All decked out

How to dress for suc­cess on ocean voy­ages

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - CHRIS­TINE McCABE

Pre­par­ing for an ocean voy­age or a jaunt up the River Nile once re­quired weeks of metic­u­lous plan­ning on the wardrobe front.

Trunks (and I don’t mean togs) would be as­sem­bled and an arse­nal of out­fits co-or­di­nated to meet the de­mands of a busy and var­ied ship­board so­cial cal­en­dar. In went plim­solls, para­sols, cart­wheel-sized straw hats, evening frocks, cos­tumes for the manda­tory fancy-dress evening and some­thing re­ally el­e­gant in case one were lucky enough to be in­vited to dine at the Cap­tain’s Ta­ble.

Lead­ing Aus­tralian cruis­ing correspondent He­len Hutcheon worked in pub­lic re­la­tions for P & O in the 1960s when the com­pany op­er­ated two-class ships, first and tourist, the for­mer cat­e­gory af­ford­ing “su­perb sil­ver ser­vice din­ing”.

“Ladies had to have the right out­fit for ev­ery oc­ca­sion, from smart-ca­sual re­sort wear for lun­cheons on deck to glam­orous long gowns for the many for­mal nights,” she says. Hutcheon hosted fash­ion pa­rades in stores across the coun­try, in­clud­ing the long since de­funct Farmer’s in Syd­ney and Boans in Perth, so that women could “see what was be­ing worn at sea” be­fore plan­ning their hol­i­day wardrobe.

She also penned a handy pam­phlet ti­tled A Woman’s World at Sea, in which hints in­cluded pack­ing a lit­tle fur wrap or woollen stole for “af­ter-dance deck strolling”.

Times, fash­ions and opin­ions about fur may have changed but on some ves­sels there’s a whiff of that golden age of travel where dress­ing for din­ner is de rigueur and the term “ladies’ pants suit” con­tin­ues to have a cer­tain cur­rency. I’m re­minded of the so-called Kissin’ An­nie, a wealthy Amer­i­can who was a reg­u­lar aboard the old SS Rot­ter­dam, a lovely, mid-cen­tury clas­sic, all teak trim, Sevruga caviar, and dap­per gen­tle­men hosts who whirled around the ball­room floor like taxi dancers. An­nie took two suites ev­ery world cruise, one for her­self and one for her frocks, and leg­end says she never wore the same out­fit twice, which is some­thing to ponder as you cram your rum­pled linen shirts and sen­si­ble deck shoes into your tiny cabin closet.

While many old cruise hands may lament the 21st cen­tury trend to­wards ca­sual on-board fash­ion, it does make pack­ing and dry clean­ing eas­ier. But you still need to do some home­work, tak­ing into ac­count ports vis­ited, on­board and shore ac­tiv­i­ties and the ship’s af­ter-five en­ter- tain­ment pro­gram, as it may in­volve for­mal evenings. Fancy dress seems to have gone the way of di­adems and para­sols, which is a re­lief to T & I’s editor, who re­mem­bers her father de­vis­ing for her an im­promptu cos­tume aboard the Ar­ca­dia from Southamp­ton to Syd­ney which con­sisted of bal­loons and pa­per bags with a sign that read “wind­bag”.

The up-mar­ket Sil­versea makes trans­port­ing frocks a breeze with a valet pro­gram that al­lows pas­sen­gers to ship lug­gage ahead so it’s wait­ing on-board, and of­fers a one-stop out­fit­ting ser­vice for ex­pe­di­tion voy­ages.

Gen­eral man­ager and di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing for Aus­trala­sia Karen Chris­tensen says day wear on board Sil­versea ships is sim­i­lar to that worn at five-star re­sorts, while evening at­tire falls into three cat­e­gories: ca­sual, in­for­mal (still re­quir­ing jack­ets for gen­tle­men but ties are op­tional) and for­mal, where an evening gown or cock­tail dress, and din­ner jacket or dark suit with tie for gents are the norm (tuxe­dos are op­tional). Ca­sual at­tire is ap­pro­pri­ate at all times when ashore, says Chris­tensen, and a pair of com­fort­able, sturdy walk­ing shoes es­sen­tial.

Over the years in­vet­er­ate cruiser Hutcheon has stream­lined her wardrobe to in­clude only non-crush­able clothes that are easy to pack, and lim­ited her pal­ette to

Cruis­ing fash­ions have be­come more ca­sual over the years, top; black-tie cruis­ers in the VIP lounge of Cu­nard’s QE2

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