Code Dread – Informally, there’s nothing “smart” about “casual.”

Monday Mantra

Whatever Shall I Wear?… Whatever Shall I Wear?… Whatever Shall I Wear?…

Code Dread!

Informally, there’s nothing “smart” about “casual.”

Okay, I give up. What exactly is “smart casual” dress? I picture a rather untidy person in jeans and a T-shirt carrying the latest edition of the Mensa Research Journal and maybe sporting a pair of eyeglasses for that studious look.

Thank goodness cruise ship dress codes have all but fizzled since I, a fairly literal thinker, never could understand some of them anyway.

Formal? That one’s easy. From my observations, “formal” means a tux for men. Women, on the other hand, seem to have three options: 1. They may blow the dust off an old bridesmaid frock at the back of the closet and parade around the ship in that massive peach taffeta number with puffed sleeves and a big bow on the butt; 2. Select a simple yet elegant black dress, or 3. Borrow a sequin-and-feather covered gown (don’t forget the tiara) from a flamboyant drag queen who thought the dress was a bit too much for the Miss Fire Island Contest.

“Informal” totally baffles me. Look up “informal” in Webster’s and guess what the first synonym is? “Casual.” So, ’splain this to me, Lucy: What’s with the ships that have formal, informal, and casual nights? I think someone’s just messing with our heads and getting quite a kick out of watching guests drive themselves crazy trying to distinguish between what’s “informal” and what’s “casual.”

“Casual” is the silliest dress code of all. Besides plain old “Casual” and the aforementioned “Smart Casual,” we also have “Resort Casual” and “Country Club Casual.” I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything but a swimsuit and cover-up at any resort and since that’s a dining room no-no I surely must be the missing the “Resort Casual” point.

And why not ditch “Country Club Casual” and give a nod to the style at clubs cruise guests are probably much more familiar with: “Motorcycle Club Casual” (leather), “Health Club Casual” (spandex), “Strip Club Casual” (pasties), and “Wine Club Casual” (stemware always in hand).

Dress codes today are often “suggested” ones, and certainly more relaxed than those of the past. Yes, we want to be comfortable but the romantic nature of a cruise, the opportunity to meet new friends, and the vacation photo ops are enough to make us want to look our best. Once we’re caught up in the magical onboard ambiance of our cruise ship, most of us would happily join the party and follow every evening’s stated dress code … if only we could understand what the heck they mean.

— Judi Cuervo

What are your thoughts on cruise ship dress codes? Tell us in the comments below!


Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.