Cruise Fashion Unpacked: The Ultimate Guide for What to Wear on Your Next Sailing

From swimsuits to sweaters, dresses to denim, here’s how to pack fun, comfortable, and practical pieces from brands that promote ethical and sustainable fashion.

Colorful collage of clothing and accessories, including orange jacket and biue swimsuits

When it comes to cruise fashion, keep it fun and functional with these key pieces.

Illustration by Ellie See

One of the best things about cruising is only having to unpack your bag once during a vacation that lets you visit multiple destinations over the course of a few days, a week, or even longer.

That said, figuring out everything you need to pack for a cruise itinerary that might include themed nights, beachy days, city jaunts, and shore excursions everywhere from vineyards to jungles can be daunting.

We don’t need to tell you to wear your straw hat (Vitamin A’s Cannes Straw Bucket Hat, perhaps?) or fedora on the plane to preserve its shape. But it helps to know a few key pieces to pack for your next cruise to make sure your wardrobe goes the distance while you’re sailing the high seas—from poolside lounging and beach time by day to shows and specialty dining come night.

Blonde model wearing sunglasses and a black jersey tank dress

Reformation’s Rou Knit Dress will easily take you from sunrise to sunset.

Courtesy of Reformation

The best cruise dresses

The ultimate cruise vibe can be defined by fun, flowy designs and outfits that can easily transition from the pool or beach to lunch and the cocktail lounge later.

Among the dresses to consider is Reformation’s cult midi-length Rou Knit Dress, which does triple duty—it can be tossed over a bikini or one-piece aprés-swim, belted with sandals for traipsing around a port town, or paired with heels and sparkly earrings for a dressed-up dinner look back on the ship.

Woman wearing a pink and orange floral print maxi dress

Bring a pop of color to your cruise outings in this Toad & Co Crusher Maxi Dress.

Courtesy of Toad & Co

Leylo’s Color Block Cut Out Maxi Dress comes in sun-kissed colors you can opt to tone down with flip-flops and a jean jacket (try Good American’s Fitted Light Compression Denim Jacket for a flattering look), or glam it up with strappy sandals for a slightly more formal night. The Crusher Maxi Dress from Toad & Co is nearly impossible to get wrinkly in addition to being breezy and quick-drying for poolside or town (ditto for the Crusher Sleeveless Romper if you want less material to contend with).

The best cruise pants, shorts, tops, sweaters, and outerwear

Made from 100 percent linen, Athleta’s Retreat Wide Leg Linen Pant for women goes as well with a simple tank top as a gauzy button-up shirt, like this one from Encircled made from organic cotton.

For men, Marine Layer’s Saturday Stretch Beach Pant offers a more structured onboard look with a similar drawstring waist. Check out the brand’s Garment Dye Crew Sweaters, too, for a look to dress up or down.

Woman wearing beige linen pants and jacket from Athleta

Embrace the resort-casual vibe on the ship with these comfortable yet chic Athleta linen pants.

Courtesy of Athleta

You’ll never go wrong with a nautical-inspired sweater in port or at sea. Long Wharf Supply Co. crafts the gorgeous ones in its SeaWell collection using recycled materials such as water bottles and oyster shells blended with cotton and natural lambswool. The Sconset and Edgarton SeaWell Quarter Zip look particularly apropos with a backdrop of flowing seas.

Blue and white striped Long Wharf Supply sweater

Are you even on a cruise if you’re not wearing nautical stripes? Do so in style with Long Wharf Supply ethically made sweaters.

Courtesy of Long Wharf Supply

It’s definitely a good idea to pack a rain jacket or shell for inclement weather while cruising or on shore. Made from recycled polyester, Fjällräven’s Bergtagen Lite Eco Shell Jacket, in men’s and women’s versions, packs down super light and is a worthy outerwear investment you’ll use for many years and in different destinations.

