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In glossy holiday brochures advertising cruises, you see men, women and children looking effortlessly chic, all perfect hair and teeth. While the passing fashion parade might not be quite so glam, there are definitely some passengers who take the act of being sartorially splendid very seriously.

A dress code provides passengers with a few parameters to help inform their packing so they feel comfortable when there are themed parties and dress-up days.

Ruffling a few feathers

As a quick glance of the forums and message boards will tell you, this issue is one that polarises passengers. In one corner, we have the coiffed and well-heeled hordes that have more outfit changes than J. Lo and embrace every given opportunity to dress up. In the other corner, we have the board shorts and thongs brigade who favour a more relaxed approach. Of course, those who are obsessed with following the dress code to the letter and trying to create a sense of occasion will naturally have their boa feathers ruffled if they feel that some of the fellow passengers are bringing down the tone. While none of the cruise lines are that strict about enforcing the various dress codes, there will be some occasions when elegance is called for and a T-shirt, shorts and crumpled grin won’t quite cut it.

Buckle up

For those who don’t enjoy frocking up for a formal night, it’s perfectly okay to keep things casual and avoid dine and drink areas dominated by individuals done up to the nines. Rather than being worried about what others think you should rock up in, double-check the dress codes as determined by a few of the major cruise lines to decide your course of action. Onboard most cruise lines chugging out from Australia the dress code during the day is comfortable and casual. In this case, T-shirts and shorts, skirts and sundresses are perfectly acceptable clobber while lounging around the pool. Most dress codes dictate, however, that swimmers and sarongs are not okay in the public or dining room areas. When the moon starts hovering in the sky, the major cruise lines such as P&O and Carnival will offer a mix of formal, semi-formal and casual nights – throwing into the mostly smart-casual mix a few formal nights on sea days as well as a couple of cocktail evenings.

Pack it in

The best way to ensure you have packed appropriately is to double-check the dress code when the cruise line sends your tickets. One thing to consider is that some of the posh party nights, such as Carnival Cruise Line Australia’s Bianco Party are hugely popular and dominate the top deck. If you haven’t packed your neon-bright glad rags and backflip about whether you want to attend, there’s every chance you’ll feel self-conscious about not being all white on the night. P&O Australia also has at least one formal night per cruise and its smart casual code calls for long trousers, collared shirts for men and dresses, slacks and blouses for the women. The only time the restaurants make an exception to its clothing conventions is for fun, theme nights such as The Great Gatsby. While there will always be some fashionistas who adhere doggedly to the dress code, and resent those who don’t, it’s still up to each individual to decide whether they are more or less comfortable while wearing their Sunday best.