All decked out
How to dress for success on ocean voyages
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