The Venice Simplon Orient Express is one of the world’s most glamorous train journeys, the ultimate in luxury rail travel. But do you have to look the part as you depart for a slice of old fashioned romance on the rails?
I did a trip from London to Paris last year, so read my review post if you want to know if the Orient Express is worth the money, but for now let me fill you in on how to present yourself.
Take two outfits
The first thing to bear in mind is that it’s actually two separate journeys with different dress codes. This is not made explicit in the pre-journey litertaure, but you don’t need to look too fancy for the first leg of the trip, from London to Paris. Brunch is served on the London to Folkestone leg at your table, but dinner on the French leg is served in one of two or three unique and beautifully designed dining cars.
We were boarding the train having got the Caledonian Sleeper the night before from Edinburgh to London so didn’t want to waltz up Victoria Station in all our finery. The solution is to have two outfits and ensure that you book a cabin to change in, even if you are not sleeping on the train and going all the way to Venice.
On the first leg of the journey you get served brunch minutes after departure, so while it is not as formal as the evening dinner there is still a level of dress you need to adhere to when you board the train. (Worth bearing in mind if you’re surprising your partner, as indeed I did.)
Think work wear for the day and black tie for the evening. If you’re only going as far as Paris, or you’re doing one of their many UK day trains, then you’ll spend nearly all your time at the dinner table anyway.
Day wear for men
Think you need a suit and tie? Think again. I wore a crisply ironed black work shirt and a pair of smart grey, woolen trews. No jacket required, as Phil Collins once said. I wore the same pair of patent black lace ups I donned for dinner to compensate a little for my lack of neckwear. (A real steal from the Marks & Spencer end of season sale for just £19.)
Day wear for ladies
It’s fairly relaxed for ladies too. Most wore tops, blouses with skirts or trousers, nothing especially elaborate. My own lady wore a fetching woolen grey and purple skirt from John Lewis and a smart, matching top of the type she might wear if she had a meeting at work.
Get a Room!
For dinner you get about an hour to prettify yourself in your cabin. It’s an original 1920s train, so cabins are not as spacious as on some of the luxury trains, but roomy enough if you take it in turns (a wee bit of a challenge otherwise) and the sink has a decent sized vanity mirror. For this reason, it’s worth investing the £50 or so extra to have the cabin, even if you’re not overnighting.
Dinner wear for men
Men have it easy (don’t we always?) you can’t go wrong with a decent tuxedo, the main question is white or black. I went for black for sheer convenience but there’s a lot to be said for the full on white James Bond number, so long as you don’t get your ‘schhaken not schhtirred’ cocktails all down your bib after a sudden jolt! I also bought a nice, snazzy, silver striped black bow tie, for a dash of low key bling. Some chaps even wore fairly ordinary looking work suits.
For ladies, well, the sky’s the limit. As they say in their own bumpf, ‘it’s impossible to overdress for the Orient Express!’ Indeed we spied a fair few full length, sparkling, art deco style evening gowns, coordinated in all manner of colours. Feather boas and fascinators were not uncommon, nor looked the slightest bit out of place. Evening bags and posh pashminas were in abundance too. For those little finishing touches, don’t overlook shops like Accessorise.
What can’t you wear?
Of course it goes without saying that jeans, trainers and t shirts are strictly verboten, though of course what you wear in your cabin is your own business. They even reserve the right to refuse you entrance to the dining car if you do rock up in such casual attire.
Above all, relax a bit and don’t get unduly stressed about your outfit, just make a little effort and improvise with what you already have. I had my rarely aired dinner suit trousers ‘let out’ (sadly neccesary) instead of dealing with the hassle of finding a new pair to match the jacket.
You don’t need to be Prada-ed to the gills though. Our complete outfits cost under £200 each. It’s probably not a trip you’ll experience too many times in your life, so have fun with it. If your journey’s anything like ours, you’ll probably want go back through your pictures a fair few times in the future.