And There Will Be Unicorns and Sparkles and Ice Cream Sundaes

There will be ice cream sundaes, actually.

Samosas plated, tamarind chutney warmed up (thank you, Mike), and Big Love's finale about to roll, we continue the prattle of anticipation about the next cruise.

Normally typing during Big Love would be absurd, but let's face it: Bill Hendrickson may have lost my vote. Implausible, jumpy plot lines and a now unlikeable lead this season has pushed me a step back from one of the most interesting shows of recent years. (Please don't even mention the newey gooey intro.) Still, the premise is so good, and the wives are still fun, so we'll see. We all have our offsies.

(Ooo! Bill gave them money to buy dresses at Dillard's and someone was burned alive! Nice!)

Speaking of dress shopping, until a few days ago I could have honestly said the last dress I bought was at Dillard's. Such were the student teaching days. Those dresses, business casual if you're feeling generous, are folded in boxes somewhere, waiting for me to take up quilting. Which, to continue from the last post, brings us to...

Elegant Night.

We didn't do Elegant Night on the first cruise. Castoff bridesmaid dresses? Straitjackets? Three-night cruise? What? The second time we knew more... and knew enough to say, nah, rather not shop or bring extra luggage. No one here eats lobster anyway.

But after that, and especially after seeing the variety of outfits (nothing decidedly casual like shorts, like some people complain about, but just a range from business casual to tuxedos) that make up "Elegant (Not Formal Anymore) Night," a little something was triggered. I think it's called "I really don't want to miss another delicious meal in the dining room for lack of an outfit that doesn't have to be once-in-a-lifetime fancy after all."

So, we vowed that next time we'd suffer the extra luggage and try it. Oh, look, here comes next time.

Now, these resolutions will all end up useless if we end up assigned to, say, a table for four. Or, as I call it, "a table for two at the buffet instead." Mike and I, happy homebody nerds that we are, are known to avoid foursome dinners with friends, so having to make small talk and watch our dinner topics when we're dying to be in a deeper level of conversation with each other as we enjoy one of the highlights of the ship, the dining room cuisine, is hellish to us.

It's a different world now, and while I'm glad assigned seating is still out there (for so many people do love it), I'm also glad that the cruise lines are recognizing that it's a very connected world, and meeting new people isn't the exciting opportunity it used to be. These days, perhaps, we look more for a chance to sit with our existing companions without distractions.

Unfortunately, Your Time Dining is booked up for our cruise, so there goes our plan to just wait for a table for two. On Splendor (which as of this writing doesn't have YTD yet), we were so-so-so-so lucky to be assigned a table for two. (In the words of the excellent Maitre d', Miguel, "You got bloody lucky.") Nevertheless, we plan with optimism to attend our first formal nights. I know Carnival does try to make people happy, if they can, so let's cross our fingers for "can."

Which means new clothes!

What is acceptable wear for Elegant Night is one of the most contentious topics over on Cruise Critic. You have the extremes: "It's my vacation! I'll wear what I want!" along with "It doesn't matter what the rules say, if you don't wear a jacket, you are ruining the cruise for everyone!" (You have to say the last bit in your Major Hoolihan voice.)

Somewhere in the middle are people seeking clarification. Carnival does have a dress code, but the problem lies in the unsaid bits. Sort of. And sometimes the problem lies in the said bits (although that problem doesn't lie with Carnival... get it?).

Brushing aside the fact that, on our last cruise, Miguel twice announced to the dining room that we could wear very neat jeans with polos if we didn't bring elegant wear (no one on Cruise Critic seems to believe Mike's posts on this), and our waiters tried to talk us into coming to Elegant Night with the same argument, I knew I needed a dress. So, off to get a dress.

First I checked online, of course. Do you know what's funny about the people who model plus-size clothes? Most of them are normal size. They have waists and things. Doesn't really give one a realistic idea of how well the tarty little cocktail dress scales to muumuu widths. (Actually, I'm one of those fatties who kept her waist, albeit kept its expansion proportional to all other ballooning parts, but my pillows like to be arranged in a low hammock, so to speak, which means a defined waist is a dangerous fashion concept around here. Think of Keira Knightley in King Arthur. But not in a good way.)

