Cruise Wear: Ultimate Guide For What To Wear On A Cruise Formal Night

So, your once-in-a-lifetime cruise is booked and all you have left to do is pack your suitcase. As excitement builds, you begin to discover that the cruise you have booked holds formal evenings that require a specific type of clothing, formal wear.

Cruise Wear: Ultimate Guide For What To Wear On A Cruise Formal Night

Whether you are male or female, finding the right formal wear that makes you feel like a movie star, without taking up too much room in your suitcase can be a nightmare. 

From ball gowns to jumpsuits, to full-blown tuxedos, the overwhelming choice can turn the experience from a relaxing paradise to your own personal hell. 

In this guide, we cover exactly what you need to know about what to wear on a cruise formal night (if you’re looking to have some fun on your cruise, check out our guide to the game Cruising Ducks).  You will have your suitcase packed knowing that you have everything you need to feel your best every night on your cruise. 

So, let’s get into it!

Cruise Formal Night Explained

Formal night, as the name suggests, is the evening on the voyage when the dress code changes from the casual style that is customary throughout the ship to more elegant.

It gives cruise ship guests a chance to dress to impress and enjoy a night out that is more memorable than simply going to eat in the dining area.

This is the night that everyone goes all out. Have you ever wanted to dress up like a movie star on the red carpet? Formal night is your perfect chance.

There is often the chance to have your picture taken, enjoy a delicious meal, and be entertained to the fullest. 

The cruise ship captain will frequently give an address during the formal night, which is also known as Captain’s Night, in which he welcomes all passengers to his ship.

The ship’s expert photographers will frequently be able to take pictures with the captain.

How To Know When It Is Formal Night 

There is no bigger surprise than heading to dinner in your pajamas and seeing everyone in ball gowns and suits. That may be a worry for many cruisers but you should know that you will be given plenty of notice before Formal Night takes place. 

The daily cruise planner that is delivered to your cabin each day or via the cruise line’s app will be the most apparent place to look. The attire for the meal will be mentioned on occasion.

It might be called “formal” or “cruise elegant” or something else entirely. They all imply the same thing: It’s time to put on some clothes!

Even if you don’t see any notice at all, you won’t miss the fact that a lot of people are dressed up when you go out to supper that night in the worst-case scenario. That should allow you some time to return to the room and get ready if you want to participate.

Getting Your Picture Taken 

Throughout Formal Night, a professional photographer will be lapping the room to capture your precious moments. This is a great time to get a professional photo taken to get high quality photos of yourself and your loved ones, 

These photo opportunities often come with a price. Most cruise providers will have a photo package included when you are completing the booking for the cruise, Or you can splurge on the cruise when your photo is taken.  

So, what is acceptable to wear to a formal night on a cruise?


A common piece of clothing for women to wear to Formal Nights is cocktail dresses or maxi dresses. Think of what you would wear to a special date night or a formal gathering with friends and family. This is the baseline of what is expected at Formal Night. 

Below are some recommendations on what women can wear to Formal Night on a cruise:

1. Evening Dress

A common option for women is a simple evening dress. This Miusol Formal V-Neck Evening Dress is perfect as the draping, waterfall length gives an air of elegance while the sleeves keep it feeling slightly less formal and comfortable. 

It comes in a variety of colors meaning there is a dress for everyone to enjoy. 

2. Cocktail Dress

Cocktail dresses are an excellent option for formal wear. They can show off your favorite assets making you feel your best while having some fun with the style. They also don’t feel as stiff as evening gowns. 

This BerryGo Cocktail Dress is the perfect length for showing off your legs while the long sleeves keep it classy and elegant. The velvet material adds a sense of sophistication and makes the dress look more expensive than it actually is. 

Pair with some kitten heels and you have a simple yet effective outfit for Formal Night. 

3. Little Black Dress 

If you are at a complete loss of what to wear for a Formal Night, you can always rely on a little black dress. Black is an easy color to style and it suits everyone perfectly. 

This Dress The Population Sleeveless Fit and Flare dress is a gorgeous option for Formal Night. The plunging neckline ensures you feel classic and elegant while the longer skirt gives you coverage. 

Add simple jewelry and your favorite heels for an unforgettable look. 

4. Jumpsuit

Jumpsuits are perfect for formal attire as they resemble a suit without being restrictive. You can find jumpsuits that are more conservative or show off a little more skin depending on your style. 

This SweatyRocks Jumpsuit is the perfect blend of conservative and sexy. The halter-style top brings attention to the shoulders and the flared trousers give shape to the legs. 

Pair with a small clutch bag and heels for the perfect Formal Night outfit that is still comfortable. 

When it comes to footwear, women should opt for a small heel or at least a smart shoe. Stilettos are an option if you feel confident enough to walk in them for the rest of the evening, however, smaller heels and even flats are acceptable. 

Remember, if you want to change any part of your outfit, you can always slip off to your cabin for a quick outfit change. 


Men have slightly fewer options for formal wear but there is still a way to dress up and let your personality shine through (for more cruise wear for men, read here). If a tuxedo is just a step too far for you, then you can always dress it down.

