Is your casual ‘smart’? Cruise ship attire…take 2

There isn’t a cruise travel web site or discussion board that isn’t full of questions from first-time cruisers (and even more seasoned cruisers trying out a new cruise line) that doesn’t have a slew of questions about the appropriate things to wear on board.  And we say, “Bravo!” to everyone who cares –because we’re here to tell you that not everyone does! Our April cruise taught us that lesson.  Yikes!

The last time we took on the subject of the dizzying array of sartorial monikers in our discussion of dressing for dinner on board cruise ships, we reviewed some of the definitions of the various levels of dress expected (permitted?).

Art shows off his casual attire for going ashore in Monte Carlo – an onboard ‘smart casual’ evening look!

It’s fairly easy to figure out what to wear during the day because you really need to dress for your location and the weather.  If you’re in the Caribbean you’ll be more casual than if you’re visiting Rome, for example, on a Mediterranean cruise.  And you’re unlikely to wear a bathing suit on deck if your cruise is leaving from Reykjavik.  The most confusion is within the evening “casual” dress codes because day-time casual won’t cut it.  So, we thought we’d provide a bit of sartorial guidance – based on our ever-present agenda of generally improving the dress and behavior of tourists everywhere (Do we need to say it one more time?  White sneakers are for the gym.  Do you know what an embarrassment you are for your countrymen?  You know who you are.)

 What the heck is ‘smart casual’?

Could the cruise lines have chosen a more oxymoronic way to describe what kind of ambience they’re trying to create in the evenings?  There is usually nothing whatsoever ‘smart’ about casual.  What’s important to understand here is the objective: when a cruise line says smart casual for evening, they’re trying to have a laid-back vibe that doesn’t encompass what you’d wear on Saturday afternoon at home on the couch quaffing a beer and watching the game.  There should be more emphasis on the ‘smart’ part than the ‘casual’ part.  Step it up a bit, people.

Although the cruise lines try to define what they mean, we think people need pictures and a list of what not to wear (with apologies to Stacey and Clinton from the TLC television show of the same name).  Here are the things you should not wear on smart casual night:

There is nothing smart about this casual!
  1. Flip-flops.  How many times does it need to be said?  Flip-flops are not real footwear.
  2. Ripped jeans. On the cruise lines we prefer, jeans are not permitted in the dining room in the evening ever, even without rips. Just leave them for the day time please.
  3. T-shirts without collars.  These are for the daytime. The very least you can do is pack a golf shirt with a collar.
  4. Shorts, unless you’re a model and the shorts are Bermuda length.
  5. Bare stomachs.  We just put that one in because we think bare stomachs should be relegated to the beach and the pool – and even then only if you actually look good in that kind of beach wear.
  6. Pedal pushers.  This is the odd length of female trouser that flatters no one.  If you wear a slightly high heel, you can get away with a cropped, narrow pant.  That can look modern, but if you’re in doubt, wear either a casual skirt or a pair of full-length pants.

Then what’s ‘elegant’ casual?

Some of the luxury cruise lines have a dress category that they like to call elegant casual.  We like the sound of that, and although they do have a definition, most people on board the six-star lines have no need of explanation.  This is what they’d wear out to a casual dinner at home.  It’s a step up from the smart casual look, and just makes the ambience of the evening that much nicer without having to get dressed up as in the more formal evenings.

Our pictorial guide…

Smart casual on Regent. Art could lose the jacket for smart casual on a line like Celebrity.
Smart casual for women.
A smart casual look for women.
Elegant casual on board Regent.
Elegant casual – sometimes there’s little difference between smart and elegant casual.

The discerning shopper: The fun of consignment & vintage shopping on vacation

We had a wonderful shopping experience at Recycled Rags during a recent trip to Corona del Mar, California

It’s finally here!  The first day of spring, not a cloud in the sky and we’re dreaming of spring cleaning – cleaning out the closets, that is.  And thinking about that reminds us of the fun we’ve had searching out the best consignment shops in various places throughout the world, most recently in California.  It’s true that thoughts of shopping leave some travelers cold; but for us, we prefer to leave our shopping to vacation time – all the better to work hard, avoid the shops while at home, and spend hard-earned money on travel.

The fun of shopping on vacation lies not in the actual shopping itself (although occasionally we have what we refer to in our family as a real “shopping experience” wherein the excitement of the find is almost too much to bear); rather the fun is in the search for the shops themselves, searches that often take us to parts of cities that we might not otherwise visit.  Those searches have often resulted in great city walks and serendipitous discoveries of fabulous restaurants.  .

