The History of the Cruise Collection

Ready-to-wear fashions for ready-to-go cruisers.


In the early days of cruising, people who went on ocean voyages filled their Louis Vuitton steamer trunks with finery. When dining at the captain’s table, the women wore gowns, diamonds, and furs; the men were decked out in bow ties and tuxes. During daytime hours, cruise guests opted for their version of dressing down. The women changed into everyday dresses, and the men settled into vested suits. Things today are not quite so formal—“resort casual” is considered appropriate shipboard attire. Just don’t wear jeans or a bathing suit in the dining room, thank you.

The so-called cruise collection is equally acceptable on land and at sea. The style, which came into fashion early in the 20th century when women were liberated from corsets, was originally designed for those who had money and time enough to winter in the warm-weather climes. Private train cars and select ships swiftly whisked the well-dressed well-to-do away to the likes of Antibes, Saint-Tropez, and Monte Carlo.

The trend to casual wear was a long time coming. But after fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced culottes in 1931, the days of the long gown were as doomed as the dodo bird.

It was around this same time that Katherine Hepburn turned the tables on Hollywood by wearing slacks on the screen. Kate’s feisty fashion was the talk of Tinseltown. Despite her unconventional behavior, she prevailed, and soon a whole generation of women marched, in pants, to the drum of their inner tomboy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, air travel made great inroads and everyone seemed to be up in the air. Even Americans who were staying at home barbecuing in the backyard by the swimming pool had reason to dress cool in this new category called casual clothes.

By the 1980s, when many women were traveling for business and kicking at the glass ceiling with their high heels, the pinstriped office dress code started to be relaxed. Causal Fridays, more often than not, became dress-down Mondays through Fridays during the 1990s.

Then the Silicon Valley upstarts pushed the sartorial envelope, ushering in an era of sneakers, shorts, and baseball caps that were worn both during the week and on the weekend shifts.

Today, whether called resort wear, cruise collection, or holiday collection, the trend refers to the preseason lines of ready-to-wear women’s clothing that major brands tout. Easy to wear and pack, resort wear, which appears in stores in early November is typically made of lightweight fabrics like cotton, silk, and poplin. Its bold, bright patterns are meant to provide a respite from the winter blues.

And the informal look is no longer only for the once-a-year vacation: We are a generation of year-round travelers. On any given day in every season, the casual styles—Hawaiian shirts, shorts, large straw hats, polo shirts, khakis, sunglasses, and open-toed shoes or sandals—are in evidence all over the globe. Although most cruise collections are geared toward women, more men are taking the brands along on vacation, too.

The rich heritage of resort wear is reflected in the following iconic brands; the clothing designs span the years from the 1910s to the present.

CocoDoing It Coco’s Way

Coco Chanel, who opened shop in 1913 in Paris a year before the Great War forever changed what women wore, was the first champion of practical sportswear. She didn’t have much money, and as it turned out, it was a good thing she couldn’t afford satins and silks. She chose to work with jersey, which was usually used to make men’s underwear. The casual fabric was well-suited to her draped designs, some of which were inspired by World War I uniforms.

Her famous little black dress, which debuted in the 1920s, was another revolutionary move toward resort wear. It was suitable for day and evening wear at a time when women dressed differently for every little and large event, frequently changing outfits several times a day.

Chanel closed her boutique at the beginning of World War II but made a comeback in 1953. After her death in 1971, the House of Chanel continued, and her signature interlocked CCs have remained chic classics.

LillyLilly Pulitzer: The Lady of the Loud Print

Lilly Pulitzer, whose preppy, perky prints have been perennials on the resort scene since the 1960s, created her unique designs when she was working at an orange-juice stand in Palm Beach. The juice from the fruit was ruining her solid pastel clothes, so she made a colorful cotton sleeveless shift to camouflage the squeezing stains. Pretty soon, customers were buying more dresses than juice, so, in 1959, she founded her company.

The brand really took off in the 1960s, when then-First Lady Jackie Kennedy and little Caroline Kennedy were spotted in the outfits. Soon women from some of America’s finest families—including the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and the Whitneys—were appearing in Pulitzer’s dresses.

Although the designer closed the company when she retired in 1984, the brand was revived in 1993. Now in addition to women’s casual collections, it sells men’s and children’s clothing.

RalphRalph Lauren Takes the Playing Field

Ralph Lauren may have started out selling wide, flamboyant handmade ties, but it is the polo shirt that remains the emblem of the good life his brand espouses. Introduced in 1972, the textured-knit shirt with the pony-player logo became an instant classic, creating a look that made women and men look smart.
The brand’s first womens-wear collections, which debuted in the 1970s, fit men’s tailoring to the female form. Through the years, the man who clothed the male cast of The Great Gatsby added Oxford button-down shirts, chinos, tweed jackets, and denim and chambray shirts, creating an all-American look that remains in style because of its timeless quality and utility.

TommyTommy Bahama: The Name Says It All

It was Tommy Bahama, founded in Seattle in 1992 by Tony Margolis, Bob Emfield, and clothing designer Lucio Dalla Gasperina, that combined the Hawaiian silk shirt and tailored pants to become the late-20th century’s leisure suit. Margolis and Emfield got the island-lifestyle idea while vacationing on Florida’s Gulf Coast. They wondered what it would be like to shuck their suits and ties, and created a fictional character, Tommy Bahama, to promote their beach-bum-and-sun vision. Bought by Oxford Industries in 2003, the brand sells men’s and women’s clothing as well as everything from furniture to candles to electric bikes. As for Tommy Bahama, well, he’s still trotting the globe in his Hawaiian shirt.

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