Pageant dresses are among the most iconic parts of pageantry, so how do you use pageant dresses to show the judges you should take home the crown? The pageant evening gown competition is your opportunity to show the judges your grace, style and poise. It can be hard to ace the evening gown competition but, we want to make it easier for you to succeed. This all-inclusive guide contains everything you need to pick out the right pageant dresses, present yourself with poise and wow the pageant judges.
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The top 3 competitors at Miss USA 2019. Photo: Alex Mertz/Miss Universe Organization
Pageant evening gown is one of the most iconic parts of pageantry. Most, if not all, pageants have some form of evening gown or formal wear competition. Usually, this phase of competition accounts for at least 25 percent of your overall pageant score. As you can imagine, it is imperative that you probably prepare for this phase of competition. Let’s cover the basics of the competition.
A contestant will have the chance to take the stage and model in a gown of her choice for the judging panel. Many pageants will provide a walking pattern for their contestants. This walk usually lasts between a minute and a minute and 30 seconds. While the contestant is modeling, the emcee will read information about the contestant and soft music will play.
Your modeling style will depend on what dress you choose, your pageant and your age division. You may want to use a cape or overskirt to create movement or just walk with your arms down. Success in evening gown will come from selecting the perfect dress for you and practicing your stage presence.
Who judges pageant evening gown?
Most pageants will have one panel of judges that score all areas of competition. This means the same judges you see in interview will be scoring your pageant evening gown and other onstage performance. Your judging panel may consist of past titleholders, novice judges, pageant experts, designers, or friends and family of pageant staff. Regardless of who your judges are, your goal remains the same: to make a connection with each judge while you’re onstage.
What will the judges notice?
First, let’s talk about evening gown the judges point of view. The first thing they notice when you walk out on stage is the color and style of your pageant dress. The color of your pageant dress makes a huge difference especially as you compete on larger stages. Choose a color that that complements you and stands out.
Remember how our jaws drop when Olivia Jordan came out in that bubble gum pink ball gown? She did not shy away from this bright hot pink color and it worked for her! That dress is iconic. Nia Sanchez’s signature red gown is another one people will always remember. She wore red for Miss Nevada, Miss USA and Miss Universe and it obviously was a great choice. She was 1st Runner-Up!
Second, the judges look at the style and fit of the gown. Create your own style and be unique. This will help you easily stand out from the others. Your fit is so crucial to your success. A poorly fitted gown will hurt your chances of winning the crown every single time. Get your dressed tailored at least a month in advance of your pageant and continue to try it on in the days leading up to your pageant to make sure it still has a nice tight fit.
Third, the judges are going to want look for confidence in their next titleholder. Confidence is key and without it, it will show onstage. Picture the crown already on your head and work it. Show your personality and don’t keep a plastered smile on your face the entire time. Breath and be present in that moment with the judges and the audience. Personality and confidence should radiate from you and come naturally onstage. If you feel nervous, keep rehearsing behind closed doors until you have it perfected.
They are looking for the contestant with the it-factor, the person who is certain of themselves and who exhibits the total package. Don’t be off-put if the judging panel is keeping their poker faces intact. This could be used to deter you and see if you will be phased by the lack of emotion from them. Keep your smile bright even if they don’t smile back. Maintain eye contact with the panel and give them one last look before exiting off the stage, this the point where they write down their score so leave a lasting impression before that number is tallied.
If you do not know what the judges are specifically looking for, reach out to your director and ask them what kind of person they are going to tell the judges to look for. The directors are working for you as a contestant and you are paying them, so don’t hesitate to just simply ask questions.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when shopping for a pageant gown because it seems like there are a million different styles out there to choose from, and we get stuck wondering which the best one for us is. But, the reality is that every gown that you’ve ever seen is just made up of a variety of different parts; neckline, bodice style, sleeve length, waistline, hem length and skirt style. And, it’s how all those parts are combined, that create all the different styles.
In this section, we’re going to give you a tutorial on the different styles of formal gowns, specifically what is referred to as, “silhouette”. But, don’t freak out. It’s actually quite simple.
When most new pageant contestants begin shopping for the gown that they plan to wear for the evening gown portion of their competition, they usually have some picture in their head of what they want. This fantasy gown is typically based on something that they saw another contestant, titleholder or celebrity wearing, not on what might look best on them. The thing that a lot of new girls don’t realize is that pageant gowns are unlike any other garment that you’ve worn in your life, and when you buy one, it must be customized to your body and your overall look and style. In order to select the best gown for you, you have to really understand your body type and you have to be educated on formal gowns silhouette.
Silhouette is a term that you will need to get familiar with, if you aren’t already. Your silhouette is essentially the outline of your body in whatever you are wearing. It refers to the overall picture of what you look like in your clothing. And, when you become an expert at creating the perfect silhouette for your figure, you will discover the power of fashion. There is a lot to learn about gown styles and it does take some time to figure out what works best for your body, but it helps if you understand that what you are going for is an overall silhouette that looks balanced on stage.
When it comes to looking spectacular in your gown, the goal is to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. There is no such thing as a perfect body, and every girl has those things that she loves about her figure and those parts that she is not so crazy about. However, when you wear the ideal silhouette for your body type, you can appear to have a perfect body. And that is going to do wonders for your confidence on stage, which is really what sells the evening gown competition to the judges.
The structure or the silhouette of a gown is determined primarily by the way the skirt is cut and the way the fabric fits or hangs on the body, especially around the waist, hips and thighs. There are no black and white rules about silhouette when it comes to the age of a contestant or the division you compete in. (A Miss or a Mrs. contestant can wear a ball gown, and a Teen can wear an A-line or sheath gown.) But, generally speaking, the younger a contestant is, the less fitted the gown is around the body. The more important thing to remember is how a particular silhouette looks on the body of the person wearing it, in addition to the fabric that the gown is made from and the choice of color.
The regal ball gown silhouette is timeless and worthy of a fairy tale. It has a fitted bodice that flares out at the natural waistline to form a full skirt. Ball gowns may also use inner layers of poufy fabric like tulle to give the full structure.
One of the most iconic ballgown pageant dresses of all time belongs to Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo. This daring burgundy evening gown stood out a sea of slim styles and rhinestones. The mixture of tulle and velvet is what makes this pageant dress magical. The full tulle skirt is light, airy and floats across the stage. The velvet top pulls the eye up to bring attention to her gorgeous smile and face. This is a beautiful and regal look for older age division pageant dresses.
The glamorous mermaid silhouette amplifies curves for a sultry result. It is fitted through the chest and torso to the knee, at which point it flares out dramatically. The mermaid silhouette is flattering on most shapes.
Similar to the mermaid silhouette, the trumpet style hugs the torso and hips. The key difference is where the dress begins to flare outwards. While the tail of a mermaid dress begins at the knee or below, trumpet dresses begin to flare outwards in a dramatic fashion in the middle or lower thigh.
The A-line silhouette has a fitted bodice and waist with a skirt that gradually flares out into the shape of the letter, “A”. Unlike a ball gown, the A-line silhouette doesn’t have a full skirt or a lot of puffiness. This style tends to look phenomenal on every figure because it mimics a classically feminine hourglass shape.
Sheath / Column
The sheath silhouette is based on straight lines from the top to the bottom of the garment. The sheath can be generously cut so that the fabric gracefully skims across curves, or it can be a very form fitting style that hugs the body. If the gown is very fitted, it will often have slits in the hem for ease in movements.
Miss Hawaii USA 2020 Samantha Neyland wearing a column gown with an attached train. Photo: Miss Hawaii USA
What do I need to consider when picking my pageant dresses for evening gown?
There are seven major points to keep in mind when selecting your pageant dresses for your pageant. They are: branding, pageant guidelines, age appropriateness, fit, style for your body, foundation and under garments and the total picture.
The first aspect of branding refers to what your pageant is all about. Is it a more conservative style of pageant or is it really fashion forward? Do the contestants tend to wear flashy, over-the-top cutting edge styles, or do they stick to a more sophisticated, subtle type of glamour, or somewhere in between? Your evening gown has to fit into the brand that your pageant represents so that you look like the kind of queen that they are seeking.
The second part of branding refers to your own personal brand. No matter what kind of pageant that you are competing in, you must be true to yourself and wear a pageant dress that fits your body, personality and personal style.
Most pageants have very specific guidelines regarding competition wardrobe. If you wear something that is against the rules, it will absolutely affect your score. If your pageant has specific rules about evening gowns, they will definitely make that information available.
Some of the more common rules are that you cannot wear two-piece pageant dresses or pageant dresses that have cut-outs or expose your midriff. Another common rule is that your dress must touch the floor completely, or that you cannot wear a pageant dress that is long in the back and short in the front.
The third point to keep in mind is age appropriateness. Pageant systems want their Teen contestants to look like teens, not Miss contestants. Pageant dresses that are very low cut, have a low back, or a slit on the leg are not appropriate for teen girls. They may look spectacular on you, but if you are showing too much skin and looking sexy, then that pageant dress is not right.
If you are an adult woman who is competing in a Mrs. or Ms. pageant, then you must be a bit more conservative when selecting your wardrobe. You can still have style and flair of course, but you don’t want to be wearing the same outfit that a 22-year-old is wearing. You can wear something that is clearly mature, like a gown with a leg slit, or a lower neckline, but you still have to be tasteful and not overdo it with the sex appeal of your clothing.
Fit is so crucial to the success of evening gown, and yet it’s one of the most overlooked areas. Let’s be clear right now. You will not be able to purchase a pageant dress off the rack and wear it to your pageant. All pageant dresses must be tailored specifically for your body, so factor that cost into your pageant dress budget. Make sure to take the exact shoes and undergarments that you plan on wearing at the pageant to every fitting that you have.
The four mistakes that inexperienced pageant contestants make when it comes to evening gown fit are that the dress is too short, too long, too tight or too loose.
A pageant dress is too short if you can see your shoes. You cannot see your feet when you are standing up tall and wearing your gown, so you need to look at yourself in the mirror when you have your heels on, or ask someone to tell you how the length looks.
A pageant dress is too long if it wrinkles at the bottom or if you are stepping on the hem as you walk. If you have to hold your pageant dress up in any way at all, then it is too long.
A pageant dress is too tight if it ripples or pulling lines appear, especially under the arms, around the bust or around the hips.
A pageant dress may be too big if it gapes open or feels loose but a professional seamstress should be able to spot this right away and fix it easily.
Style for your body
Finding the ideal style of dress for your body type is essential, and it can take some time to discover what works best for you. If you are new to pageants, you are going to have get educated about gown styles, so be patient.
You will have to try on a lot of gowns, and there is really no substitute for that. You may love gowns that you see on your favorite titleholders or even your best friend, but that does not mean that that particular style will look great on you.
If you are going to be involved in the pageant world for any length of time, you owe it to yourself to understand your body’s best features and the areas that you need to de-emphasize or find a way to work around.
To learn about the specific styles, or “silhouettes” of evening gowns, check out this section in of our guide.
Foundation and under garments
Foundation wear made by companies like Spanx are designed to be worn under your pageant dress to create a smooth, flawless form that will make the most of your pageant dress. Also make sure that you get the right bra for your gown, and if you cannot wear a bra, have cups sewn into your gown.
