxedo?

If you don't want to wear a dress, you can still do black tie! Tuxedos are the gold standard for men when it comes to black tie attire, but all genders look great in this classic and ever-stylish option. Add black and white brogues for extra panache (a great alternative to high heels!) and accessorize with a small clutch or handbag to keep things fabulous. 

Can pants be black tie? Absolutely!

Jumpsuits are entirely mainstream at this point while still offering a slightly edgier or unexpected twist when donned for a formal occasion. Like black tie dresses, jumpsuits and pantsuits make great options, particularly in an aforementioned lux fabric. Lace, metallics, satin, charmeuse, and many more materials look fancy and fabulous — no gown required.

Keep your jewelry subtle and let your outfit shine

Black tie outfits are often glitzy and glamorous enough to stand on their own without a lot of accessories. Keep the jewelry simple and classy with subtle pieces; diamonds and the bevy of available alternatives are always good options. Add barely-there strappy heels or sandals, stud earrings, and a small clutch, and you're ready to make your grand entrance. 

There's nothing like a little black dress

Another timeless option is a little black dress. A true workhorse when it comes to anyone's wardrobe, the classic LBD can be a show pony, too. Consider the dress as a black canvas and add lots of eye-catching jewelry. The typical advice is to put on all your accessories and then remove one, but sometimes more is more — you do you! You can also take a more minimalist route and keep it simple and lovely. That's the LBD magic.

Cocktail jumpsuits are a cool choice

Formal jumpsuits come in cocktail options as well! Look for features like bright colors, fun cutouts, and interesting details like palazzo pants, puffed sleeves, or off-the-shoulder necklines for a fresh new take on formal night on the cruise. Get ready to rock that coveted stylish, trendy, and effortless vibe.

Not your congresswoman's pantsuit

Pantsuits aren't just for politicians and newscasters. Once again, fabric and cut are essential. Choose coordinated separates in brocade, velvet, silk, and satin (you get the picture), and pay attention to how they fit you. It's okay to highlight your curves or show a little more collarbone than you might in a pantsuit for work or church.

Get creative with your accessories

Get creative with your accessories when you're dressed in cocktail attire. Cocktail rings are probably the most well-known accessory in this department. The costume baubles are traditionally large and feature big, bright stones in fun colors. You can also do a statement necklace, an armful of bangles, or some large dangly earrings — maybe not all at once, but then again, maybe it's your inner maximalist's time to thrive!

Are jeans ever acceptable at formal night?

What if you really don't want to give up your jeans for formal night? That might be just fine — again, check your cruise line's dress code. Plenty of them have casual dress codes that extend to all special events. You probably want to stick to jeans with a dark wash and a more sophisticated cut as opposed to ones that are baggy, skin-tight, faded, or distressed. Add some strappy heels, suitable accessories, and a fun top in one of the aforementioned lux fabrics, and have a great time.

Wrap it up for a whole new look

Shawls can go a long way in transforming a plain or more casual look into something formal and polished. They're practical, too! You can take them on or off depending on how warm or cold you are, and they can transform sleeveless tops or blouses with a low neckline into a whole new look. There's a plethora of options, from soft, colorful pashminas to beautifully embroidered brocade scarves to chiffon wraps. 

Stay warm, look gorgeous

Depending on the time of year and the setting of the dinner, you may want to wear a coat to formal night. Once again, a bevy of fun options is available. Try a short faux fur jacket, a fluffy, feathery marabou bolero, or even a dramatic cashmere cape. There's no need to sacrifice warmth for style when so many stylish choices are out there.