NOTE: This article was originally posted in March 2020 and has since been completely revised and updated in 2023.
Packing for a cruise can be overwhelming. You don’t want to pack too much, and you certainly don’t want to pack too little. A cruise capsule wardrobe can help with that.
What Is A Capsule Wardrobe?
Generally, a capsule wardrobe is a small collection of clothing in a set color palette that is chosen for its flexibility, for its ability to be easily mixed and matched. For the color palette, you choose two or three neutral colors and a couple of complementary brighter colors, building your wardrobe on that foundation.
For a minimalist capsule wardrobe, you would choose classic pieces of clothing, basics like jeans, slacks, a jean jacket, a nice sweater, a black dress, a white button-up shirt, a blazer, T-shirts, sneakers, flats, heels. Of course, the list changes with the seasons.
A cruise capsule wardrobe can’t be as minimal as a traditional capsule wardrobe because you are limited to the clothing you bring with you onboard, and no one wants to handwash clothes in your bathroom sink if you can help it. Yes, you can send out laundry onboard, but it takes a couple of days to be processed, and it is expensive.
For a minimalist cruise capsule wardrobe, you would choose basics like shorts, slacks, tees and other tops, swimsuits, sundresses, a sweater, a sun hat, sandals, sneakers, and sunglasses.
So, let’s expound on that a bit for a realistic cruise capsule wardrobe.
How To Create Your Own Cruise Capsule Wardrobe
To create a cruise capsule wardrobe, you need to first look at several factors that will determine how many pieces of clothing you will choose, what types of items you will need, the color palette, and the weather in your ports of call. You will also need to consider the culture of where you are visiting.
First up, the parameters of your cruise.
Parameters Of The Cruise
Critical pieces of information you need are the length of your cruise, where it is going, and the time of year you are traveling. How many sea days will you have? How many port days? Are you staying in a hotel before or after the cruise for a day or two, exploring? What is the culture of the area you are traveling to? Will you be taking excursions to churches or other sites that might require you to dress conservatively?
For a cruise capsule wardrobe, you will need to plan for about two outfits a day, one for daytime and one for evening.
Check The Weather
As far out as possible, check the weather for your embarkation port and your ports of call. Then you can start planning your wardrobe. Before you actually pack, though, check the weather again as close as possible to when you leave for your trip. Make any adjustments necessary to what you are packing.
Clothing You Will Need
In general, the basics you will need are tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear, and shoes. Those are what we will focus on for your cruise capsule wardrobe. But you will also need accessories and other necessary items that we will go over later.
Tops: For these, plan on one per day or so of your cruise, then add a few extras. If you are cruising in hot weather, plan for more tops because you may not be able to wear them more than once. So, for a cool-weather cruise that lasts seven days, plan on taking 7 or 8 tops. For a hot-weather cruise that lasts seven days, plan on taking 10 or 11 tops.
For this seven-day cruise, we will look for 10 or so tops that can be dressed up or down.
Bottoms: For these, plan on about half the number of days of your cruise, or a little more. Even more if you are cruising during hot weather.
For this seven-day cruise, about 5 bottoms will do.
Dresses: On a seven-day cruise, you will have one dress-up night, so plan to take a nice dress for that. On a hot-weather cruise, take one or two sundresses as well.
For this seven-day cruise, we will choose one nicer dress and two other dresses.
Outerwear: For a hot-weather cruise, outerwear isn’t really needed, except for maybe a sweater for cool areas on the ship. For a cool-weather cruise, you might need to take sweaters, a jacket, and/or a rain jacket, depending on the weather.
Shoes: Try to keep your shoes to a low number. I do my best to keep mine at below half the number of days of my cruise. So, for a seven-day cruise, I will only take three or four pairs of shoes: a pair of sandals and/or flats, a pair of sneakers, and a dressy pair of shoes.
For this seven-day cruise, we will choose one pair of sneakers, one pair of strappy heels, and a pair of sandals.
Swimsuits: For a cool-weather cruise, you will only need one or two swimsuits and a coverup. For a hot-weather cruise, you will want to bring another swimsuit or two.
For this cruise, we would take three swimsuits and one coverup, but we won’t focus on those for the capsule wardrobe.