You cannot just purchase a pageant dress and go on stage and think that you are done. You have to step back and assess your hairstyle, accessories and shoes, as well. The hairstyle that you wore for interview or opening number may not work for your gown.
You also have to be very careful when selecting jewelry with your pageant dress. Remember that you are in a pageant, not a prom. Do not overdo it. Most pageant gowns have fabulous necklines and if you wear a necklace that takes away from the neckline, it just detracts from that and it looks amateurish. Bracelets are fine if you keep it simple and stick to just one. If you are in doubt about what jewelry to wear, you can never go wrong with some pretty earrings.
We know that pageant evening gown shopping can be overwhelming at first. We've created a mini guide on what to consider when selecting your pageant evening gown to make the experience seamless! You can download that guide below.
National Elite Teen Miss Kayla Black dishes on her tips on how she selected her gown for nationals.
Kourtney age 10 in her glitz cupcake dress at Butterfly Kisses 2019. Photo: PHD Photography
Glitz dresses are no ‘one size fits all’ dress. With several different styles and hundreds of different colors the options are practically endless. Glitz dresses fall into a small niche of dresses as they cannot be worn to other events. Due to their ornate design and high price, these aren’t dresses you wear to a natural pageant, talent showcase or church or party like some natural style dresses.
Glitz dress styles are defined by their skirt length and design. Most two piece dresses have a stretchy waistband and some dresses will come with 1-3 different skirt options. Since the majority of glitz dresses have a corset back bodice, they are wearable for a couple of years at a time. With the addition of a long skirt and a short skirt, you can easily keep one dress for while even if your little diva is growing!
There are a few defining characteristics of glitz dresses regardless of the skirt style. I could go on for days about what all makes up a true glitz dress but in all honesty, the sky's the limit. If you like tassels or appliques, or maybe you are more into 3D flowers, you can have all of that and more on your dress.
To start all glitz dresses have an extravagant amount of embellishments usually in the form of crystals (or as we call them stones) like Swarovski, Alora and Preciosa. They are either sewn on, or glued on or have a adhesive back that melts and adheres to the dress when heat like an iron is placed on to of them. They are thousands of colors choices for gems and sizes. There is no guideline for what type, color or size of stone to use as long as you use a lot!
A bustle bow is added at the bottom of the corset to cover any gaps in two pieces dresses. These are typical like a bustle for a wedding dress, but more a bustle bow with ornate appliques and “stones.” Bustle bows are usually snapped onto the back of the dress and are removable and optional.
A gorgeous example of a glitz bustle bow by You Go Girl Designs. Photo: You Go Girl pageant designs on Facebook
Collars are all the rage right now. Picture Marie Antoinette style collars that seep into the nape of the neck and even higher. These collars are usually snapped onto the front of the dress or by the arm strap or arm opening. Collars add a extra value to a dress and look super cute with a trendy choker.
A custom design by Gemics with a unique collar. Photo: Gemics Dresses
Our next amazing feature is arm pieces. From full sleeves, to sleeve drapes connected to a wristlet or a ¾ length sleeve with a ruffle arm, comfort and pizzazz is key for arm pieces. I have seen some amazing techniques used when coming up with a unique approach to sleeves. Many sleeves are also detachable so you can choose to change up your look from one pageant to the next.
Sleeve option from a Shuggy designs dress. Photo: Facebook
An open back can provide more excitement to the back of your gown. This may be the trickiest part for dress designers to sew as the fit is crucial and they are usually covered in stones which makes them hard to alter. There are many shapes you can follow for an open back. A heart shape back is the trickiest while a rounded back with a snap middle is the easiest.
A spin on an open back by designer Kayla Brook Campos. Photo: You Go Girl pageant designs on Facebook
Last but not least is the bodice skirt overlay option for dresses.This may be a bit trickier to see but essentially a skirt overlay is an additional piece of material that is connected to the top or inside of the bodice and lays over the skirt. This is not to be confused with a skirt overlay that i on top of the actual skirt. This is a secondary part that is used for a dramatic effect. These often make two pieces dresses look like one piece.
A sweet and soft dress with a skirt overlay option by Royalty Designs. Photo: Royalty Designs Facebook
Now that we have a handle on what makes up a glitz dress, let’s move on to each skirt style below. Always remember that anything custom can be just that-custom and all yours! So if you dreamup of something not in this list or find a resale dress that isn’t listed here, don’t fret! New dress styles are being added all the time. That is the glory or glitz, anything you want is ok!
You Go Girl Face dress by designer Kayla Brook Campos 2018. Photo: You Go Girl Facebook
Also known as a natural dress, is for the natural side of glitz. Don’t be fooled, this is still a glitz pageant but with a natural portion of a pageant contestants are able to showcase a softer side with little to no makeup and a softer dress.
A face dress cannot have stones but is allowed to have some sparkle like sequins and textured fabrics. Older girls are usually allowed to have some crystals but less is more for a face dress. Flat back pearls and shimmer is also allowed and recommended. Styles for face dress can the the same as a regular glitz dress; cupcake, babydoll, hi low and so on. Just remember your dress should showcase your natural beauty along with a color and fit that bring out your inner sparkle.
Jovani red face dress on the stunning Chelsea at the 2019 NOTY pageant. Photo: PhD
Peek a boo and Hi-low
If you’re daughter is over the age of 12 and you want a little spice or something different for your dress, then a peek a boo is for you! A peek a boo skirt is one that has many option and ranges for your skirt. One style of a peek a boo is a pencil skirt with a flowing longer skirt like the picture below of the beautiful Kennedy. Another option is have a straight shorter front skirt and the rest to be a cupcake style. A floor length skirt with a shorter front skirt is another popular option.
Kennedy in her Teresa Yee dress during NOTY 2019. Photo: PhD
Whichever length and skirt you choose, just remember the basis of a peek a boo is to have a shorter skirt with a longer skirt attached or on top. A hi low can be described as the same, in fashion terms a hi-low skirt is one that is shorter in front and longer in back. The difference with a peek a boo and hi-low is that a hi-low is typically one skirt and a peek a boo is two different skirts that a layered.
Baylen in her Nana Marie Dress at Beary Special in 2018. Photo: Pageant Hub Photography
The epitome and most known style of dress is the famous cupcake style. This dress is preferable for ages 2-12 (depending on height, some girls stop wearing them at age 10). What makes this dress so awesome is the curly q hem line on the skirt. This hem line is sewn by using a zig-zag stitch over a fishing line! That’s right, fishing line! How cool is that? Cupcake skirts are around 5-10 layers of ruffled fabrics such as organza, chiffon and sometimes satin. These skirts are usually very short and measure two to three inches or more above the knee. They are pulled up towards the belly button and snapped to the inside of the bodice. The younger contestants should purchase bloomers to give cover their diapers since babies are more apt to jump and bounce and we want to keep them covered!
Isabella in her Charissa Ray Buckley dress at Darling Divas & Dashing Dons pageant in 2019. Photo: LBF Pageant Production
Most cupcake style dresses are two pieces and again the sky’s the limit with your design and color choice. Many of these dresses are also custom dyed for color and have hand painted appliques and fabric to ensure a one of a kind look.
Designers like Shuggy, Michael Booth, Royalty Designs, Mykal Baca Nancy Landers, Teresa Yee and Toni Overby have created the guidelines for these dresses for years. Additional designers that I love are You Go Girl, Bonnie Fuller, Wendy Crim, Beth Young, Allie Hoffman, Gemics, Rachel Martinez, Pageant Rockers and Haley Couture. The list for amazing designers goes on and on, and each of them bring something unique to the design that makes them all beautiful and one of a kind.
Taylii aged 3 at Razzle Dazzle 2018 in her Wendy Crim cupcake dress. Photo: La Belle File
With a similar feel to the cupcake is a babydoll. The major difference between the two is that a baby doll is a one piece dress where as a cupcake is a two piece. Contestants aged 0-5 may find more comfort in this style as a one piece is somewhat easier to put on a wiggly baby. The skirt length on a baby doll dress can range from about 2 inches above the knee to just slightly above the knee. They are made in a similar way to the cupcake skirt as well but have a longer skirt with bigger pleates.
Elliahna age two at World’s Precious Children 2019 in her Mendy Sharp dress. Photo: PhD photo
Heather LaPlant in her Mchael Booth dress during Glamour Girls in 2012. Photo: Labelle File
Contestants over the age of 12 can opt for a evening or formal gown. Unless you want a custom dress, this style dress is a bit easier to obtain since prom and bridal stores are a dime a dozen. When purchasing your evening or formal gown for your glitz pageant, fit and color is key as usual. Don’t forget glitz means drama. So bring on the feathers, crystals, textured materials and unique accents. A custom dress is still an option and can lead you to fulfill your every dress dream! Some of my favorite evening dress designers for the glitz world are Jovani, Sherri Hill, MacDuggal, Ritzee and RSVP.
Chelsea in her stunning Yubin Guo glitz dress at NOTY 2019. Photo: PhD
We can’t leave out the boys! Even the boys need to look fly for their glitz appearance. Nationally ranked competitor Lane picked a vibrant blue blazer with a black bow. Let’s not jump over the details with the addition of the crystals on the buttons and the collar. With our boys you can pop into a tuxedo store and special order the color of your choice. Adding some crystals for an extra pop is a easy thing to do. Pop over to dreamtimecreations.com and purchase your crystals, some glue and your tux goes from classy to pizzazz!
Lane in his blue Tazio tux at NOTY 2019. Photo: PhD
Now that you know what styles of pageant dresses are out there, check out Pageant Planet Shop to find a dress that you love.
Shopping for a glitz pageant dress can be fun and stressful, but don’t fret, no matter what your budget or style preference is, you can find a dress for your glitz pageant! Since there are so many different style options, colors and skirt options it may be more complicated than you think to find the perfect dress. Let’s jump into how to find your perfect dress.
This may seem like a no brainer, buy a dress that fits you but there is an underlying factor here. Glitz dresses are not typically sold in a store front style shop and most are custom made to fit you perfectly. However, having a custom dress is not budget friendly and most seamstress that take on the challenge of a custom glitz dress ask for your measurements via a satellite location.
This means that you will be taking the measurements, so from one person taking the measurements to another person actually making the dress, there can be some fit errors. Regardless of if you are buying a new dress, custom dress or “new to you” dress, having an expert in measurements may help ensure a perfect fit. Trying a alterations or dry cleaners to measure you can help a lot.
If you are unsure on what color to choose, try putting on a large bow or shirt in different colors. Once you’ve done that, take a picture of yourself or your child outside or with a flash on your camera. This will help you to see if the colors washes you out making your skin look pale or if it adds color to your cheeks. Colors that add a hue to your cheeks are good options for a dress color! This simple trick has never failed me and I’ve often been surprised, but happy at what colors look best.
Two year old Jaci in her dress by Yo Go Girl at Novice of the Year 2019. Photo: PHD
Before you even go out and purchase that fabulous pageant dress that you’re going to wear during the evening gown portion of your pageant, go to your pageant’s website and find out how much of your score is assigned to this area of competition. Read what your pageant has to say about what the judges are looking for when they are watching evening gown. Somewhere in your paperwork, it should tell you exactly how the pageant views evening gown and what they want to see their contestants doing.
