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The term “resortwear” was coined to describe clothing worn in the fashionable resort areas of France during the 1920s and 1930s.

“Shorts, beach pyjamas, wrap-around skirts and playsuits all fall into this category,” reads the Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Fashion. “By the latter part of the 20th century, the word covered all kinds of lightweight garments for summer and cruise wear.”

Undoubtedly, that’s why few issues create as much confusion among passengers as what to wear to dinner. As cruises and cruisers have become more diverse, so has their dress — placing each ship’s staff in the uncomfortable position of dealing with violations from passengers who are confused or simply don’t want to comply.

Today, the Internet Web site cruisecritic.com contains a section on Cruise Line Dress Codes – which can vary widely from ship to ship.

It says, “Just about every cruise line has a dress code of some type. Except for the occasional nudist charter, they all at least agree that clothing is required! But from there on, dress codes range from those where dressing for dinner means putting on a clean T-shirt to those where any male passenger not in a tuxedo might as well be wearing nothing at all.”

Why is wardrobe so important?

“You might offend other passengers,” says Chris Baker of Cruise Connections travel agency. “Most people don’t want to sit across from someone wearing a tank top at the dinner table.”

She suggests first-time cruisers read their ship’s dress code carefully.

“If you’re on a Carnival ship – which is reasonably priced – you’ll see everything,“ Baker adds. But beware: Shorts (including gym and basketball shorts), beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men and caps are never permitted in the dining room during dinner.

At the other end of the luxury spectrum is the Cunard Line, with its formal, semiformal and elegant casual dress codes. (One might expect to see plenty of Judith Leiber jewel-encrusted purses on those dinner tables.)

But don’t worry: Room service always is an option.