What to Wear on a European Summer Cruise


I’m still in DC coming up with packing tips for my family members who are boarding planes, trains and automobiles to really fabulous destinations.  The next big trip for those near and dear to me is a week long barge trip in the South of France.  I’ve offered my standard advice for their days in Paris as they pre-game for the big boat trip — two anchor neutral pants (or a dress and pair of pants) with three similarly neutral tops (ecru, black or navy) for that column of color accented by the summer weight sweater or the essential blazer or jacket.  Throw in two cashmere wraps for warmth and color.  Then mix and match it all.  Be sure to bring one pair of flats with some support for the running around days and one pair of very high, impractical strappy heels for evening because, again, it’s Paris.

But wardrobe for the barge — a.k.a. cool small cruise ship — zipping down the Rhone River, gave me  a few moments of packing pause.   So I looked to all the travel sources and found one great article to share with you from USATodayTravel by Gabi Logan of Demand Media – Outfits to Where on a Cruise to Europe.


When packing for a cruise to Europe, you are restricted not only by limited cabin baggage space, but also by the demands of cruise dress codes and packed sightseeing itineraries. Add the inevitable peer pressure from fashionable European shipmates and locals, and you may be feeling like you need a new wardrobe for your trip. While it is nearly impossible to blend in with the locals in port, some key outfits will keep you both physically and psychologically comfortable during your cruise.

Day Wear On Board

Each cruise ship line publishes it’s own dress code, but as a general rule, skip the jeans — particularly if you are cruising the Mediterranean during the summer. Throughout Europe, even in the summertime, it is the norm to keep your legs and shoulders covered right up until you reach the pool or beach, and cruise line dress codes typically outline similar expectations. On many cruise lines, “casual” is actually more along the lines of informal, referring to collared shirts and slacks for men and sundresses or blouses and skirts for ladies. For a spring, summer or early fall European cruise, pack smartly cut, logo-free, button-down shirts and capris or slacks with a wide brim hat. If you’re cruising in the winter, copy the typical European uniform of plain v-neck or turtleneck sweater with well-fitting slacks.

Evening Wear On Board

While the days of cruise dinners in evening gowns and white-tie tuxedos have largely passed us by, some cruises still have at least one formal dinner evening on their itinerary. What formal means to one cruise line may not pass the gate keeper on another, and these guidelines can even vary for different cruises by the same operator. Transatlantic cruises, which are typically larger ships, also offer casual options for guests who choose to skip the formal attire. If you are traveling on a more upscale cruise line, pack a tuxedo or evening dress. For any type of cruise ship, pack some slacks and a button down or a cocktail dress.

Sightseeing Day Wear

What you physically feel comfortable wearing for a long day of visiting Europe’s most renowned landmarks and what you should ideally wear around Europe are not often the same thing. Flip flops, bulky sneakers, shorts and tank tops and generally anything ill-fitting or in ill-repair are generally not appropriate in Europe under most circumstances. For clothes that are comfortable to travel in, while still destination appropriate, take a cue from European designers. In the early 90s, European designers got on board with the concept of cruise and resort wear, so you can pick up tailored dresses for women and shirts and slacks for men made from lightweight fabrics in the latest European styles.

Evening Wear in Ports

The proper dry land evening attire you require depends largely on your cruise’s stops. For Italy and Greece, go all out with tailored suits and colorful ties for men and tight dresses and four-inch minimum heels topped with substantial jewelry for women. In France, aim for a more clean, sub-dued look. Pair dark-colored slacks with v-neck tops or button-downs for men and aim for tailored sheath dresses for women. Spanish style tends to be more funky and showy, so men can pull out brightly colored or patterned button-down shirts, while women should don asymmetrical cut dresses. Meanwhile, Germany and Austria match the subdued colors of French fashion with some of the funk of Spain and a hefty emphasis on the casual.

Of course, I love the idea of evening gowns for the cruise formal dinners but it sounds like I’d be the only one wearing one.  On another much less dressy travel note, I’m heading to Colorado next week – right here in the United States — and will check back with you at some point on just what to put in the suitcase.  Will my four inch espadrilles take me everywhere?


–River boat photo credit to Tauck Tours, Vineyards and Waterways Tours


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