Most of the time evening gown is where the judges want to see your particular style and personality come through your pageant dresses. They want to see, in essence, how you see yourself. This is your opportunity to wow them and win them over and use the power of the glitz and glamour of this portion of the pageant to your advantage.
Pageant dresses are very important to your score, but you have to remember that you are not being judged on your outfit. This is a big misconception. The judges do not care if you are wearing a designer gown that cost $4,000, or a dress that you bought on clearance for $40.00. The evening gown competition is all about you, and your gown is really just the frame for the picture. You are the true masterpiece.
The judges are looking at you, not your pageant dress. Yes, they do notice if there are things about your pageant dress that are not right, and that is why you must pay attention to things like fit, length and all the other points of style. But, the judges are not assigning a score to pageant dresses. What they are focusing on is the girl in the pageant dress. The evening gown competition is all about grace, elegance and glamour. This is your opportunity to show the judges that you really are a queen.
The judges are looking at you and watching the way you glide across the stage. They are watching the way you hold your head high and the way you carry yourself. They are drawn in and mesmerized by your beauty and the magic of the moment. There is no other part of the pageant where you get to dress like this and act like this. The evening gown portion of the pageant is also the last point in the pageant where the judges get to see you and give you your final score. You want to come out onstage and take their breath away. You want them to think, “All this girl needs is a crown!”
So, yes your pageant dress is crucial to your score, but you always want to keep the judges focused on you, not your gown. Your pageant dress and your entire look is all a part of helping them to decide that you really are the queen. When you are confident in what you are wearing because you know you chose a pageant dress that emphasizes your best features, you feel like a million bucks! You feel like royalty and the judges see that. That special feeling that you have in addition to your poise, composure and charisma, all come together to make the judges fall in love with you.
Baby – Toddler (Ages 0-5)
Relish in the cuteness while it lasts. Those cupcake skirts won’t fit for long. Rhinestones, bright colors, cute socks and matching headbands are universal for nearly every pageant at this age, even at small local pageants. These “dresses” are typically two pieces made to look like one piece. It is easy to spend too much money on a baby or toddler dress, so set a budget for yourself before you have one custom-made or even look to purchase one off e-Bay. Those cupcake skirts really don’t fit for long.
Sunburst Pageant's 2018 winners. Photo by: Sunburst Pageant
Princess (Ages 6-8)
A lot of changes take place from the youngest age division to the Princess division, and I’m not just talking about that new snaggletooth grin. Once a contestant reaches this age, it is time to look for dresses that are a bit more mature, but still sweet and girly. Choose a full-length gown with a full skirt to keep your little princess looking sweet and youthful. Choosing a gown of her favorite color will also help to spark some personality from her onstage.
Lexington County Peach Festival 2019 winners. Photo by: Lexington County Peach Festival
PreTeen (Ages 9-12)
Every contestant should feel like a princess, especially when she can wear a ball gown, which is ideal for this age. At age twelve, you want to be careful that you don't look too young or too mature. This is an important time where you need to have an idea of what is expected in this age division in the pageant system that you are competing in. Once you get a feel for the system you are competing in, you have an idea of what to look for.
2018 and 2019 International Junior Miss International Preteen winners. Photo: @ijminternationalpreteen
Teen (Ages 13-17)
To all you pageant parents out there, just let it be. Your daughter is going to look older than she really is because, well, she's growing up. In the Teen age division, dresses are more form fitting and heels are higher. Contestants at this age can avoid looking too old by wearing fun colors like pink and yellow and staying away from high dress slits and low-cut necklines. Teens have a lot of freedom to be creative with their dress choice, as all styles can be appropriate if worn correctly (while taking into consideration what is expected in the pageant system).
Miss High School America 2019 Top 5. Photo: Sheldon Smith
Miss (Ages 18-24ish)
Transitioning from Teen to Miss can be intimidating for parents and contestants. Instead, see it as a new adventure -- one that involves cultivating confidence. Miss contestants are self-assured and mature in more ways than one. Don't be afraid to take a risk with your evening gown. You are more capable of stepping outside the boundaries now than you ever have or ever will. Try the low-cut dress, the ten-pound beaded dress, or the dress with the long train. See what style of dress looks best on your body and makes you feel most confident about yourself. Make your own statement, not anyone else's. Your gown choice says more about you than you realize. You can be completely transparent and while still being covered up.
2015 Miss Universe Top Five contestants represent their country and personality through their gown choice. Photo: Richard D. Salyer | Miss Universe Organization
Mrs. (Age 21-forever)
After prom, homecoming, and your wedding is behind you, there is still an occasion to wear an evening gown that doesn't require crashing your child's prom or getting remarried. There's something much simpler... competing in a pageant! When choosing a gown for a Mrs. pageant, search for a gown that you would wear to a ball or gala with your husband. That doesn't mean you should let hubby choose (or your children either, if applicable). This is your moment. You are a grown woman; you can pretty much do what you want. However, throwing it back to prom or the Miss pageants days may not be the best choice. Again, research the pageant you are competing in and decide for yourself what is comfortable for you and most flattering. Something a bit more modest, yet still form-fitting, is typically expected from a Mrs. contestant.
Mrs. International 2019 Top 5. Photo: @mrswvintl2019
In addition to being aware of age appropriateness, don't forget to consider the expectations of the pageant system that you are competing in. Some pageants systems are more conservative than others about gown choices, so check with the pageant director or past queens to see what style of gowns that they prefer.
There are eight main places to go when you are trying to find your evening gown or formal wear for your pageant. They are:
Local pageant dresses stores
You local formalwear stores are the first place to check out because you can actually go in there and try on dresses. There is no substitute for trying on pageant dresses. It is going to take time to determine what looks best on you and what styles to avoid. You cannot just find a pageant dress that you like in a magazine and go in and buy it. Especially when you are new to pageantry, it is going to take you awhile to figure out what styles work best for your figure.
The best thing to do when going gown shopping in your local area is to call ahead and see if you can make an appointment with a store clerk. That way they can pull pageant dresses for you and give you one-on-one help and attention. Make sure to go when it is not a super busy time because it’s not going to be very fun for you. If it’s busy with a lot of girls trying on dresses, it will take longer for you to find what you want and you may have to wait for a dressing room.
Make sure to wear the heels and under garments that you might wear during your pageant so that you can get an accurate idea of how pageant dresses really fit you. Bring a list of pageant dress and their manufacture number if you can, so that the person helping you can get a better idea of what you are looking for. But, please try to stay open minded too. Sometimes a gown works for you that you didn’t expect to work. Just because it doesn’t look like much on a hanger, it could still wow you when you put it on. Don’t get hung up on sizes. Formal gowns do tend to run small, so don’t get upset if you have to go up a size or two.
Pageant dresses stores within your state
It is also worth it to visit pageant dresses stores that are in your state that you might have to drive to. If you live in a small town, you may not have the options available to you that are in stock like stores in a larger city. Don’t be afraid to call ahead and set up an appointment with them, especially if you are driving a great distance. They want your business and should be willing to accommodate you.
Just because a pageant dress you like is not in stock there, does not mean that they can’t order it for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for what you want. Sometimes pageant dresses have to be ordered up to 12 weeks ahead of time because they are made to order. So, be sure to start your pageant dress shopping early. Don’t wait until a month before your pageant.
Start shopping! Find a dress store near you.
Shopping online for formal pageant gowns has its pros and cons. You can find great deals and incredible selections that you may not be able to find at your local formalwear shop. But, the downside of course, is that you cannot try them on. The best way to shop online is to purchase gowns from designers that you know tend to fit you best or go up a size or two if you really love a gown. You can always have a gown taken in for you if you have a great seamstress, which every pageant girl should have.
The other negative thing about shopping online is that you often cannot return pageant dresses online. If a pageant dress is on clearance, you will not be able to return it for sure. Check the website for the store’s return policy. Many stores allow you to return pageant dresses, but you have to do it within a given time period, and they may charge you a restocking fee as well. Shopping online can be a fantastic way to purchase pageant dresses for a lot less money. You just have to be smart about where you shop and pay attention to their return policy.
Pageant resale websites are excellent resources for buying used pageant dresses. There are so many now, that all you have to do is get online and do a search and you will locate them in no time. You will find very high end designer pageant dresses from state, national and even international pageant contestants, as well as mid range more affordable pageant dresses from designers that you know.
Turns out, you're in the right place to buy and sell pageant dresses. Find the pageant dress of your dreams or sell your pageant wardrobe right from Pageant Planet! We've created a pageant dress resale feature that protects both buyers and sellers.
Local consignment stores in your area or in your state are also great places to purchase a used pageant gown. All of the pros and cons listed for resale sites apply here as well. The good thing is that you can actually go in and try the dresses on and see how they look and fit. You never know when you can find a gem in a consignment shop, so they are totally worth your time if you have some good ones in your area.
Rental shops or websites are popping up all over the place now, and are also a good resource for pageant girls. Every website or shop is going to be different so you just have to go and do your research. They will require a damage deposit of course, and their rates are going to vary quite a bit. But, the best thing about these rental places is that most girls only wear their pageant gowns once anyway, so if you can rent it for a low fee, why not!
Borrowing pageant dresses
One of the best budget friendly ways to obtain a pageant dress is to borrow one! It’s amazing to me how many girls overlook this idea. If you are new to the pageant world, you may not know a lot of girls who compete, but you can always ask your director for help. Many pageant directors actually have a stash of pageant clothing from interview outfits to opening number dresses to swimsuits and pageant dresses!
Don’t hesitate to ask if they might have something that you can borrow. They want you to be in the pageant and they usually will do all that they can to help you out. Borrowing pageant dresses is a wonderful way to save money and most pageant girls who have been competing for awhile have a closet or two of gowns just hanging there. If you have friends who have competed for some time and you are a similar size, then ask them. Put a message out on your social media that you are looking to borrow or possibly rent a gown. A lot of girls do this, so don’t overlook this idea if you have not thought of it before.
Custom pageant dresses
Finally, if you cannot find a gown to buy or borrow, you can always have one custom made for you. Actually, many ladies have their pageant dresses custom made because they want something original or they know exactly what they like and cannot find it for sale. This is a terrific option if you know a professional seamstress who knows how to craft a pageant gown. You must make sure that your tailor, designer or seamstress knows the difference between bridal, prom and pageant dresses or you are going to end up with something that you do not want.
Make sure that they do a sketch for you and that you communicate very, very well with each other. Having pageant dresses custom made for you is such a wonderful thing if you can do it. You will walk on stage knowing that you are wearing an original creation that nobody else has. It will fit you to perfection and you will feel like the queen you are.
There are so many places to find amazing pageant gowns if you are open minded. You do not have to spend a fortune on pageant dresses for a pageant. Just make sure you start the process early and be optimistic. Take your time, try on lots of pageant dresses and know yourself and your body most of all.
Choosing the right color for your evening gown can be one of the harder decisions you will make when it comes to getting your pageant wardrobe together. You want to choose a color that will not only look best on your skin but one that will reflect your personality and convey this and your brand to the judges. What kind of person do you want them to think you are? Different colors portray a different set of emotions and you want to make sure you are giving off the right message through your evening gown. First, let’s talk about the psychology and meaning behind what we wear.
