Here’s What is OK to Wear on Cruise Formal Night (With Pictures)

We don’t think any other night on the cruise causes as much stress as formal night. The biggest root of all that stress? One simple question…

What can I wear?

Everyone knows that the style during the day is casual. T-shirts, flip-flops, and swimsuits are the uniform. But then formal night throws a wrench in cool and comfortable. “All of the sudden they want me to wear a tuxedo? I don’t even own a tuxedo!”

The first thing you should know is that no, tuxedos and formal gowns are not required for formal night. In fact, every dress code is actually a suggestion. Cruise lines know that you paid good money to be on that cruise. They don’t want to disappoint any paying customer by refusing them service. So even if you show up in a pair of shorts on formal night, you most likely won’t be refused service.

Still, we think it’s best to get dressed up for dinner. First, you don’t want to feel out of place. Everyone else on formal night will be dressed up for dinner. Being the couple of people that are wearing Hawaiian shirts will likely make you feel underdressed.

Furthermore, we think it’s polite to dress up… not for yourself but for other passengers. Formal night is akin to the ship’s prom. Sure, we know that not everyone is mega-rich and wears fancy gowns all the time, but it is fun to dress up occasionally and have a fun night out. Having other passengers take away from the illusion ruins the fun for everyone.

Of course, not all of us are going to get dressed to kill. And as we said earlier, you don’t have to have a tux or an evening gown to fit in. That’s why we’ve rounded up some pictures to give you a better idea of what’s acceptable and what’s not for formal night.

Our best advice? On the “casual” end, if you wouldn’t wear it to a job interview, don’t wear it to formal night unless you want to feel out of place. On the “formal” end, there’s nothing too nice for formal night (including tuxedos and evening gowns).  

(Need a dress? See our article on 12 Affordable Dresses Perfect for a Cruise Formal Night)

Remember that these are just suggestions. Wear whatever you want — it’s your cruise. And if you aren’t dining in the main dining room, then no, you aren’t expected to dress up at all during formal nights.

Formal night cruise ship
Photo 1. See image sources below for attribution.

Sure it doesn’t look formal, but it’s still clean, presentable, and stylish. No one would think twice if a lady came to formal night wearing this outfit.

Formal night dress
Photo 2. See image sources below for attribution.

Leave the swimsuits at the pool or the beach! It’s never acceptable to wear a swimsuit (even if wearing a cover-up) to the main dining room.

Formal night shorts
Photo 3. See image sources below for attribution.

Nope, shorts won’t cut it. Yes, you could wear them and it’s unlikely anyone would say anything. Still, we suggest going with something a little more dressed-up.

Men's formal night wear
Photo 4. See image sources below for attribution.

Not a tux, but still perfect for formal night. There will be lots of guys wearing suits and ties.

Formal night cruise shorts
Photo 5. See image sources below for attribution.

Shorts of any kind should be a non-starter, even if they are nice and fit well. Wear pants if possible.

Formal night dress shirt
Photo 6. See image sources below for attribution.

While not a tux, and with no tie, a nice dress shirt and slacks is just fine on a cruise formal night.

Formal night tux
Photo 7. See image sources below for attribution.

Absolutely! This is what most people have in mind with formal night. If you don’t own a tux, you can rent one aboard the ship.

(Need a dress? See our article on 12 Affordable Dresses Perfect for a Cruise Formal Night)

Photo Sources
Photo 1: Photo by Mon Mer / Public Domain
Photo 2: Photo by Scarves Forever / Public Domain
Photo 3: Photo by Walter / CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)
Photo 4: Photo by Harry Victor / CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)
Photo 5: Photo by Epic Studios / CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)
Photo 6: Photo by The Mighty Tim Inconnu / CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)
Photo 7: Photo by AntaresRoute66 / CC BY SA-2.0 (Cropped from original)

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Tanner is the founder of Having grown up on the coast and sailing on everything from a 50' pleasure craft to the newest cruise ships, he's drawn on his experience to write hundreds of articles about every aspect of cruising. He has been quoted in The Washington Post, USAToday, and CBSNews, along with dozens more publications and websites. His homeport is Galveston, but he's visited and sailed from ports all around the country, including Miami, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, Seattle, Los Angeles and more. You can contact him by emailing [email protected]


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