Bow ties and ballgowns: 5 reasons I always dress up on cruise ship formal nights

Jun 27, 2022

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To dress up or not to dress up? Bring up the topic of cruise line formal nights, and you’re likely to find passengers polarized by dinner attire.

Most of the time, whether at home or on board, you’ll find me makeup-less and wearing comfy clothes like leggings or jeans. But, when it comes to formal nights, I’m an eager participant: hair styled, a full face of makeup and several pounds of taffeta, lace, glitter and jewelry.

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I know a number of you will argue that I’m being ridiculous, and that’s OK. To each their own. Your jeans don’t add to or take a thing away from my big, poofy dress, so I say wear what you like. But, with that in mind, here’s my ode to overdone: five reasons why I always dress up on cruise ship formal nights.

I like mixing things up

I bought a new “just because” ball gown on super sale in 2020, thanks to all the canceled proms. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

For me, dressing up is a departure from the mundane. It’s a chance to do something I don’t normally do in honor of something special: traveling. I suspect that if, for some reason, I wore fancy clothes every day, I’d be just as eager to pull on sweatpants given the opportunity.

Quite simply, when else do I have the opportunity to look — and feel — like a queen?

It’s a cruise tradition

Cruising is a vacation style steeped in the traditions that set it apart and make it something special. Whether it’s bingo, buffets or ballgowns, some things are just synonymous with at-sea getaways.

It’s also about respect for rules. I enjoy eating in the main dining room, and most main dining rooms maintain a more upscale dress code on formal nights. If I want to eat there, I know what’s required of me, and I’m OK with it.

It forces self-awareness

It might sound odd, but at a time when interactions have become so casual, dressing up helps me to be more mindful of things that I like to work on.

I find that I’m generally more polite, my posture is better, and I’m more careful about how I eat and walk (heels are no joke) when I look the part. In turn, that leads me to feel pretty darn great about myself.

I enjoy the process

I find that dressing up puts me in a better mood and keeps me more mindful of my posture and manners. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

For me, there’s something simultaneously relaxing and exciting about the process of getting ready for a special event, and formal nights are no exception.

I plan my evenings around the prep, whether it’s styling my hair, applying my makeup or picking out the perfect pair of earrings. Having my nails done for formal night also gives me a great reason to visit the spa, as I can justify the purchase as one of necessity, rather than frivolity.

I don’t want to take the opportunity for granted

Although I’ve always been an active and willing participant in formal evenings when I sail, the COVID-19 pandemic gave a whole new meaning to “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

Even before the world shut down, I had no consistent reason to dress up, other than cruising. When voyages ceased for more than a year and I was no longer going into an office for work, I had no cause to wear anything other than loungewear. The lines between pajamas and actual clothes were so blurred that I was afraid I’d forget how to go out in public again.

It made me miss simple things such as putting on lipstick so much that, when my local shopping mall reopened in the summer of 2020, I scooped up an iridescent, glittery gown for a steal, thanks to 2020’s high school proms that never were.

For a year, it hung in my closet, taking up space as a physical symbol of my hope that cruises would be back soon. It gave me something to look forward to, and it has become my go-to getup for formal nights since sailings have resumed. It remains a constant reminder that I should dress up every chance I get.

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Featured photo by ER Productions Limited/Getty Images.

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