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EST. May 2000 (AD)




Cruise Couture

By Jessica Becht

A generation or two ago, crossing the Atlantic aboard a palatial ocean liner was a luxury reserved for the moneyed class. In our time, however, stigma-free second mortgages have democratized the travel industry. Leisurely ocean voyages are no longer the especial preserve of the elite. Yet, the fabled glamour of yesteryear too often intimidates the modern traveler. Miss Middle America may even pass up a yearned for world tour, fearing her tatty wardrobe might provoke a sound snubbing from apocryphal snobs Mrs. Moneybags and Sir Spendalot.

Like any sophisticate, the typical American miss has sniveled over Titanic and slumped in a catatonic slaver before umpteen re-runs

of The Love Boat. Bemused, she dithers over whether to stuff her steamer trunks with Edwardian corsets or alluring polyester gowns? In truth, both options are passé and an unassuming new aesthetic prevails. The motto of today's modish traveler is Careless Comfort.

So, gird your loins with fanny packs and prepare to set sail! The following fundamentals will swathe you in an aura of slapdash glamour to rival any seven seas Siren.

Traditionally, the pinnacle of your shipboard wardrobe would be a formal evening ensemble. Clad in finery, old-fashioned cruisers commemorated the final night of their journey with a Captain's Dinner. Before fretting that Wal-Mart lacks an evening gown department, remember that the concept of formality has grown slack as a beer-swiller's belly in recent years. While "white tie" once decreed tiaras and tailcoats, nowadays such dictums may be flouted in favor of barefaced sloth. No need to invest in a fuddy-duddy gown when your trusty sweats can be gussied up with a Be-Dazzler and some subtle alterations to the neckline. Such expansive attire will accommodate your dessert bar dabblings, and prove practical for after-dinner dancing, when you can look forward to a rousing conga line rather than executing dull, outdated tangos and fox trots.

Shipboard bathing in the solarium is another essential cruise activity. Decades ago, a lady would don an elaborate bathing costume before permitting a single pedicured toe to peep over the threshold of her suite. Only after careful accessorizing, encompassing sandals to bathing cap, was she set for a demure dip. Such complicated rituals have thankfully evanesced. A contemporary bathing beauty requires only a simple string bikini. This universal item flatters all figure types, showcasing both the ribs of the gaunt and the swells of the corpulent with equal zeal.

Though you may sunbathe by day, evenings at sea are often chill. A lady of yore might have snuggled in mink during that tipsy moonlit stroll with the brilliantined fortune hunter her parents always warned about. As he inclined to whisper saccharine nullities, her paramour would have estimated a crude net worth by the heirlooms glittering against her lobes. "A bit out of my league", you sniff, resigning yourself to another vacation spent sipping expired beer in your basement. Such wretchedness is uncalled for. By feigning a charming laxity regarding credit card receipts, you too can lure a calculating adventurer. Only a little ingenuity is required to mimic the look of a plutocrat. Unscrew a few light bulbs before flaunting your gumball-machine bargains with aplomb. And as a modern bombshell of limited means, you might try fashioning the de rigueur furs from hapless yet striking roadkill.

In bygone days, the leisured set went in for a snappy bumper of bridge by evening, affording well-dressed ladies occasion to display elegant décolleté gowns. As only the most antique citizens can still distinguish a trick from a trump suit, cruise directors promote alternate entertainments. Swap the décolleté gown for a halter-top, and try your luck at another game of skill, such as video poker.

Barring a severe bout of dysentery, you will not spend your entire voyage afloat. Don't neglect to pack several pairs of abbreviated shorts. Ladies of yesteryear toured world capitals in sedate linen dresses, but such priggish frumpery hardly presents Americans as the carefree, egalitarian, and sensuous people the viewers of dubbed Baywatch episodes have come to expect. A capacious handbag will help carry ashore the essential passport, camera, guidebook, toilet paper, and carton of cigarettes.

So Miss Middle America, the next time Duchesse Cruise Lines crams your mailbox with unsolicited advertorials extolling the splendors of an Axis of Evil world tour, don't let your unsightly wardrobe keep you at home. The seaweedy depths of your laundry basket should yield duds suitable for a most memorable cruising experience.





© 2005 Jessica Becht


Jessica Becht is currently sweltering in the state of Florida, where she has become quite intimate with election fiascos, hurricanes, and fire ants. When not shielding her alabaster complexion from the sun's brutal rays, she can be found strolling her baby about the neighborhood while silently mocking pink flamingo enthusiasts.

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