It is important to know what we wear has an effect on a person’s impression of you, good or bad. This is why the people say you make your first impression based on your style. People will notice what you are wearing first before they open their ears to you. In pageantry, this means everything because your clothes determine your brand and the judges will take all that into consideration within the first 3-5 seconds of you walking into the room. So, it’s always good to choose your outfits wisely for each phase of the competition. Here’s what each of the most popular evening gown colors mean about you.
Black represents authority, strength and power. Wearing black creates a favorable impression by showing the judges you are trustworthy, a natural leader and independent. This color is also slimming and good to hide trouble areas. Be careful however, too much black can come off as dark and mysterious. You want the judges to see you as a person they can trust to be the winner, so be open and transparent when wearing this color.
Pageant Coach Terri Bunch says that wearing a black gown can be tricky since it can be overwhelming on some contestants. " need some kind of shimmer or accent to them and I do not recommend them unless you are a blonde," Bunch said. "Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields demonstrates this concept. The combination of black and velvet draws your eyes up to her face."
Miss Kansas USA 2019, Alyssa Klinzing, at the 2019 Miss USA Pageant. Photo: Alex Mertz/The Miss Universe Organization
White is common in the Miss America system. Since 2000, 10 of the last 16 winners chose a white, nude or silver gown. This could be because the MAO system is a more conservative, but that mold is changing. White represents innocence, purity and cleanliness. Depending on the make of the gown, with the additional stage lights, you can appear angelic wearing all white. The problem comes when too much white begins to wash you out, so it’s best to either accessorize with a bold color like red or chose a gown that accentuates your best features. White is popular because it can look good on anyone and is a universal color.
“White is popular for the simple fact that it is incredibly complementary on so many different types of contestants," said Shelby. "However, ultimately it is not the dress that wins it is the girl inside it.”
Miss Florida USA 2019 Nicolette Jennings, at the 2019 Miss USA pageant. Photo: Alex Mertz/The Miss Universe Organization
Red is also a popular evening gown selection for more obvious reasons. It comes off as captivating and reflects energy, power, strength and maturity. This is my favorite color to wear because it contrasts perfectly with my darker skin tone. Red also excludes confidence and draws the eye to you as a person who is demanding attention, which on stage is exactly what you want to do.
Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Blue and Green
These two colors represent tranquility and a sense of calmness, relaxation and loyalty. Think about it. When people want to take a vacation, where do they usually try to go? The beach (blue water) or somewhere in nature (green). These colors are relaxing to look at. Green, specifically, makes people feel connected to nature.
Miss Costa Rica 2018, Natalia Carvajal. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
This color can be tricky or masterful, it depends on how the contestant wears it. Purple is rarely found on the pageant stage, but Olivia Culpo introduced this color as one to win in when she took home the Miss USA title. Purple has a long history of representing royalty and wealth. The combination of red and blue creates a mix of power and calmness or tranquility.
Miss Arizona 2018 Isabel Ticlo. Photo: ABC
There are several different shades of yellow from chartreuse to saffron. Choosing the right shade for your skin tone and hair color can make or break the gown. Take into consideration the tone of your skin. Do you have yellow undertones or red undertones? Are you more tan or more pale? Answering these questions will help you choose a shade that is flattering. Generally speaking, darker shades flatter darker skin tones while lighter shades flatter lighter ones. Your hair color will also play a role in the shade of yellow you should choose. Yellow on blondes has become a very popular combination, as the yellow in the dress can bring out the yellow tones in the hair.
Pink works when it comes to competing as a Teen, however because of this, pink is a rather popular color in this category, so wearing it could either make you stand out or blend in. When I competed for as a teen in the USA system, out of 110 teens, a good 45-50% of us had on a pink gown, but the winner also wore pink. This color gives the judges a sense of innocence along with kindness. Since pink is often associate with female genders, this color is often associated with youth.
What do the judges say?
The evening gown portion puts a stamp on who wins, and the onstage question (if you are doing it in your gown) just secures your win with a bow. When it comes to color, you need to know what looks best with your skin tone. Bunch says that aside from color, if the fit is not up to par, the color does not even matter.
“A less expensive gown with a perfect fit is better than an expensive gown that does not fit perfectly,” Bunch said. She says movement, presentation and confidence are key to winning the crown of your dreams. Judges do not look at individual colors, but rather how the girl is portrayed and her overall presence. Shelby also agrees the color does not matter.
“I once had a judge tell me that the contestant they select as their winner is always the contestant that they couldn’t even tell you what they were wearing, all they could see was the contestant herself,” Bunch said.
Pageant Planet did an entire podcast on how to use color to win your pageant. Check out the video below to find out how colors influence your chance at winning and how to select your wardrobe accordingly!
When you are competing in your a pageant, your wardrobe is an extension of your personality - a way for you to reiterate who you are to the judges without needing to say a word. If you have a big personality or want to stand out, choosing a pattern for your pageant dress may be a good fit for you.
Most contestants decide to go with solid colored pageant dresses because they don’t want their pageant dress to be too distracting. Remember, you want the judges to pay attention to you, not just what you are wearing. If you can pull off patterned pageant dresses without taking away from your overall performance, we say go for it! The judges would be sure to remember the girl who decided to take a risk.
Patterned pageant dresses usually gives off a young, fun vibe, so it’s typical that these gowns are only worn by Teen and Pre-teen contestants. A Miss, Ms. or Mrs. contestant could be able to pull this off, but they need to be careful to not come off as immature if they decide to do so.
Wearing pageant dresses with a slit during the evening gown competition is a way to give off the impression of being confident in yourself and mature. High slits and front slits have been becoming more popular in pageant systems around the world. Because slits show off some extra skin, we only recommend these for Miss, Ms. and Mrs. contestants. When Teens or younger divisions wear pageant dresses with this feature, it usually makes the judges and audience feel uncomfortable.
We recommend wearing slits if you feel confident in them. If you feel uncomfortable in your dress, the judges could interpret that as you not being confident onstage. If wearing a pageant dress with a slit makes you feel beautiful, then we are all for it! Typically it is best to show skin is to do it in a balanced way.
For instance, if you are going to wear something with a low neckline, then keep your legs more covered. If you are going to wear an outfit that is going to reveal a substantial amount of leg, then be more covered up on the top half of your body. However, we have been seeing this rule break over the last few years in the pageant industry. It is important to know your pageant system.
For example, the Miss America system is more conservative, so we would recommend sticking to the rule above. However in the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants, you can get away with showing off more skin. As long as you feel confident, look classy and match your system, you will be able to determine what style of pageant dresses work best for you. Sometimes wearing a form-fitting gown with a slit can come off as too sexy.
We love seeing Miss contestants like Laura Lehmann, Miss World Phillippines 2017, wearing a bigger, ballgown that opens up to showcase a large slit. Laura looks confident and beautiful in her high-slit gown.
Miss World Philippines 2017, Laura Lehmann. Photo: MALL OF ASIA ARENA on Twitter
A double-slit gown is less common to see, but if worn correctly it can make a huge statement. Julie Kuo, Miss Hawaii USA 2017, definitely stood out at the Miss USA 2017 pageant! The bodice of the gown is covered in clear and orange multi-colored beads and rhinestones, and the waist is cinched by a wide, banded belt. The tropical colored silk chiffon skirt flows over her legs but is broken up by two hip-high slits. The design is completed by a matching orange chiffon cape that cascades dramatically down her shoulders. While this may be too sexy for some conservative pageant systems, it worked out perfectly during the Miss USA pageant.
Miss Hawaii USA 2017, Julie Kuo. Photo: Joey Galon Instagram
Before the pageant
Use the right hanger
If you purchase your gown from a full-service store, it should come with the proper hanger. Unlike regular clothes, plastic hangers used for tshirts should be avoided. The notches can catch on the delicate fabric of the gown. Plus, if there is any beading or sequins on the shoulders, it can get caught in the notches, resulting in damage.
If you buy your gown online, it will more than likely not come with a proper hanger. However, you can and should purchase one. For an evening gown, the hanger should be free of any notches. This prevents the gown from getting caught and damaging any detailing. Hangers like this one (see below) are perfect for hanging an evening gown or any other special occasion dress.
Hang it properly
In addition to the right hanger, the gown has to be hung properly. The white ribbons sewn on the inner part of almost any evening gown serves a purpose! They are supposed to be on the hanger. They alleviate the weight of the gown so the shoulders and bustline do not become damaged or stretched out over time.
Storing your gown properly is essential to ensure it remains in perfect condition. Gowns should be stored in a dark, cool closet at a high enough level that the gown does not touch the floor. This will prevent it from getting dirty or wrinkling. Never store a gown in direct or even partial sunlight. This will cause the color of the dress to fade over time.
Buy a garment bag
As a stylist, I cannot stress this enough. A garment bag can save you from a total disaster. Unlike a cheap plastic bag that will rip, a garment bag is made of cloth and zips close. This barrier protects the gown and prevents damage. Most full service gown stores give you a garment bag with your purchase. However, if you purchase your gown at a chain store, they will probably give you a plastic bag. If you order online, your gown will probably not have one. You can purchase a custom one online at places like Etsy.
After the pageant
After the pageant is done, you should still do everything you did before the pageant to properly store your gown. While care before the pageant is mainly about storage, care after the pageant has to do with proper cleaning. In order to ensure the gown stays in perfect condition, you have to properly clean it after each use.
This will do wonders for keeping your gown in perfect condition. Steaming your gown keeps it wrinkle-free and "refreshes" it after wear. You can take it to any dry cleaners where they will professionally steam it for a small fee. You can also invest in a personal steamer. While quality steamers can be pricey, you will save a lot of money in the long run. If you do not know how to use a steamer, there are hundreds of tutorials online. In addition, you can also use the steamer for the rest of your wardrobe to ensure you always look your best!
Dry cleaning is the only way you can thoroughly clean a gown. This is for after multiple wears or outdoor appearances where the bottom of the dress can get dirty. Prices for dry cleaning vary depending on where you go and material of the gown. You should do research before choosing where to take your gown to be dry cleaned. Gowns are much more complicated to steam than, say, a pair of pants. You have to be careful with sequins, beading and delicate layers of tulle, all of which can be ruined if the gown is mishandled. You should go to someone who has experience in dry cleaning gowns to ensure your gown is not damaged.
This is for in between dry cleanings when stains, like small spray tan marks or a touch of lipstick, appear. Place a soft cloth under the stained area. Spray it with a gentle laundry cleaner. I use Shout personally and professionally. With another soft cloth, gently rub. Use a hair dryer on the lowest setting to dry the area.
Proper care for your gown is essential for every pageant contestant.
Finding your perfect gown is just part of nailing your evening gown competition. The key is to complete your look with the perfect accessories to take it to the next level.
Earrings are the go-to accessory for every pageant girl. They add just the right amount of sparkle or a pop of color to a neutral look. Earrings also help bring the judges eye to your face, keeping their focus on you. This will allow you to make eye contact and connect with them.
If your evening gown has rhinestones or beading, make sure your earrings match so as not to distract from your total look. Miss Maryland Earth United States 2018 Amber Dawn Butler matched the intricate beading on the bodice of her evening gown with the perfect chandelier earrings. Chandelier earrings are a common design for evening gown earrings. The design matches many styles. The key is finding on with the perfect jewels to match those of your gown.