First, a bit of background:  We are decidedly not antique people, and would not go around the corner for a dusty piece of old furniture (apologies to antique aficionados among our readers – but that just leaves more great stuff for you).  We would, however, venture into shops that carry vintage clothing to poke about looking for a ‘find.’  Not necessarily what you would term a bargain.  Sadly perhaps, we are not bargain shoppers.  We look for value and a true experience.  A discerning shopper knows that a bargain is often not truly ‘a find.’   Webster’s dictionary defines a bargain as “an article bought or offered at a price favorable to the buyer…”  Well, a bargain is not good enough for it to be ‘a find’ in our view.  The price has to be what we are willing to pay for the feeling, the experience, the emotion that the piece evokes.  If it’s also a bargain, then so much the better.

Three recent experiences serve to illustrate the experience that can be had with just a little bit of planning.

We happened upon Caprice by accident the first time, but have returned several times since.

Our first real vintage find came in Nice, France.   Just as you might expect, Vieux Nice [Old Nice] is home to a variety of interesting and off-beat shopping that includes vintage clothing and antiques.  We happened upon this particular find as we wandered through the labyrinth of narrow streets that are now more often home to tacky tourist shops filled with snow globes and cheap T-shirts.  However, this is France we’re talking about, and some of the streets are lined with quirky artists’ studios and galleries, scrumptious bakeries and wonderful shops that sell vintage clothing and handbags.  This little one beckoned.

Located at 12, rue droite, Caprice had a welcoming vibe, in spite of its apparently chaotic displays.  Don’t be fooled.  There are some very real finds in this little store and the shop girls know where everything is – and often their provenance. .

As Patty made her way down the steep, narrow stairway to the basement level, Art found himself contemplating a red leather jacket he saw hanging over the stairwell.  He asked the clerk if he could have a closer look at the item.  She was more than willing to oblige, and brought the jacket to him.  It turned out that it was an original Christian Dior from the mid-1970’s in the style of a blazer – soft red leather piped with white, a design that never goes out of style.  But would it fit?  There was only one way to find out.

Art beckoned Patty to return to the main floor to don the jacket.  It fit as if it had been made for her.  We were able to get a slight reduction in price for paying cash.  Fortunately, we were carrying a bit of a wad of Euros!  But, we were hooked on the idea of doing a bit of vintage and/or consignment shopping.

Sure, you need to see all the landmarks - but the addition of some consignment shopping can add another fun dimension to your travel. Washington D.C. is more than monuments!

In Washington D.C last year, we made it a point to research the consignment shops before leaving home.  After all, we reasoned, what better place could there be to find clothing that might have been worn only once or twice to a diplomatic ball or cocktail party? We had our map and were easily able to find Secondi on the second floor of a building in DuPont Circle.  If you’re in the market for some real upscale design pieces, this is the place.  We came out with a mint-condition Dior handbag and a great story to tell.

And just last month, on a day trip along the tony coast south of Los Angeles, we researched the consignment shops in Corona del Mar.  We visited several, but our favorite was Recycled Rags.  What a fabulous place.  Crammed with well-displayed and only slightly pre-loved clothing, the store is a treasure trove of labels and ‘finds.’  The shop staff was friendly and knowledgeable, chatting away while working feverishly to help.

With our 23-year-old son in tow, we were obviously hoping to find a place that also carries men’s clothing – and this one does (although Ian who loves nothing more than to browse the consignment shops especially in London, didn’t find anything in his size).  We also shy away from pre-loved shoes; however, we pounced on several pairs of Tod’s women’s shoes that looked as if they must have been someone’s grand mistake.  If they had ever been worn, it must have been only while the wearer was sitting or lying down.  They were in new condition.  And they fit!  We happened upon another Dior bag (this time a little one) and happily exited the store with our finds.  These Tod’s shoes that retail for over $400.00 were around $130.00.  Heaven!  And a terrific afternoon’s experience.

The Discerning Travelers’ Tips for Happy Consignment Shopping on Vacation

  • Do your homework.  Part of the fun of traveling in general is preparing and dreaming about what’s to come.  In the case of consignment shopping, the web is your best friend.
  • Find the names of shops in the general area where you want to visit and scour their web sites.
  • Read some reviews.  What are people saying about the shops?  What kinds of merchandise do they carry?  Which ones resonate with you?
  • Map the location and incorporate some of the other attractions you’d like to see along the way so that you can put it on a walking tour.
  • Keep your expectations low.  That way you’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised.
  • When you get there, take your time and think of it as a museum experience.
  • If you’re looking for pieces of clothing, remember that if the piece is actually older than the last couple of years, the sizing was different.  In any case, try everything on!

Here are a few more tips from a professional shopping consultant:  Five Tips for Shopping at Consignment Stores.