After spending the weekend with my youngest in Orlando last month, it became clear to me that a dress code post was desperately needed on what to wear -or not wear- at any theme or amusement park. Now I know that the worst offenders are not reading this, but given all the faux pas I witnessed firsthand, I feel compelled to comment. Here goes.

What to wear to a theme park

Athleta-dress-theme

My rules are as follows: all clothing must take you from morning to night and be able to get wet (this includes shoes). Very important: your clothes must provide coverage for your boobs and your, eh hm, derrière. An amusement park is at its core a place for kids, or the kid that lives in all of us. It’s not a dance club. And, clothing must be comfortable and cool. While hats and sunglasses are a must, mini-shorts are a definite NO.

This is a covert attempt to capture the outfit pictured on the right side of this picture. Let’s just say this was about the 50th pair of these I had seen that day. And no, that is not a swimsuit.

Before we talk about clothing options, I want to cover white shirts. Now you know I love nothing better than a white shirt, but one thing is for sure, if you are going to wear a white tee or white tank to an amusement park, I have two requirements: 1) don’t wear a white bra (wear a flesh-colored bra instead) and 2) don’t go on ANY water rides, unless you want to over-expose your…um…assets. You can always pack a little black tank if you insist on the coolness of a white top in the sweltering heat. But, the second you consider a water ride, ditch the white and switch to Plan B: black tank.

Minnie Mouse cap + Harry Potter Rugby shirt. Hmmm… I’ll just leave it at “Don’t mix your theme parks?”  But, hey, in the grand scheme of Theme Park Heaven, this really doesn’t make the What Not To Wear list. I just found it funny.

As you know by now, I’m a fan of a summer dress, and this applies to theme parks as well. A dress without a waistband simply provides the coolest option available on a hot summer day. And, while I fretted that a dress might be too dressy, I was glad to see that I was not the only gal in Theme Park Heaven, aka Orlando, to have figured this out. There were plenty of women aged 20-70 all in cool, cotton dresses, each looking appropriately horrified at the women in heavy jeans, leather pants, tights (you know I can’t make this stuff up…), and yes, the short shorts.

There are ways to wear shorts and skirts, as well, by the way. More on that to follow.

Here are some combinations of outfits to consider if you, too, have an amusement park adventure as part of your summer plans. And, if you don’t, we’d like to suggest Dollywood. For those who haven’t been, you are missing out. My humble opinion is that it beats any Disney theme park. It’s clean, shady, filled with rides, a water park, educational elements, crafts, shows and more. I once held my nose up at Dollywood, and then I went and realized what I a snob I had been. It’s great.

Option #1: The Denim Bermuda, or longer short

An aside: I know there are lots of shorter shorts out there and if you love them, wear them. Even running shorts! But, here’s why I like a longer short better for amusement parks: I just don’t want my legs to stick to the theme park seats or burn on that bench that’s been baking in the sun. It has very little to do with fashion!

Find a pair that are a summer weight slightly longer shorts and you will be happy all day long. And, for a multi-day trip, these can be on rotation, as they should never show dirt. (And just for clarification, in case you’re wondering if I’ve lost my edge, denim long shorts that fit properly fall well beyond the scope of that fashion debacle known as jorts .)

theme park dress code

I like these for cut-offs. They still maintain a polished, low-key look. They are long enough, but not too long and they are not tight. They will hide dirt and won’t be visibly wet when still damp from a water ride. Find them, here, for $89.50. Image: Nordstrom

theme park dress code

These offer a more tailored look and will take you far this summer. Find them, here, for $149. Image: Nordstrom

Option #2: A mid-length short

J. Crew or Nordstrom have great options in this department. These may not allow for two days of wear, as they may show dirt, so light packers can forgo this option. Remember, the wider the leg opening, the smaller your thigh will seem. Plus, tight clothes make you feel even hotter, as in heat, not beauty.

theme park dress code

These are linen, so they’ll be cool and will dry quickly. They also go just past the widest part of the thigh (don’t EVER wear shorts that stop at the widest part!) and are loose. Find these, here, for $49. Image: Nordstrom

theme park dress code

With 6 different colors, these cotton twill 5″ inseam shorts from J. Crew may be just right. Find them, here, for $45. Image: J. Crew

Option #3: The Dress

Pick one that can dry easily after a water ride, is breathable and can camouflage sweat and dirt.  Don’t go too short (you will flash people if you do) or too low (I saw more than one nipple peaking out at Universal Studios and it was not from a sweet mom breast feeding … ).