Miss Maryland Earth United States Amber Dawn Butler competes during the evening gown competition at Miss Earth United States 2018. Photo: Diane Butler
Pop of color
Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan, competes during the evening gown competition on the final night of the Miss America 2013 Pageant. Photo: Miss America Organization
Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan perfected this trend with her winning look at the 2013 Miss America Pageant. Her simple evening gown was elevated when she added a fun pair of purple statement earrings. With her hair pulled back, the earrings stood out and helped keep attention on her gorgeous face! The look is one of the favorites in recent Miss America history.
Miss Maryland 2017, Kathleen Masek, competes during the evening gown competition at Miss America 2018. Photo: Miss America Organization
If your evening gown has a high neckline, it is best to keep your earring simple. A giant sparkly earring combined with a covered neck can make you appear shorter onstage. Miss Maryland 2017, Kathleen Masek, wore a simple drop earring to accompany the complicated neckline of her evening gown at Miss America 2018. The earring complements the design of the neckline and belt, but does not distract from the detail.
Miss California USA 2018, Kelly Johnson, competes during the evening gown competition at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss USA Organization
A simple earring can also be a hit. For example, Miss California USA 2018, Kelly Johnson, choose a small earring to accompany her daring black evening gown. Combined with the high slit and low neckline, the simple earring kept the look sexy, instead of gaudy.
Miss Teen USA 2014 K Lee Graham competes during the 2014 Miss Teen USA evening gown competition. Photo: Miss Teen USA Organization.
Necklaces can be a risk at a pageant. If you have an elaborate gown with a lot of sparkle, a necklace will draw the judges’ eyes down and away from your face. This look is best left to jazz up very simple gowns. A great example comes from Miss Teen USA 2014, K Lee Graham. She paired this super simple blue pageant dress with a gorgeous necklace full of color. Not only did it add color to bring attention to her face, it also added coverage to make the low neckline appropriate for a Teen!
A recent trend to emerge in evening gown competitions is the introduction of dresses with capes. A cape can help create movement and make you appear to float across the stage. The key is to not let the cape be the star of the show.
Miss Tennessee 2017, Grace Burgess, competes during the evening gown competition at Miss America 2018. Photo: Miss America Organization.
Miss Tennessee 2017, Grace Burgess, wore on of the best examples of this trend on the Miss America stage. The bright pink number was accompanied by a long cape was jewel encrusted shoulders. She looked amazing and the look has inspired capes across pageant stages.
Miss USA 2016 Olivia Jordan competes during the evening gown competition at Miss Universe 2016. Photo: Miss Universe Organization.
If you are going to wear a cape, make sure to practice with it as much as possible! During the evening gown competition at Miss Universe 2016, Miss USA 2016 Olivia Jordan chose this angelic white evening gown with a long cape. While the look was perfect, the cape gave her issues during the initial competition. She had difficulty walking and ultimately ditched the cape for the Final Look and during the infamous crowning. Her gown was beautiful without the cape. However, it took the look to the Miss Universe level. Having to abandon her initial look, while still beautiful, left her a bit bare.
Bracelets are a general no for evening wear. Save the blinged-out bangles for fun fashion or swimsuit!
While glitz dresses themselves may be over the top and filled with fantasy and sparkle, the accessories are very slim and don’t change much from one dress to the next. When choosing your accessories take into account what the dress already comes with, the style of dress and your age. From the shoes to the earrings, glitz standards are very rigid when it comes to accessories. Read on to find out the nitty gritty about glitz dress details.
Cupcake or babydoll dress`
If your little one is wearing a beautiful custom made cupcake dress complete with a collar, wristlets and a choker then your job for accessories is very easy. Since most high end glitz dresses come with some or all of the above accessories, and sometimes even more, all you need now is earrings, shoes and socks.
For earrings you’ll want to stay very basic. A solitaire diamond or CZ is perfect for any age, and you can even find them in clip on styles. I recommend a clear or AB colored solitaire. You do not need to break the bank or take a trip to Jared to complete this look either. Claire's has an amazing selection of solitaire earrings that are wallet friendly and safe for sensitive ears. This pack of three earrings gives you a selection of earrings or a spare for a friend that may have forget theirs!
For a little more sparkle without going too overboard you can opt for a cluster earring still within the clear or AB color scheme. Pageant Planet has a whole shop of earrings for older contestants and we also have Lucy Lou cluster earrings with Swarovski for that extra sparkle!
Photo: Pageant Planet Shop
Next we move onto the feet! This is where it gets easy because there are not very many acceptable shoes or socks. If you are wearing a glitz cupcake dress you are going to want to pick up a pair of Nina’s bonnet shoes in white. Then head over to your local Payless store for some white ruffled socks!
Photo: Nina’s Shoes
While there are many versions of Mary Jane style shoes, and the covering can change from patent white to pearlized, your best bet is to keep your hand on what shoes your competitors are wearing. You wouldn’t want to get points off for having the wrong shoe because it is distracting or the wrong color. You can find these at your local Dillard’s store or order online from Ninashoes.com. If you daughter is wanting a little heel that’s ok too, just make sure she can walk in them. Nina’s offers her bonnett with a slight heel.
Some girls aged 10-12 may choose to go away from the white Mary Janes by wearing a strappy silver low heel like Missy Vinyl by Touch Ups. Pick up a pair of these on our Pageant Planet shop here. For more information on what shoes and socks to wear, head over to The ULTIMATE Guide to Pageant Shoes.
If your dress did not come with a lot of extra accessories, don’t feel like you need to add in jewelry for your whole dress. At most a glitz dress should have small earrings (see above) and maybe a sparkly bracelet. If choosing a bracelet make sure it won’t snag you skirt or any of the appliques that may rip on the dress if snagged. Chokers are popular right now, but unless it comes with the dress I wouldn’t recommend it as some of these dresses have custom colors and it may be hard to match.
One note before I close, hair accessories for glitz dresses are also an important part of the overall appeal. Most dresses come with a hair accessory so you are safe there but if you have a dress that does not you are better off not using one at all! Since dresses are custom made and have a symmetry that runs throughout them, it’s best not to try and match it to something at the store. In the case where you truly feel like you need a hair accessory, find something that is clear or AB sparkly as a comb not a clip. Clips tend to weigh down hair and can ruin your hairstyle all together. You can always use a bobby pin to slip a hair bow or comb in also!
Hi-low, evening gown and peek a boo
Our contestants with these style of dresses have a easy job when it comes to picking out accessories. A drop down earring with drama and color is always OK in the glitz world. Color matching is also ok, so if you are wearing a red dress feel free to bring that red drop earrings out! Stop by the Pageant Planet shop and take a look at our wide variety of earrings for this style of dress. My favorite earring is this AB drop down set which will pick up the color of any dress but not be too overpowering! Add them to your shopping list here.
Photo: Pageant Planet Shop
When it comes to shoes for these style of dress a nude strappy shoe, clear cinderella shoe or a strappy metallic shoe are perfect choices. Always keep in mind that this is a glitz dress and drama is always ok, but there is a line of going over the top and becoming tacky. If you are afraid of taking this route then a nude or cinderella shoe is best! There are many different styles of the vinyl shoe, from heal height to embellishments just pick what you feel the most comfortable in. You can pick up a pair of these from our Pageant Planet shop here.
Hair accessories for these dresses vary a lot depending on age. There is a large split between no hair accessories for ages 12 and up and doing a hair accessory. Always keep in mind what the dress came with and what hairstyle you will be using. Our teen and up contestants will probably not use a hair accessory while divisions below that may.
Knowing the type of jewelry you need to complete your evening gown look is one thing. However, finding that jewelry can seem like an impossible task. There are many different resources you can use to help you find the perfect accessories to complete your look.
Pageant Planet Store
Pageant Planet’s store sells a limited number of jewelry and accessories that are available for individual purchase.
Go Big or Go Home designed by Jim Ball. Photo: Pageant Planet Store
One popular design that is sure to match a variety of not only evening gowns but other phases of competition as well is by Jim Ball. These chandelier earrings, dubbed Go Big or Go Home, are made of Swarovski crystal and a perfect fit for the evening gown competition. Jewelry can get expensive quick. However, these earrings are low-priced, but still high quality, to ensure your stay on your pageant budget. These are available at Pageant Planet’s Store.
Flower drop rhinestone earrings. Photo: Pageant Planet Store
Another great pair available through Planet Planet’s store are these flower drop rhinestone earrings. This pair is also designed by Jim Ball. Made of Swarovski crystal, these impact earrings come in Champaign, fuchsia and clear silver. Florals are a becoming a huge evening gown trend, especially for younger contestants. A floral earring that matches the floral of the gown is sure to be a hit.
This pair does fall on the higher end. However, the impact made by such large earrings is sure to send a statement to the judges. In addition, when buying pageant jewelry, think of other ways you can use it throughout your reign. After all, you do not want to pay hundreds of dollars for a piece of jewelry you are going to wear for 90 seconds, make sure you can get multiple uses. These are available at Pageant Planet’s store.
Rockstar rhinestone earrings by Jim Ball shown in AB. Photo: Pageant Planet Store
Another great pair you can find in Pageant Planet’s store also comes from design Jim Ball. The Rockstar rhinestone earrings are perfect for evening gown. A large drop earring, like this, is best for when you want to keep you your accessories simple but still match your gown. If you gown has lots of complicated beadwork and pattern, it can be difficult to find a pair of earrings that matches exactly. A sparkly drop earring is a safe choice in this situation. Drop earrings match nearly everything so you can ensure your evening gown look is perfect. This design also comes in a wide selection of colors. You can order this pair in clear silver, AB, blue or red! These are available at Pageant Planet’s Store.
If you are still unsure of what accessories to choose for evening gown, consider becoming a VIP Girl. In addition to tons of coaching sessions and tips, Pageant Planet will also help you shop to complete all your pageant looks
If you choose to buy your gown at a full service pageant store, take a look at the accessories they offer. While you still have your stylist, you can try earrings on with your dream gown to find your complete look.
Choosing the right shoe is also critical is nailing the evening gown competition. Choosing a shoe that is too high or the wrong color could cost you the crown. For heels, the most important thing is to pick a pair you can actually walk in. While six-inch heels are tempting, if you look like a newborn calf trying to walk in them, it will reflect in your scores.
Your evening gown shoes should be a neutral color. Shoes outside of neutral colors should be avoided. They distract from the overall beauty of the gown. Again, save these type of shoes for fun fashion, appearances or parades!
A nude shoe is always a safe bet for evening gown. Nude matches nearly everything and elongates the legs to make you appear taller. Also, a nude shoe can transition through multiple phases of competition, helping you cut down on pageant costs!
Miss Mississippi USA 2018, Laine Mansour, competes during the evening gown competition at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss USA Organization
A fantastic example comes from Miss Mississippi USA 2018, Laine Mansour. Her nude shoe was perfect for her semi-sheer evening gown. In addition, the heel is perfect for swimsuit, saving time backstage to get into a complicated gown like this.
There are a lot of nude shoes out there. It is most important to pick a shoe that you can walk in. The straps on the Queenie by Touch Ups creates a solid foundation, which can make it easier to walk in the heels. These are available in the Pageant Planet Store.
Queenie by Touch Ups. Photo: Pageant Planet Store
Another go-to nude pageant shoe is the Tippy Tops by Chinese Laundry. Many seasoned pageant competitors wear Tippy Tops for all onstage phases of competition. While it is a fairly stable shoe because of the straps, it does have a six-inch heel, which makes it difficult to walk in them. If you're ready to take your shoe game to the next level or need a new pair of pageant shoes, these are available in the Pageant Planet Store.
