How to Pack a Wardrobe Capsule for a Cruise


Hi Imogen,

I love your blog and have been reading it for a quite a while now, I love receiving my emails with your latest posts with tips and tricks.

I have a question which I thought might be interesting on your blog as we come into the Xmas holiday season, it relates to what to pack on a cruise, but may be relevant to people who are holidaying over the silly season!

I am going on a 2 week Xmas cruise at the end of the year and struggling with what to pack. I love your idea of capsule wardrobes and now use it for all my travels but for the cruise I seem to need so many different types of clothes.

Clothes/shoes suitable for sightseeing at our destinations
Clothes for relaxing around the pool/boat
3 outfits + shoes for formal nights
and smart clothes for dinner each evening.

Any advice on where to start would be most appreciated.

What to Pack for a Cruise


Firstly, you will need a couple of ‘evening’ gowns, most cruises do have a night-time dress code that often includes a formal night or two.    Then you may dressier dinners the rest of the time.  For this I’ve chosen to work with two patterned skirts with colours that relate to each other.  I think two ‘formal’ outfits is enough, people remember much less about what you were wearing the other day than you do!

Following up on my post on how to style a patterned skirt 9 ways , which is ideal for travel, you can see that I’ve taken the colours in both the skirts and used them in tops, some more formal, some more casual which can be worn with both skirts to dress up or down, plus the tops can also be worn with the shorts for sightseeing or for the more casual elements of the cruise.

You will need shoes you can walk around the ship in, plus shoes for sightseeing which are comfy. I didn’t include your swimmers, but you’ll need these for the pool!  You may want to take a sarong as a cover up and don’t forget to pack a sun hat!

I’ve included a couple of shrugs in case it’s cool in the evenings, and a dressier shoe that goes with each of the outfits.

This capsule will make you an easy 24 outfits – which is more than enough for a 2 week holiday!

Have you been cruising?  What do you recommend as your essentials?


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  • Great capsule wardrobe! I love how you have used a small palette of colors and have massive variety in the styles of each piece of clothing. A very interesting & versatile wardrobe.

  • I always take a scarf with me and a hat. A bathing costume is important, too. Don’t forget your sunglasses. Have fun! Either you will love or don’t like it. And I love cruises!

  • I always take 2 swimming costumes…that way, you always have a dry one to put on. I also skip the heels and go for a flat shoe for dinner. No one sees them anyway!

  • As a frequent cruiser, let me add that the ship is almost always too cold, and you can’t adjust the temp of your cabin. Be sure to take a jacket just in case. You may also need something warner than a shrug in the dining room. The last cruise we took, which was a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise, I took a nice cropped jacket that could be worn over all of my dresses. There were 2 formal nights on that particular cruise. I wore more casual dresses on the other nights. Many women don’t bother to wear dresses on every night of the cruise, but my DH and I dine in the formal dining room every night because the food is better. If you’re going in there anyway, why not look nice?

  • I come from a background where you never wear heels on a boat or ship. I prefer flat shoes and sandals and a resort look with kaftans and colourful cotton clothes. For the evenings, when a long dress is called for, it can be a long colourful maxi rather than a strictly formal lace or satin dress.
    Some sporty clothes for the mornings, some resort clothes for the rest if the day and dress-up clothes with a tropical or Asian vibe (eg Ikat print) would be my choice. Comfortable, breathable, colourful, holiday things with a cover-up or two for when you’re in air con.

  • While I have never been on a cruise I see a lot of tourists that come from the cruise ships that stop in Progreso and take a day trip to Merida. A lot of these people look like they are headed for a day at the beach instead of going to visit the state capitol. I think a little research before packing may help make better choices. climbing pyramids in flip flops isn’t safe (I’ve seen it attempted at Uxmal).

    I suggest that if you are visiting someplace warm like the Yucatan, bring a hat (or buy one as a souvenir and wear it) and something to cover up, like a loose long sleeve shirt or at least a tee shirt. I’ve seen tourists in skimpy low cut tank tops getting bright pink in places that they probably don’t usually expose to the sun. No one enjoys a sunburn.

    Unless your thighs rub, I think a skirt is much cooler than shorts and looks nicer.

    I really like your capsule wardrobe.


  • Thank you for this article. I am heading off on a transatlantic cruise with a girlfriend at the end of this month – of course it will be winter but will apply the same principles as you have and see what I can come up with.

  • Hi Imogen, Thanks so much for featuring my question. This is a fantastic capsule. I love the colour & interest in the outfits. I will definitely take 2 formal dresses and heels of the formal nights, we will be travelling over Xmas/New Year and I love a chance to really dress up. My husband is packing his tux so why not? I love the idea of the mix and match skirt and tops for dinners on the other night and then also been able to use the tops with the shorts. Thanks, this has helped me immensley.

  • Just searched for cruise, and found this articlle.
    I have to cover up scars on my lower leg – so wondered if trousers can be worn for a formal dinner, or are maxi skirt or dress the only option ? Any suggestions please. Obviously I would concentrate on dressing my portrait area to deflect from my legs.

  • Imogen-I’m going on my first cruise with the family (4 kids under age 15). We’ve never cruised before and I’m wanting some advice on how to pack all the formal wear? My 15 year old and I probably can both wear something more formal and then the dresses for each night of dining…I have 3 girls!! I just don’t know how I’m going to get all of that dressy stuff into our suitcases! My little girls don’t have the ability to have mix and match except for their excursion and “ship-wear” so I’m just trying to figure out the best way to carry it all. AND, my son, poor guy doesn’t own a nice jacket. As a 12 year old, could he make it in a nice shirt and tie? Thanks for all your help! I’m a little worried…

    • I’d be trying to pack capsules wardrobes for them each. And then think about “formal wear” capsules for those dressy nights (no reason why you can’t wear the same thing more than once, or a variation of it). I believe cruises are formal (but not super formal) much of the time from clients who have told me their experiences. I wouldn’t think the kids would have to be quite so formal. Yes I’m sure just a collared shirt and tie would be fine for a 12 year old boy.

  • Since this thread has staying power, I would add that cruise formal ranges from what might be called “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes to full on formal, but the trend has been to less dressy than a cocktail dress. Honestly, a top with sparkles or shimmer, and palazzo pants is more dressy than some wear. If you’d wear it to a holiday party, it’s probably dressier than most so that’s a good guide.

    Please skip the higher heels — although some women wear them — because formal nights are almost always on sea days and you are on a moving ship! Wedge or kitten heels are fine, as are flats. I sometimes wear metallic flats on formal night.

    Men can get away with shirt and tie on the more casual cruise lines, and even a sports jacket on the mid-level. I don’t know about Cunard etc. Check with the cruise lines or even as some ships no longer even have formal night but suggest you can dress up if you like!

  • Another thought I had after posting that: please, please do NOT bring “formal” wear that has glitter glued to it. Every formal night you will find little piles of glitter in the ladies’ rooms. You will also find glitter in everything else in your cabin and suitcase. (this is the voice of experience!)

  • Having been on quite a few cruises now, wearing a pair of trousers is fine for formal night. I have a black pair that I wear with a fancy top, or a plain top with a standout piece of jewellery. Lots of women prefer trousers over dresses & you can wear them at other times with other tops

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