These two dresses from outdoor-wear or sportswear companies are made to wick away sweat and dry quickly. Each is easy to travel with and looks great in the middle of a theme park or out at dinner. You’ll look more put together than most, but believe me, this is a good thing:

theme park dress code

This dress is made to keep you cool and dry quickly. Plus Who doesn’t need a cute striped summer dress? Find this, here, for $89. Image: Nordstrom

theme park dress code

This dress is sporty, cool, and dries quickly. Find it, here, for $70. Image: Nordstrom

Option #4: The Skirt

Make sure it’s breathable, not too tight, not too short AND not too long!  Skirts can be a great way to embrace your theme park day. Both of these choices are also made from fabrics which employ quick-to-dry technology.

 

The Lithia Convertible Skirt, by Patagonia, at $49, has a nice waistband and can be paired with everything from a bright, ribbed tank to a fitted tee or polo. Just don’t pair with a flowy shirt or you’ll be too bulky.

This Lina Adjustable Skirt from Toad&Co has a drawstring cord along the sides so that the length can be adjusted to whatever suits you best. At $65, this versatile skirt is for everyone!

Shoes:

When I was a teenager in Virginia, I went to Kings Dominion and rode some water rides in sneakers and socks. My feet couldn’t handle the constant moisture of not being able to dry, and it was as if the soles of my feet became a dry desert: they cracked and hurt.  I could barely walk out of the park that night. I still remember sobbing while my mom slathered Vasoline on my poor feet, which took a couple days to heal. The lesson here? While many advise wearing athletic shoes and socks, I ALWAYS wear a great pair of Reef, Merrell or Olukai flip-flops so my feet can breathe and still have support. If you aren’t going on any water rides, I guess a sneaker could work, but I also can’t imagine not wanting to go on a water ride in 100-degree heat!

theme park dress code

By Merrell, these will keep your feet happy all day. And the straps will be sure to keep them from falling off on rides! Find them, here, for $89.90. Image: Nordstrom

theme park dress code

A wedge sandal is another comfortable, yet stylish look for the theme park and beyond. Find these, here, for $84.95. Image: Nordstrom

A cross the shoulder bag: the best way to have both hands available. Please, don’t wear a fanny pack. Inside your bag remember to pack sunglasses, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, baby wipes and, if you are wearing a white top, a dark tank to ride the water rides in. Some people pack bathing suits, but I’m not going to walk around any part of any theme park in my bathing suit. Plus, I’m too lazy to carry one around all day.

theme park dress code

This cross body bag is durable and roomy. Find it, here, for $119. Image: Nordstrom

theme park dress code

This one, by LLBean, this bag has countless stellar reviews. Find it, here, for $89. Image: LL Bean

Hats: a must. You face will fry without one. Find a ball cap or a straw hat. It doesn’t have to be huge, just enough to provide some shade.

These hats from Aviate are a perfect way to represent your city while also staying safe from the sunshine. $35

‘Be Kind Do Good’ is a great sentiment to wear wherever you go! Find it here for $32.

And, a parting piece of advice: prepare your kids not to stare or comment at all the odd behavior and bulging body parts they will inevitably see among the crowd. Sure, you’ll see babies being bottle-fed Pepsi, parents smoking with one hand while holding their child -by a leash, no doubt- in the other, and possibly young children dressed in t-shirts emblazoned with profane writing because, for some reason, their parents find it funny. But, after you and your children have been thoroughly amused by the rides and the shows and, yes, the crowds, you will also have some great memories of a lot of fun, a lot of laughs and time well-spent.