Miss New Hampshire USA wearing Tippy Tops by Chinese Laundry. Photo: Pageant Planet Store
Miss District of Columbia USA 2018, Bryce Armstrong, was a golden goddess on the 2018 Miss USA stage. Her gold gown was accompanied by a metallic gold shoe.
Miss District of Columbia USA 2018, Bryce Armstrong, competes during the evening gown competition at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss USA Organization.
The look screamed of the red carpet. Everything about the look was perfect. The key to pulling off a metallic shoe is to make sure your evening gown is also metallic.
Miss Pennsylvania USA 2018, Olivia Suchko, competes during the evening gown competition at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss USA Organization.
Another great example from the 2018 Miss USA stage comes from Miss Pennsylvania USA 2018, Olivia Suchko. She paired a metallic shoe with a metallic purple evening gown for a fierce evening gown look.
Much like the Tippy Tops, another go-to pageant shoe is the Teaser 2 by Chinese Laundry. While it is a fairly stable shoe because of the straps, it does have a six-inch heel, which makes it difficult to walk in them. If you're ready to take your shoe game to the next level or need a new pair of pageant shoes, these are available in the Pageant Planet Store.
Teaser 2 by Chinese Laundry. Photo: Pageant Planet Store
If you are wearing a black evening gown, you should wear black shoes. Any other color distracts from the confidence and statement made in wearing a black gown.
Miss Virginia USA 2018, Ashley Vollrath, competes during the evening gown competition at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss USA Organization.
Miss Virginia USA 2018, Ashley Vollrath, nailed this look at the 2018 Miss USA Pageant. Her simple black shoe was the perfect choice for her gown, especially since it had a slit. The design is sexy, but does not distract from the overall look.
Choosing the right hairstyle to match your pageant dress is just as important as finding your dream pageant dress! The right hairstyle can make or break your evening gown look. When choosing a hairstyle that is best for evening gown, make sure you have an overall look in mind. What is the look you want to communicate to the judges and how can your hairstyle help?
Down and curly Down and curly is the perfect hairstyle for a strapless neckline. As seen in the above photo of Miss Colorado Teen USA, Alexis Glover, big curls fill in the negative space created by a strapless neckline to prevent her from appearing over-exposed or bare. The bigger the curls the better.
MIss Colorado Teen USA 2017, Alexis Glover, during the preliminary evening gown competition at Miss Teen USA 2017. Photo: Miss Teen USA
Since the top is so bare, you can really amp up the volume of the curls to frame your face. It is also important to invest in a decent hairspray like Glover did to keep your curls' fresh-out-of-the curling-iron appearance. Fallen curls often look stringy and unkempt under stage lights.
However, that does not mean a contestant cannot wear an updo. For example, Miss Georgia Teen USA 2017, Taylor Ward, wore her strapless gown with a big, beautiful Renaissance-inspired bun.
Miss Georgia Teen USA 2017, Taylor Ward, during the preliminary evening gown competition at Miss Teen USA 2017. Photo: Miss Teen USA
This hairstyle works because the bun is grand. Her bun looks like it took hours to braid. It is a work of art in itself that draws the eye to Ward’s face.
Updos are the key to wearing a gown with a high neckline. Miss California Teen USA 2017, Jaanu Patel, is an excellent example of this.
Miss California Teen USA 2017 Jaanu Patel during the evening gown competition at Miss Teen USA 2017. Photo: Miss Teen USA
Her cross-front halter gown is completely covered in rhinestones. If she wore her hair down, it would hide all the amazing detailing of the top. She pulled her hair back into a slick ponytail so it would not compete with the gown.
Afros or natural hair and high necklines make for a regal look as made famous by Miss USA 2017, Kára McCullough, when she won her national title. The look was also seen on the outgoing Miss USA 2016, Deshauna Barber, during her final walk.
Miss USA 2017, Kára McCullough and Miss USA 2016, Deshauna Barber. Photo: Miss Universe Organization Miss USA 2017
The volume and curl of Kára's hair highlights her shoulders and brings attention to her face. Her hair's volume also allows for the neckline to show without competing for attention.
Cold-Shoulder and off-the-Shoulder
These two styles are remarkably similar. The difference is that cold-shoulder gowns have a thin strap on the shoulders that creates a lovely frame for the arms. Since these two styles are so similar, the same hairstyles can work for both.
Sidepart with curls
This is the go-to hairstyle for either of these necklines. Both cuts were seen on the red carpet long before the pageant stage. Since these necklines evoke a Hollywood look, it is important to match that look with the hairstyle. Miss Florida 2017 Sara Zeng went for a 1920s movie star vibe with her short curls and dramatic cold-shoulder detailing.
Miss Florida 2017 Sara Zeng competes during the preliminary evening gown competition at Miss America 2018. Photo: America Organization
While Zeng's hair is rather short, the hairstyle also works well for contestants with longer hair. For example, Miss Vermont Teen USA 2017 Kelsey Golonka wore her hair side-parted with curls at the 2017 Miss Teen USA pageant. Since she has longer hair, having the curls fall behind her shoulders was a smart move. Too many curls falling down the front of the gown would hide the beautiful details on the shoulders.
Miss Vermont Teen USA 2017 Kelsey Golonka during the preliminary evening gown competition at Miss Teen USA 2017. Photo: Miss Teen USA
A gown with sleeves, especially if they are long, is a perfect match with a high bun. The trend was famously started by Olivia Culpo when she won the title of Miss Universe 2012 wearing a long-sleeved red ball gown with a high bun. It has become a go-to hairstyle for titleholders across all categories of competition.
Miss California 2018, MacKenzie Freed. Photo: Joe Whiteko
A great example can be seen on Miss California 2018, MacKenzie Freed. She wore a long-sleeved silver pageant dress dripping in rhinestones. The pageant dress is absolutely breathtaking. The beauty of this grand gown would be lost if she wore her hair down. Her high bun also shows off her amazing bone structure and smile. The whole look screams elegance and sophistication.
Halter and Straps
The great thing about a dress with straps or a halter is they generally work with any of the hairstyles listed above. However, a half-up, half-down style gives a contestant elements from every hairstyle. You still get to have your hair down, but it is pinned back off your face and shoulders. This hairstyle allows for a contestant to show off the detailing in the straps of the gown.
Miss Ohio USA 2017, Dinaleigh Baxter during the Miss USA preliminary evening gown competition. Photo: Miss USA
For example, Miss Ohio USA 2017 Dinaleigh Baxter styled her hair this way for the 2017 Miss USA pageant. The half-up, half-down style perfectly suits the pageant dress. It shows off the top of the gown and frames her face while still allowing her hair to remain down.
The right makeup is essential in winning any pageant. The look you create with your makeup can potentially be captured for years to come in your crowning moment photo.
Did you make sure your eyes popped during your last pageant? Your eyes are the windows to your soul and making sure that they stand out during all areas of competition can bring you one step closer to taking home the crown. While you will want to keep your eye makeup on the lighter side during your interview, it'll be time to go full-out glam when you have your evening gown competition.
Since there will be bright stage lights on you and the judges will be more than an arm's length away, you will want to use darker eyeshadow, thicker liner and even false lashes. All of these things will amp up your makeup look and make your eyes pop on stage. Miss Montana USA 2017 Dani Walker uploaded a video tutorial about how she achieved her makeup look for the Miss Montana USA 2017 finale.
Video: Miss Montana USA 2017 Dani Walker
As you can probably tell from the video, Walker made sure her eyes popped on stage by adding dark eyeshadow in her outer corners, using black eyeliner and wearing false lashes. In order to learn how to apply your makeup for your specific eye shape, like Walker, you will need to figure out which colors complement your eye color and how to apply your eye makeup.
Figuring out your eye shape should be the first step in learning how to do your own eye makeup. This way, when you are planning out your makeup, you can make sure it caters to your specific look. Many people don't realize that applying eyeshadow is essentially highlighting and contouring your eyes in order to make them pop. Knowing your eye shape can ensure that you highlight and contour your eyes in all of the right places.
Try comparing your eyes to the drawings on the chart below to find the best match for your eye shape. There are many different eye shapes.
How to apply eyeshadow Now that you've determined your eye shape, it's time to learn how to apply eyeshadow! While the way you apply your eyeshadow will be determined based off of your eye shape, the general procedure is similar for most eyes. Typically, eyeshadow colors get darker towards the outer corner, also known as the "V" of your eye, while the lightest color remains on your inner corner. This video tutorial will provide you with an in-depth eye makeup tutorial that includes eyeshadow application. Make sure to keep your eye shape in mind while watching!
Video: The Makeup Chair
In addition to figuring out how to apply eyeshadow, you'll need to find the perfect palette and brush set for pageant weekend. Both Morphe and MAC have eyeshadow palettes that are popular among pageant girls and makeup artists alike. Their strong pigmentation makes these brands perfect for stage makeup, especially during a pageant. While Morphe has created some great eyeshadow palettes, it has also released brush sets that are perfect for any pageant girl who wants to apply her own eyeshadow.
Similar to eyeshadow application, the way you apply your eyeliner will be determined by your eye shape. Since eyeliner tends to be the boldest and darkest part of a makeup look, it's the perfect way to make your eyes pop. Depending on your eye shape and the look you are trying to achieve, you can lift, shape or define your eyes with eyeliner. After finding out which eyeliner technique is right for you, it'll be time to learn how to apply it perfectly. Make sure to cater your makeup to your specific eye shape. Your makeup should be as unique as you are!
How to apply eyeliner
Now that you've figured out which eyeliner is most flattering for your eye shape, all you need to do is learn how to apply it! Since there are various types of eyeliner that you can apply, including liquid, gel and pencil, in addition to the many eyeliner styles that are out there, you will likely need to learn a variety of application techniques.
Video: Karina Garcia
Lancome's Grandiôse Liner. Photo: Pinterest
One of the best liners for pageant girls is Lancome's Grandiôse Liner. The bendable wand will allow you to achieve the most precise liquid liner looks!In addition to the bendable wand, Lancome's Grandiôse Liner comes in nine colors, allowing you to find your perfect liner.
Frame your eye with your brows
Doing your eye makeup is like turning your eyes into a work of art. Applying eyeshadow and liner can be very similar to a painter working on their latest masterpiece. Just like a painting needs a frame, your eyes deserve to be framed, too! This is where eyebrows come in. Filling in or shaping your eyebrows with the proper technique can make a large impact on your overall evening gown look. The drawing below can let you in on some of the basic do's and don'ts of filling in your eyebrows. These are some general guidelines in mind when filling in your eyebrows.
If your eyebrows are thin, sparse or short, you may want to consider applying more makeup to your eyebrows during a pageant. Depending on the look you want to achieve, you can use makeup to darken, lengthen or thicken your brows.
For ladies with eyebrows on the thicker side, you will likely need to apply less makeup to achieve your desired look. In your case, you will want to define your brows rather than fully shaping them. Applying makeup is all about enhancing your natural beauty, so if your brows are naturally thick and have shape to them, don't worry about applying too much eyebrow makeup. You wouldn't want to end up having your eyebrows distract from your eyes!