Second, we went to Avenue, the plus-size shop around the corner. They had two nice dresses. Just two. And I'm being nice when I say "nice." ("Long and dressy" might be the better description. You've seen the Oscars. You know the circles in the Venn diagram don't always meet) The dresses were all size 18. All of them. Interesting. Way to go, plus-size store, in doing the one thing you are supposed to be doing. (Yes, size 18 is plus-size, but I thought the mission to serve those not served elsewhere was a little, ahem, broader than that.)

Then I said to Mike, the two of us perambulating out on this crisp and lovely day in just another parking lot surrounded by depressing big box stores, "let's go into Ross Dress for Less."

I'd never been. I knew they were installing one on the Strip (next to Wollensky and Smith, I poop you not), so how bad could it be, right?

Let me say right now that it's not that bad. It's a novel concept, and it's probably very fun to shop there, if you like shopping <i>competitively</i> for low-end to mid-range clothing, because the inventory is always changing. It changed between the time I went into the dressing room and came out again! Which is how I snagged my dress.

My perfect dress. A little big (rare!), but I like roomy. Dark but with a subtle paisley print. Flowing but not see-through. Long. Not cankle-obscuring, alas, but long enough to avoid stares. (Because it's all about me, right? Pft. Except, well, after reading the boards, I know that some people really are insanely worried about how other people look. And don't even mention those who gripe about who has a right to wear a swimsuit...)

When I tried the dress on, I was so pleased and confident that I actually left my dressing cubicle to look in the longer mirror outside. For just a second, I was thirteen again, enjoying shopping, what with having to squint to see any character flaws. (Because, of course, fatness is a sign of weak character... okay, I need to stop reading those threads.)

At the time I thought, "Yes, this is completely appropriate, based on what we saw people wearing on the various Elegant Nights." Later, at home, photos of other people's Elegant Night attire across the web put me at ease, as did most CC threads on the subject. Ah, good. Look at my flounce!

Dress Hem

But, you know... look at the hem. Crochet? Elegant? And the neck, it's so plain and clearly not really well made, although it will certainly last for a couple of one-off dinners...

I started overthinking. Carnival's dress code says, "Cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses; if you‘d like to show off your evening gowns, that's great too! [... No] shorts, T-shirts, beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, jeans, cut-off jeans." Could my swishy ensemble qualify as a cocktail dress? I only know about cocktail dresses from the movies. This is more of an upscale church dress. At least, given my brain's vague memories of church in the 1970s combined with a peripheral sense of what has happened with fashion since. So, maybe not what my Mom wore in the seventies, but something more feminine than the business suit look that swept the early 1980s. (Sorry, Mom. You deserve a whole gallery of your many beautiful dresses, including than stunning sequin number you wore on your cruise. Sorry again.)

Actually, now I think it's way too breezy for church. Unless you're Queen Elizabeth at her son Edward's wedding. Remember how everyone was commenting on how feminine her dress was? That's what mine is like. Except, hers was also very glamorous and expensive. So, not really like mine at all. Not that we've established that "church dress, possibly more upscale, but not like a church dress in a time when I ever attended church, unless for a wedding, but not for Prince Edward's wedding" even qualifies for Cruise Elegant apparel. But if blouses and skirts, the lowly lifetime runners-up to dresses, are allowed, then c'mon. And it's definitely not a t-shirt or jeans, even though Miguel did say we could wear jeans, so... Oh, I'm so confused.

And this is how, despite Carnival stating the dress code, people end up starting threads that end in tears. It's not that we want reassurance in our efforts to skirt (ha!) the system, but that mileage varies so much these days in our interpretations of the provided adjectives.

So there I was, overthinking, despite having people-watched at length for three Elegant Nights and knowing that my new dress would not make me feel self-conscious (but then, I'm me), nor would it stand out, not based on what we saw before. I even put it on for Mike and asked him seven or eight times if he was sure it was okay. And also if he was sure it wasn't see-through.


We're probably okay, so long as I don't accidentally leave a lamp tucked into my bra. But then, when taking that photo, I noticed something on the tag:

A Less Satisfying Tag

It says "Casual" right there on the tag. Shari, you nit.

Except-except-except then I went looking for the dress online. And I found it! At Amazon! Except in pink! Ew! And what it says there is...

"Victorian elegance fit for a queen!"