For basic T-shirts, it might sound counter-intuitive, but high0quality merino wool is moisture-wicking and packs down light in addition to being odor resistant. Ibex’s Paradox Tee, available in men’s and women’s versions, is a good choice in several color options and pairs easily with flowy bottoms like Tentree’s lightweight Linen Offshore Shorts or the Certified B Corp brand’s stretch joggers for men, made from recycled water bottles.

A pair of tan woven huarache shoes

Nisolo’s woven huarache sandals come in numerous neutral shades that make them easy to mix and match with cruise outfits.

Courtesy of Nisolo

Best shoes for cruises

For footwear on a cruise, keep it simple and lightweight with a pair of leather flip-flops or loafers from OluKai, dressier sandals like Nisolo’s adorable huaraches made from handwoven leather, or a pair of strappy Les Tropeziennes sandals that conjure French Riviera summers.

Water shoes that can double as sneakers for exploring are a great choice to have along, too, like Aqua X Sport from Zero Shoes, which don’t use foam in the midsole for a lower environmental impact and dry out in a hurry.

 Summersalt's Sidestroke one-piece swimsuit and single strap suit with diagonal stripes in pink, red, and white

Opt for a swimsuit with just the right amount of flare, aka Summersalt’s Sidestroke.

Courtesy of Summersalt

Best swimwear for cruises

Sustainable swimwear brands to have on your radar include Summersalt (the Today Show recently dubbed the brand’s Sidestroke swimsuit, with compression properties, the “unicorn of swimsuits”). Australian brand Bondi Born has elegant separates you can mix and match that run the coverage range. And for men, Fair Harbor makes trunks that can scream “I’m on a boat!” (check out the Ozone) while also giving yacht club vibes (see the nautical stripe Anchor).

The best luggage, handbags, and accessories for cruises

Tote-Ally tote bag in navy blue with green, white, and purple vertical stripes

You’ll want a carryall like this versatile Tote-Ally bag from Bagging Rights for bopping around both on and off the ship.

Courtesy of Bagging Rights

A cruise can feel a lot like a floating resort, with onboard amenities that might include multiple swimming pools, water parks, spas, and fine dining restaurants, depending on the cruise line you choose. Approach packing for a cruise in a similar way you do a resort vacation on land, minimizing components while maximizing options.

Keep in mind that cruise ship cabins tend to be far less roomy than hotel rooms. A small carry-on bag that fits easily under your bed or in your cabin’s cozy closest, like Australian brand July’s Carry On Light (dubbed the world’s lightest double-wheeled suitcase, at just 3.9 pounds), is a perfect packing companion for a short cruise to a warm destination, with mesh partitions that provide compression and let you pack more into a tidy package.

For longer trips with more variable weather where you want more options, consider Paravel’s Aviator Set Plus, made from recycled materials and vegan leather and in carry-on and checked sizes. (The set is a great option for family travel—use the carry-on for smaller items you can’t live without from the get-go, like bathing suits for heading straight to the pool, and let the cruise line deliver the larger bag to your room after check-in.)

Close-up of woman wearing sunglasses

Shade your eyes from those bright rays bouncing off the water with Costa Del Mar polarized sunglasses.

Courtesy of Costa Del Mar

A day bag is clutch on a cruise, too, whether you’re toting books and baby snacks for a few hours poolside or hopping ship for a shore excursion for the day. There’s plenty of room to bring souvenirs back inside the gorgeous and durable canvas Tote-Ally bags by women-founded Florida brand Bagging Rights. The larger interior easily fits rolled up towels and a change of clothes and there are lots of pockets to stash things like reef-safe sunscreen (Surf Durt makes a great zinc option in a reusable bamboo container), polarized sunglasses (you can’t go wrong with Costa Del Mar’s Waterwomans), lip balm, and more shore-side musts.

Terry Ward is a Florida-based travel writer whose work appears in CNN, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and the Washington Post, among many other outlets.
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