Video: Tori Sterling
The lips frame your smile. This makes them an important asset onstage, especially during evening gown.
Lipstick "Myth" by MAC Cosmetics
Applying MAC Cosmetics "Myth" lipstick. Photo: Megan Coyle Photography.
This long-wearing lipstick comes in a plethora of shades and finishes, making it an excellent resource for a girl who wants to try out some different options. MAC Cosmetics lipstick in "Myth" is a subtle nude that complements a brighter lip liner well. It mutes the brighter lip liner to make it a little more natural. The color would go well with nude, pastel or white evening gowns. This color works best on lighter skin tones.
"Bombshell" by MAC Cosmetics
Jade Spilka wearing MAC Cosmetics "Bombshell." Photo: Jade Spilka
"Bombshell" is a gorgeous shade for any skin tone. The color is perfect for both interview and stage. It is bright enough to highlight the lips but subtle and classy enough to not steal the show. "Bombshell" is a classic pageant shade. It is a go-to color that every contestant should have in her makeup bag. Keep the gloss subtle without glitter, allowing the color to appear as an enhancement of your natural lip shade.
"Ruby Woo" by MAC Cosmetics
Alessandra Ambrósio wearing "Ruby Woo." Photo: Clio Makeup
If you're looking for a show-stopping red, look no further than "Ruby Woo" by MAC Cosmetics. The color is one of MAC's most popular lipstick shades. It is popular among celebrities and makeup artists alike. This color is perfect for a contestant who wants to make a bold statement in evening gown. Stay away from this color in interview and swimsuit, though. It has its time and place, but it isn't for every occasion and it isn't for everyone.
If your pageant dress is simple, "Ruby Woo" might be for you. This color is definitely more suited for darker skin tones. The contrast between "Ruby Woo" and pale skin would be too much for the stage.
Clear lip gloss
Too Faced Lip Injection. Photo: Amazon
Clear lip gloss should be worn by Teen, Miss, Mrs. and Ms. It is more mature than glitter and adds shine to the look; however, don't overdo the clear gloss or it could separate into globs. Apply the gloss to the center of the top and bottom lips, dragging some product to the corners as your distribute. Too Faced Lip Injection is a clear gloss and a lip plumper. It puffs up your lips and makes them appear bigger, which is something many pageant girls aim to achieve.
Glitter lip gloss
Glitter lip gloss can be worn by Princess and Preteen. Glitter lip gloss provides a fresh and young take on makeup that is appropriate for the younger age groups. However, be careful with glitter. If too much is applied, it can be overbearing.
Jade Splika applying "Smile" Dazzleglass. Photo: Megan Coyle Photography
MAC Cosmetics' "Smile" Dazzleglass is a bright and sparkly gloss. Though it looks intimidating in the tube, it blends in well with the lipstick and is the perfect pair to a bright lipstick.
"Rosebud" lip liner by NARS
NARS "Rosebud" lip liner. Photo: NARS Cosmetics “Rosebud” lip liner
It is very important to have adaptable products in your pageant weekend makeup bag. "Rosebud" by NARS is long-wearing and flattering. It can be made to look fancy or casual depending on the lipstick and lip gloss you choose to pair it with.
“Half Red” lip liner by MAC Cosmetics
"Half Red" lip liner can serve many different skin tones and lipstick preferences. It is a very adaptable shade, coordinating with many mainstream lip colors. When lining or overdrawing your lips, always start from the center and draw outward. This allows for precision and a more symmetrical pair of lips.
After you line the lips, fill them in so that the liner can act as a base for your lipstick and lip gloss. Exfoliate your lips before applying lip liner. This will help with the longevity of the lip liner. Prep really does matter when it comes to lip makeup!
For the appearance of larger lips, apply concealer all over the lips until they completely match your skin color. Then, starting with a clean slate, draw on your lips with a lip liner, making them larger than they were before.
Photo: Milady Pro Lip chart.
Lips come in all shapes and sizes! Refer to this useful chart to identify your lip shape and find ways to achieve your most desired lip look.
False eyelashes are a must for every contestant onstage. False eyelashes make your eyes appear larger and help them pop onstage. While interview and appearances call for thinner lashes, evening gown is the time to turn up the drama with your lashes. Thick false lashes are going to be your best friend onstage. The stage lights are harsh and you will be some distance from the judges. Thicker eyelashes will help your eyes stand out onstage.
This brand is a must for every pageant girl. There are four different options that will match different parts of competition as well as your personal style.
Drama Lash Goody
Drama Lash Goody false eyelashes in the style, “Man Eater.” Photo: Pageant Planet Store
A go-to style for the evening gown competition is the style dubbed “Man Eater.” The lashes are super long and even length, making them the perfect false lashes that will fit to a variety of pageant girls. These are available at Pageant Planet’s Store.
The key with picking the right false eyelashes for the stage is to understand the type of lashes you have. While the “Man Eater” style is a great general false eyelash that will help you accomplish many looks, a super long false eyelash like this may not work if you have very short or thin eyelashes. A longer false eyelash is going to be heavier. Part of making sure your false eyelashes stay in place is the right glue, but it is also about the type of lashes you have.
For example, if you were one of the lucky ones born with super long lashes, a long false eyelash will stay better because your naturally long lashes will help support the weight. However, if your lashes are shorter or thinner, long false eyelashes may not be best. If you do have lashes that are on the shorter or thinner side, it is better to go will a shorter false eyelash that is thicker. This will add volume to your natural lash line, helping your eyes pop onstage, without adding tons of weight and potentially falling off.
Drama Lash Goody false eyelashes in the style, “Hot Mess.” Photo: Pageant Planet Store
Drama Lash Goody has a set that is perfect for the evening gown competition if you have short or thin eyelashes. The “Hot Mess” style is short but super thick. This will add tons of volume without weighing down your eyes. These are available at Pageant Planet’s Store.
Unlike the swimsuit competition, when it comes to your walk for the evening gown competition, the pace is slowed down quite a bit. In many systems, this is the last look and impression you will have on the judges before your on-stage question. This is your time to show the judges how graceful you are and show them your invisible crown before the actual one is placed on your head.
This walk is not a catwalk down the runway but more of a slower red carpet walk. Imagine every step as photographic point and if the photographer was to keep taking snapshots of you during evening gown, every step is picture perfect. Really soak up the stage lights and the audience’s awe of you in this moment. Keep your hand movement small, short and down by your sides, slightly brushing your hips as you walk.
Kára McCullough, Miss USA 2017; India Williams, Miss California USA 2017 and Alee-Sutton Hethcoat, Miss Tennessee USA 2017; compete as a top 10 finalists in their evening gown during The 2017 MISS USA® Competition. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Of all the things you need to think about while competing in the evening gown portion of your pageant, it's easy to forget what your hands should or shouldn't be doing while you walk. Though it seems like such a minor detail, it can certainly be the difference between winning and losing. My personal strategy for evening gown is to keep it simple. Therefore, the same goes for your hands: less is more. Let's take a look at the subtle things you can do with your hands when walking in evening gown.
Many of you likely have heard at some point that what you do in your evening gown varies per system and can fluctuate based on the dress. While this can certainly be true in some instances, the tips below are general rules of thumb I like to follow. Evening gown is your chance to be "the belle of the ball" and have your shining moment in front of the judges. You want all eyes on you and your beautiful face, not any crazy business happening with your hands. In that regard, I always recommend to take the "less is more" approach. Any movement with your hands while in evening gown should be short, sweet and simple.
The most important thing to remember is to always begin, execute and finish your walk with confidence! Take for instance if you're waiting on stage for your turn in evening gown. Pick a spot for your hands based on what is comfortable for you, then smile and wait without moving them around. Adjusting them too frequently may show your judges you are unconfident, tired or bored. A confident woman is at ease and able to hold her pose while waiting her turn, despite the fact that it may feel unnatural.
Meridith Gould, Miss Minnesota USA 2017, competes as a top 10 finalist in her evening gown during The 2017 MISS USA® Competition. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
When executing your walking pattern, not only will your feet be making strides or poses but your hands will as well. These movements need to be coordinated, graceful and seamless. As you walk, your hands should be relaxed down at your sides, palms in. With a slight bend at the elbow, your hands may brush the sides of your dress or thighs ever so slightly. Remember, everything from your shoulder down is connected. If your shoulder is relaxed (but not slouchy), a natural swing to the arm and hand will occur.
I think some contestants are afraid to move their arms and hands when they walk in evening gown. Don't glue your arms to your sides! It really is okay to move a bit. You just have to be mindful and in control of the movements.
Always keep your walking pace slow and steady for evening gown. As a dancer, I love to keep with the beat of the music. However, it is important to avoid a change of walking pace if the tempo adjusts. Your arms and hands will naturally follow along if you stay consistent with your feet.
As you walk, try to be cognizant of the things you should avoid doing with your hands. Don't swing your hands higher than a 45-degree angle or swing one hand higher than the other. This is where I struggle! I tend to swing my right arm like I am running a marathon while my left swings daintily. Also, hands you may see in a dance or cheer routine such blades, cinnamon rolls, jazz hands or spirit fingers don't belong in evening gown! When you come to a stop/pose point in your walking pattern (don't forget to stop for at least three seconds), this is when things can vary between system, age division and style of gown as to what you do with your hands.
Chhavi Verg, Miss New Jersey USA 2017, competes as a top 10 finalist in her evening gown during The 2017 MISS USA® Competition. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
I don't suggest any hands on hips for the younger girls in natural pageants. Simply down at the sides is perfectly fine for this group. Nice and relaxed, not stuck to the sides and not floating. These contestants should find a happy medium between the two. For Teen and up, one hand or two hands to the hip (or laid on the thigh for Miss and up) is definitely okay based on the system and dress style. Let's remember that hands on hips is a display of dominance and independence when we consider the body language speaking for us. If you put your hands on your hips in an evening gown pose, I suggest keeping your smile warm and welcoming as to not come off as too fierce during the most elegant portion of competition.
"How you utilize your hands during the evening gown competition of a pageant is extremely important," said Krystle Bell, founder and pageant/life coach at The Glamour Effect. "I personally coach constants to place their hands on their hips during poses. In my opinion, this routine adds personality to the evening gown walk." If you are going to try any combination of hands on hips, please make sure you are doing so correctly. It doesn't look great if your hands and arms aren't placed in a means best fit for your body and dress. Have your coach assist and critique you before bringing it to the stage. Practice fluid movements of relaxed hands moving to and from of the hip(s), as well as proper elbow, wrist and finger placement.
The dress and your confidence are the starting points to achieve the perfect movements in evening gown. A dress you adore paired with a winning attitude can make the world of a difference while you are up on stage. What you do with your hands when you walk in evening gown ultimately needs to be about what the you are most comfortable with and what makes you feel stunning. The tips above should have given you a starting point. It is now your job to practice and make it perfect!
During your evening gown stage presentation, less is more when it’s time to determine what poses you will be doing. This is a time to show off you and the gorgeous pageant dress or tux you are wearing, but the focus is ultimately on you. Depending on the stage, most systems will have their contestants stick with the typical “T” walking pattern. This is where you enter from stage left or right in the back of the stage, walk toward the center, pose, walk toward downstage right, pose then walk to the opposite side, stage left pose and turn and walk back upstage or walk off stage.