 Below are some options for formal wear for men:

1. Long Sleeve Button Down 

Button Downs are an absolute must for formal wear. Long sleeves are a great option as they give the arms shape and can be kept rolled down or rolled up for a more casual feel. 

These Paul Jones Dress Shirts are a great option that can be worn to multiple occasions including the office and Formal Night on a cruise. 

Pair with pressed slacks and a fitted blazer for a smart look that can go from the office to the dance floor. 

2. Chino Pants 

Chino Pants are the more casual version of slacks. While slacks are the most common option for formal wear, Chino pants make it feel less like office wear and more like party wear. 

The Amazon Essential Chino Pants are perfect. Available in a broad range of colors you can match them to suit your jacket or go jacketless and let the pants do the talking. 

3. Suit Vest Waistcoat

Waistcoats are a brilliant way to make an outfit smart and formal without the need for a jacket. This is great if you are going on a Mediterranean cruise and are going to be dealing with humidity and the sun. 

This COOFANDY Mens Suit Waistcoat is a great option as it comes in a range of colors that can match your pants or wear a fitted pair of jeans and a pressed button-down for the complete look. 

In terms of shoes, sneakers are acceptable so long as they are clean and in good condition. However, if you really want to look the part go for a sleek smart shoe that matches your outfit. 

What To Avoid   

While you are on a cruise, the main aim of the vacation is to relax in all areas. Some articles of clothing just aren’t going to make the cut. You can probably already guess what clothing is not acceptable for Formal Night but here is a list to keep you right:

  • Swimwear: Bikini, One-piece, shorts, speedos, tankini, etc.
  • Tank Tops
  • Flip-flops
  • Short Shorts.  

Avoiding these clothing items will guarantee that you are following the dress code and will prevent you from feeling massively underdressed for the occasion. 

Is Formal Attire Necessary?

So, now that we know what Formal Night is, it’s important to know if you have to dress up in order to attend. And the answer is no.

Dressing up is not a requirement in order to attend Formal Night, however, most crew members and passengers do take the opportunity to look their absolute best. 

If you feel more comfortable in casual wear, then you can certainly attend in your most comfortable clothing. However, it’s a good idea to eat outside of the main dining area or at more upscale specialty restaurants if you do decide to forgo dressing up.

During the formal night, these are the places that demand better attire.

Even though casual attire is permitted in the dining area on Formal Night, you might feel uncomfortable around people who are wearing suits or ball gowns.

Our suggestion is to bring at least one formal outfit that makes you feel a million bucks to bask in the celebrity treatment for the evening.

Formal Night Attire: What To Wear To Formal Night On A Cruise?

One of the hardest parts about Formal Night is what to wear. If you have never attended a high-end dinner or anything remotely formal, you may have no idea what constitutes formal wear. 

The first thing to remember is that you don’t have to go spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a brand-new ball gown or tuxedo. Most cruisers go for something between smart casual to formal attire. 

Many men will wear a tuxedo. You do not have to do that. Some women may decide to bring a striking ball gown. Again, not a necessary item to bring on a cruise.

Are Formal Night Dress Codes Strict?

Ultimately, no. The dress code for Formal Night is there to give you the opportunity to feel your best for the evening. Considering you are probably spending 90% of the trip in swimwear and shorts. 

However, you will not be denied entry if you decide to wear jeans and a t-shirt. 

The cruise line simply wants you to feel amazing and special. While you may feel pressured to dress up, there is no stress to do so. 

Because of this, it’s probably fine as long as you don’t wear anything too casual (like flip sandals, shorts, and a tank top).

Even so, if you intend to dine in a dining room or a nicer specialty restaurant, we strongly advise dressing up a bit. You’ll feel more at ease around people if they are dressed up, and it also helps others feel more like it’s a special night.

How Many Formal Nights Are Held On A Cruise?

Depending on how long your cruise is, there are different amounts of formal nights. The general rule is that there will be two formal evenings on a week-long cruise. (i.e. Day 2 and Day 5). Typically, shorter journeys have one Formal Night.

On cruises lasting 14 days or longer, some cruise lines, like Princess Cruises and Holland America, will host three formal evenings. 

No matter the length of your cruise, you want to bring at least 2 ‘formal’ outfits for you to wear. 

Do You Have To Attend Formal Night?

You can, of course. There are alternatives to formal night for evening supper if you don’t feel like dressing up or if you’ve had a long day and are a little tired.

You can always eat at the buffet or one of the other casual restaurants on your cruise if you want to forego formal night. You might even want to have supper on your personal balcony by ordering room service.

Additionally, many cruise lines don’t enforce the formal attire policy during “formal night” at specialized dining establishments.

Make reservations at one of your cruise ship’s specialty eateries if you prefer to be served and prefer to wear business casual attire. 


Knowing what to wear to Formal Night on a cruise can quickly snowball into a stressful experience (for more cruise wear advice for plus size cruisers, read here). Well, we are here to take away all of the stress. 

Anything that makes you feel comfortable and confident is perfect for the evening. Even if that means wearing shorts and flip-flops!

Check out the guide above to make sure you are dressed to perfection for an incredible evening.

Alex Kallen

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