Did you see that? E-l-e-g-a-n-c-e. Also, q-u-e-e-n. So, there was no reason not to invite me to Edward's wedding. Other than I didn't have this dress yet. Which was probably the whole reason for the snub.

Now just picture it in black with maybe - maybe - a necklace, and we're all good and happy again.

Oh, but we need shoes.

No problem. Mike, desperate to be out the door and away from the awful shopping and, worse, the long, thoughtful consideration and revision and new pondering and questioning that is part of the awful shopping, called upon unknown resources of adrenaline and metrosexuality to quickly complete the remaining objective: finding the perfect pair of shoes.

Not Beach Flip-Flops

These are they.

And now here we go again.

Mike said, "What about these?" Such genius, this man o' mine! The shoes are black. They have no backs to them. (I blister if anything touches my heel. Socks. Moleskin. Various methods of breaking in. Double socks. Nothing works. It's a damn near orthopedic issue.) They aren't beach flip flops. They aren't even really flip-flops, even though they're backless sandals. They're size 8.5W, and although maybe a touch too wide, no big deal. I even liked them!

Compare at $45.00

But then I got home. And I read the boards. Oh, Shari, stop reading those boards. (But they're so fun and informative otherwise!) Turns out there is a whole cadre of cruise passengers who feel that backless shoes are The Devil. And not the devil in Prada.

However, their main complaint seems to do with squeaking. These do not squeak. They're velvety. They even have a bit of lift. I'm wearing them. Nyah.

That's me settled, now what about Mike?

We used the cruise as an excuse to finally go to "Casual Male," which is a big and tall store, and Mike is both. He doesn't have much trouble finding clothes to take care of the "big," but the "tall" means it's always a worry if he wants to raise his arms above elbow height.

Huh. I didn't know jealousy until Saturday when we stepped into the store.

The entire shop is what women's plus-size stores should be, except ours should be called "Round and Twee," or something, because all chubbies-n-then-some know the sorrow that is getting a shirt that fits... and it fits all the way down to the knees.

Mike's store didn't have only two dressy dresses, and those only in one size. He could have bought enough clothes - attractive clothes - in there to go the rest of 2010 without repeating an outfit. Plus, the salesman was extremely knowledgeable (here's a shout out to Shawn at the Flamingo store) and barely had to touch the tape measure to get Mike perfectly fitted with exactly the kinds of clothes he likes. Like, say, shorts with an elasticized waistband that aren't jeans shorts. Do you know how hard that is to find elsewhere?

Not that Mike's planning to wear shorts to dinner. (Not even on "Cruise Casual" nights, but let's not bring up that flamewar.) But he did find some everyday items for himself plus what he needed for the cruise.

Carnival says, "Dress slacks, dress shirts. We also suggest a sport coat. If you wish to wear suits and ties or tuxedos, by all means we invite you to do so. [... No] shorts, T-shirts, beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, jeans, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men, sportswear, and baseball hats."

Yes, a sport coat is suggested, but it's not mandatory. Maybe the tie will make up for it?

Mike's New Tie and Dress Shirt

Nice, yes? Originally it was going with his "British tan" pants (at Casual Male we learned the difference between "khaki" and "British tan" - it was like that belt scene in that movie I referenced some paragraphs back, where Meryl Streep schools Anne Hathway on the difference between azure and cerulean, and would you believe I actually have a really long and boring anecdote about a time Mike and I were caught in the middle of an azure/cerulean drama? Of course you would.), but now we're thinking his black pants will be so much snazzier, provided he finds the right black shoes.

And do you know about these zipper ties? They're like a marriage between bolos and traditional neckties. At first we were kind of offended that the salesman seemed to be insinuating that Mike couldn't knot a tie (he may boggle at the way Americans wear shoes everywhere, but he's still a manly man), but these were just too cool to ignore. (Not to mention on sale: originally $30, now $9.99.)

Actually Looked Up the Patent

Perfectly straight and nice and never chokey, every time. (And, this being Casual Male, long enough to boot.) I even looked up the patent. (I guess it's old news. Still nifty as a box of carefully folded-up million dollar checks made out to "Cash," though.)

This mostly concludes the wardrobe planning section of our next cruise. Unless they make us sit with strangers. Then I guess we'll save our outfits for the Queen's platinum jubilee. (I hear she's really good about not lingering over the small talk.)

08 March 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)