Clothing accessories you will want to pack include jewelry, scarves, handbags, hats, and sunglasses.
Jewelry: Jewelry is how you make an outfit your own. Bring a statement necklace or two, plus earrings, and bracelets if you wear them.
Scarves: Scarves only come into play with cool-weather cruises. Bring a couple in nice patterns to enhance your outfits.
Handbags: You will need a small purse with a long strap for onboard, and a crossbody bag or tote when you go ashore.
Hats: A sun hat is a must on many cruise itineraries. Protect your skin!
Sunglasses: Bring along a pair of sunglasses; two if you are on a hot-weather cruise.
Ultimate Cruise Planner
Need a little assistance organizing and planning your cruise? Our Ultimate Cruise Planner can help!
Choosing Your Color Palette
First, choose two or three neutrals such as black, navy, white, cream, or gray. Then choose two complementary colors.
On the color wheel below, complementary colors are either across from each other on the wheel, or they are on three or four points of the triangles or rectangles or square in the center. So, if we wanted a royal blue (which the color wheel calls violet), for instance, we would look across the color wheel and pick lemon yellow. These two colors work extremely well together.
Sometimes, it is easier to just pick one of our favorite patterned pieces of clothing or multi-hured jewelry and pick two of the colors prominent in it.
Creating Your Own Cruise Capsule Wardrobe
Shop Your Closet
Now it is time to go through your closet to see what you can pull together. Since I can’t go through your closet with you, I will shop Amazon’s closet to pull together a wardrobe to show you how I do it.
Let’s pretend we are going to the Caribbean for a seven-day cruise in January. We checked the weather for our ports, and the temperatures are going to be in the eighties every day. The culture in the islands is very casual.
You will want to pull from your closet all the items that are in the color palette you choose, then sort through them for what will work best for this trip.
For our color neutrals, I chose navy and white. For our colors, let’s go with blue and yellow.
For tops, I chose five short-sleeve casual tops, one blouse, and two dressier tops. Three are prints and five are solids, which helps with mixing and matching.
I selected five bottoms: three pairs of shorts and two pairs of long pants.
For dresses, I chose a below-the-knee spaghetti-strap dress, a short tiered dress, and a floral maxi dress.
Keeping shoes to a minimum, we have a pair of casual sandals, a slip-on sneaker, and a chunky heel.
You will need a hat for the sun, of course, as well as sunglasses. Two purses: a wristlet with a long strap for use on the ship, and a tote for excursions and travel. An open jersey cardigan is perfect both for layering while you travel, and for taking to restaurants in case the air-conditioning is chilly.
Outfits You Can Make
You can make dozens of outfits with the clothing chosen; these are just a sampling.
On a seven-day Caribbean cruise, you will probably have three sea days. Here are some ideas for outfits you can wear onboard during the day.
With three days at sea, that means four excursions. Here’s how you can style your outfits for those days ashore. Be sure to wear a hat and take your sunglasses!
On a Caribbean cruise, you may eat at the buffet in the evening, in which case you can wear what you were wearing during the day. However, in the main dining rooms, you will need to up your game a little since you can’t wear shorts. Here are some ideas:
On one night during the cruise, there will be a dress-up night where you will want to look your very best. Photographers are ready to take photos for you, so it’s time to shine. Plus, there may be nights you will want to eat at a specialty restaurant, and you will need to up your game there as well. Here are some ideas.
While you’re traveling, you want to layer because of chilly air-conditioning on the planes. Wearing a slip-on shoe will help you zip through security at the airport.
Other Clothing Needs
Of course, you will also need pajamas, bras, underwear, swimsuits, and a coverup.
Final Thoughts On Creating A Cruise Capsule Wardrobe
And there you have it, how to create your own cruise capsule wardrobe. I hope this post will give you an idea of how to pack efficiently for your next trip.
If you’re interested, I have cruise capsule wardrobes for Alaska, the Baltics, Canada and New England, the Caribbean, the Greek Isles in fall, Japan in fall, the Mediterranean, Mexico, and for men. Also, be sure to check out my post on what to pack in your cruise carry-on.
Planning to book a cruise? We have some tips for you!