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Cruise Control: Men's Resort Wear

Today's resort wear combines old world decorum with the ease of the modern age
Kimberly Cihlar
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

Living in a time when travelers climb aboard jumbo jets in slouchy sweatsuits and gaudy sneakers without compunction, it's hard not to yearn for the elegance of the age of the great ocean liners. Once upon a time, well-heeled passengers scrupulously wore the right clothes for the right occasion.

Whether it was a breezy linen suit for deck strolling, jaunty white ducks and tennis sweater for shuffleboard, or impeccable evening clothes in which to go down with the ship, Titanic-era cruise goers could be counted on to be turned out right.  

The trouble is such elegance entails steamer trunks full of garments, closet room enough in the cabin for whole wardrobes, and a valet to keep it all straight. Well, spare the icebergs and pass the tanning butter--refined dress is resurfacing on its own terms in cruise wear.  

Today's poshest ocean liners may be scaled-down versions of their nineteenth-century cousins, but the desire to travel with decorum remains. What's different is ours is an age of ease and convenience. The challenge is to reconcile the two concepts while looking right for that cocktail party harborside, formal meal in the captain's dining room and casual dance topside.  

During the steamer ship heyday, a man's valet packed him a formal suit (tuxedo or tails), a white linen or cotton vested suit (which tended to be quite crisp and rather uncomfortable during warm weather) and knee-length jersey swim shorts to be worn with a modest tank or T-shirt. As vacations and dress codes became less formal, the Palm Beach jacket, in vibrant pastel raw silk or linen, or the navy sailing blazer worn with white trousers, a polo shirt and perhaps an ascot became a more modern (and quite sensible) approach to cruise dressing. But that was before the erosion of formality became absurd.  

In today's return to elegance, the goal is to travel light, but come prepared for all options, according to John Fowler, vice president men's/fashion director for Federated Department Stores. "There are basically three things to take with you to wear: something you can dress up in; something casual for beach cocktails and dinner; and something functional for active sports, whether it's snorkeling, golf, climbing or the gym."  

Whether the destination is a European city after an Atlantic cruise or a series of Caribbean ports during an island-hopping jaunt, you'll need the clothes that make the man. Calvin Klein, noting that men today are traveling more than ever, points out that a pre-spring designer collection is "our chance to give them new options, a few great items they can take along." His crucial advice to buying? "Whatever it is, it has to travel well. It should be packable, light and versatile enough to be worn in different ways, like a cotton twill jacket that looks as great with jeans and a T-shirt as it does with matching pants. The point is, you can't bring everything with you, so it's really about choosing a few pieces that can adapt easily to different situations. These clothes become a preview of what will be happening for spring, so the pieces and the colors eventually ease right into the next season."  

Helping meet that end are a slew of modern textiles that achieve the feel of natural fabrics without the attendant heaviness, while adding other travel-friendly qualities. Microfibers provide a subtle and soft hand and give the nomadic wearer the added benefit of a wrinkle-resistant garment that has a great deal of wickability. They also stand up to the weather well, as moisture beads up on the surface. Another direction is in natural fibers blended with Lycra to add stretch and make garments more practical for the active pursuits of vacationers. On a more elegant front, there are the Super fabrics, which afford softness and a weight that is almost seasonless, allowing the wearer to bridge the gap from the cruise to the office with ease.  

Tom Julian, a trend analyst working within the world of men's and women's fashion, says, "I want to go with the right bag, the right clothes, but great, modern clothes that are in silk blends, or with stretch or in technologically advanced fabrics. And things that will become basics within the structure of the rest of my wardrobe."   Dressing modern doesn't necessarily mean dressing down.

Formal attire is a highly recommended and even required part of today's cruise wear. Djordje Stefanovic, fashion director of Ermenegildo Zegna, reflects that "the elegant world of those who would be taking these cruises was the first world to get the freedom to dress down. Now that everyone else is [doing] that, in an almost snobbish way we're coming back to dressing up. It's the hedonistic side of looking into the mirror and seeing that you're dressed up and you look great."  

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