Practice makes perfect for your posing so work with a coach to determine how you should best showcase your gown and body when you are forward facing the judges dead center in front of them. This is when the judges are right in front of you and your shoulders are centered toward them. For this position the typical “pretty feet” T stance is perfect. This is when one of your legs is behind the other and your toes are facing toward the right and the foot in front is in the center with toes facing forward. Your weight and center of gravity should be on the back foot. Hands can be kept low holding on to your buttocks or where they naturally fall when straight down.
Another position for your hands is up on your waist. This elongates your legs and is a power stance many women like to go for. The trick for this is to not have your hands too low like down by your natural hip bones. Bring your hands up to just below your rib cage. To practice, when you put your hands up on your sides your elbows should make a nice 90 Degree angle. If your arms are lower your elbows will be wider, bring them up higher. Also, in this pose, move your hip to the same direction your back foot is facing and turn your upper body to the judges. This will cause a twist in your mid-section and make it appear smaller and create a nice curvature in your body instead on a straight, boring up-right pose.
Miss Maryland USA 2018 Brittinay Nicolette at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Stage right or feft
If you are on the right or left side of the stage, and the judges are center, they are going to see you from your left or right side. You can opt to go for the same “T” stance with your right foot in the back toes pointed off-stage and your left foot in front toes pointed toward the front. Another pose to do from this side is to switch your foot position and have the left foot facing toward the left and the right foot facing forward. Remember that the judges are seeing you from a lower angle. When you are practicing this pose, have someone take a picture from where the judges might be to see if this angle is showing your best side. Make sure whichever pose you decide on, your shoulders and upper body are facing toward the judges.
Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Pageant dress design
Depending on how your pageant dress is designed might also influence your pose. Does it have something spectacular or unique you want to show off i.e. pockets, a slit, deep back? Although this round of competition is not meant to be a fashion show to show off the pageant dresses, if there is something unique about your gown that you believe will give you a few extra points them make sure you show it off in your pose.
Remember the incredible detail on the back of Pia’s blue gown during Miss Universe? When she posed for her final look, she did a 360 slow turn to show the back and when her front circled back to the judges, she was gleaming. Not only did she manage to show off the back of the dress but she gave the judges a different spin than the other contestants for her pose and it made her stand out.
Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
This also takes tons of practice and the proper fitting because if she would have stumbled on her turn it wouldn’t have looked as seamless and easy as she made it to look and would have appeared choppy and awkward. This is all about preparing for evening gown and playing with your strengths.
There are so many places to help you get educated about preparing for the evening gown or formalwear portion of your pageant.
The most obvious place to look first is the actual pageant itself. Check out the pageant website, the pageant’s social media sites and the packet of information that the director gave you.
The internet is probably the next place that you should look if you want more information. You will find great resources online for finding information about what to wear for evening gown, how to walk and how to pose when you are onstage. There are even blogs, websites and youtube channels that are owned by professional stylists or knowledgeable pageant girls, where you can get a tremendous education in this area. These sites are invaluable for the amount of information that you can learn.
YouTube in general is a treasure trove of tutorials and instruction and you can find countless videos produced by some of the top pageant coaches in the industry, like Lu Sierra.
Lu Sierra, who is a model and a well known walking and posing coach in the pageant industry, has been teaching women how to master their walking and posing skills forever. She is the official walking coach for the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, so you know that she knows what she is doing.
But, you don’t need to be lucky enough to be a Miss USA or Miss Universe contestant to benefit from her tutelage. All you have to do is hop onto YouTube and you will discover that she has her own channel with tons of great videos that will get you started in no time. It’s important to note that all pageant contestants can use feedback and improvement on their onstage performance from time to time, so don’t feel bad if you need to work at this aspect of competition.
Even the woman who wins Miss USA works with Lu Sierra before she goes to compete at Miss Universe to perfect her walk and focus on all the little details of her onstage performance, so that she can stand out at the International competition.
If you want to learn how to stand out during the evening gown portion of your pageant, you have to be willing to do the work and put in the time, actually enjoy performing for the judges and be able to be completely yourself onstage. Improving your walk and posing for evening gown is not something that happens overnight and you have to be patient with yourself during this process. Having an outstanding walk and incredible poses is a skill set that one develops over time from practicing for hours and hours for months.
Being able to master this area of pageantry is actually a result of muscle memory. Muscle memory is when you do something so many times or for so long that your body automatically goes through those motions or into those movements without very much conscious thought. If you are a dancer, a gymnast or even a musician, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When you first learn something, it seems like there are so many little things to remember and it can feel overwhelming. Then after awhile, you realize that you are doing things automatically without thinking about it at all. That is exactly how walking and posing and all of your onstage performance skills work.
You have to learn the foundational aspects, one step at a time. Then you practice them over and over until you think you’re going to go bonkers and wonder if you will ever figure it out. Then voila! All of a sudden, you are doing it effortlessly. You will eventually master walking and posing and making it look easy, I promise you. You just have to believe in yourself, have patience and trust the process. You will get there!
Part of being in pageantry is being willing and able to show off a little bit. This is where the performance aspect of evening gown comes into play. It is pageantry after all! If you want to win your crown, you have to have that “look at me” quality. The judges are looking at you and you have to show them that you want them to. If you are having fun and feeling beautiful in your pageant dress, the judges will get caught up in the magic and fall in love with you.
Understand your system
You also need to understand that walking and posing onstage in evening gown is a different thing for every kind of pageant and every level of pageantry. Different pageant systems and different levels of pageantry require different kinds of performance. The walk that a contestant in the Miss America system does for a local preliminary pageant is going to be very different than what a contestant in the Miss America system will do for a state or even national level competition.
The walk that a contestant has for a Miss USA state pageant is going to be drastically different than the walk that a contestant vying for the Miss Universe crown has. Typically, the higher up you go in the world of pageantry, the more individual the walking and posing will become.
Understand the culture
There are not just the differences between pageant systems and levels of pageants, but there are even differences between countries and cultures. If you really want to see the scope of walking and posing in evening wear across the gamete of pageantry, spend some time watching pageant videos from several different countries.
Countries in South America are very over the top when it comes to walking and posing and each woman has a unique style of carrying herself on stage that is designed to make the most of the gown that she has chosen to wear. Contestants who compete in Binibining Pilipinas, the national beauty pageant in the Philippines, create very stylized walks and precise poses that they practice and hone for months prior to the pageant.
What you learn from observing these women is that each lady is making her pageant experience her own. She may have a walking coach to help her but in the end; she is the one who has decided on what works best for her. It’s obvious that these contestants enjoy being on stage and showing off their beauty, poise and individual allure and as an audience member you find yourself captivated by it. That is exactly how the judges feel too. When you are in the moment onstage and you love who you are and feel like a million bucks in your gown, then the judges are entertained. When a contestant is enjoying herself and the process of what she is doing onstage, the judges can feel it.
During the evening gown presentation, contestants are scored on their poise, grace and overall appearance, but what really gets you the highest score is the ability to be yourself. You hear it all the time in pageantry and so it is easy to just dismiss as a cliché. But by being yourself, you set yourself apart from everyone else. It is so simple, yet so overlooked.
So many contestants make the fatal mistake of trying to copy what another girl is doing, and they just end up looking like everyone else and blending into the scenery. You do not want to do this! What that other girl is doing is what she has found works for her, and she will do it so much better than you can.
The judges do not want a copycat. They want a new, fresh perspective in the next titleholder. You have been given amazing qualities and gifts that are uniquely your own, and the pageant world needs you! Don’t be afraid to be who you were meant to be.
At some point in your pageant career, it would be wise to get some coaching with someone who is knowledgeable about the evening gown portion of competition, especially someone who knows the pageant system that you are competing in very well. When you first start out in pageants, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on coaching because you may discover that pageants are not for you.
In the beginning, most people just need to get their feet wet and see how it all works before the decide to seriously invest in professional coaching for the different areas of competition. However, there are typically three times that a contestant really needs to get some professional coaching with regard to evening gown walking and onstage posing.
When to get a pageant coach
The first situation is when you are new to pageantry and have done a few pageants and have decided that you want to commit yourself to getting better and you know that you need some professional help.
The second situation is when you have been competing for some time, but you are not getting into the top 10, you are not placing at all and you are not winning. If you have been competing in pageants for a few years and you find yourself at the back of the stage with no awards, and you feel like you are doing your best, then something is very wrong and you need help. Don’t be complacent and just keep doing the same old thing. Take some time to invest in yourself and work with a good coach to find out what is holding you back. It could just be something simple that you are not seeing and a good coach should be able to figure it out easily.
The third situation when a contestant should probably work with a coach is when they are going from one age category to another, or they are changing pageant systems. When you are changing from the Teen division to the Miss division in pageantry, for example, everything is going to be different and this can be a difficult transition for some girls without some professional assistance.
Also, when you have been competing in one system for some time and you decide to make a move to a completely different system, save yourself the frustration and wasted time and hire a coach to help you with that transition. Just make certain that your new coach knows the system that you are going into well enough that they can pinpoint the areas that you may need to make some changes.
Ideally, it would be best to work one-on-one with a coach in real time so that they can observe you and give you immediate feedback about what you are doing right and also the areas in which you could use some improvement. There is no substitute for having a professional watch you and give you some tips and pointers that you can put into practice right away. Find a pageant coach in the Pageant Planet Directory!
But, if you cannot possibly afford to work with a professional evening gown coach, there are some other things that you can do to improve your skill level.
Ask a pageant community member
The first thing you can do is to ask someone you know in your local pageant community to help you. This must be someone who has an exceptional evening gown walk and knows what she is doing onstage.
You should not ask someone who is a good friend of yours to help you unless you are able to take constructive criticism without it hurting your feelings and damaging your relationship. Your friend would also have to feel comfortable giving you objective feedback without worrying about hurting your feelings as well, otherwise there is no point in working together.
The best person to help you is someone that you respect and will listen to, who is willing to give you some of their time and expertise for free. If you choose to pursue this idea, please be respectful of their time, willingness to help and their feedback. Be open minded and be willing to be teachable. Pageantry is an ongoing process of learning and personal development, and everybody has to start at the beginning and build their strengths over time. So, be gentle with yourself and the fact that you need help with this area.
Another thing that you can do to improve your walk and posing skills if you cannot afford a coach is to simply record yourself walking and posing on your own.
If you have the ability to get a copy of the DVD of your last pageant, that would be so valuable. But, if not, it is always a great idea to record yourself walking and posing all on your own with nobody else watching you. When you are watching yourself, you want to be as objective as you possibly can. Pretend you are another girl and you are observing her. It is shocking what you can pick up on video that you don’t even realize that you are doing.
You might discover that you are walking way too fast or too slow. You may notice that you are holding your head awkwardly, clasping your hands in a funny way or that there is stiffness somewhere in your body, which is revealing your tension and nervousness to the judges. You might even discover that your facial expression is totally different that what you thought it was. You may have thought that you were smiling warmly the entire time, only to discover that you smiled once at the beginning when you came on stage and the rest of the time you were actually looking terrified or scowling!
It can be a total revelation to see yourself in a recording, and can be one of the most powerful things that you can do to revamp your entire performance. Never be afraid to watch yourself on video and see for yourself what everyone else is seeing.
Even professional athletes pour over every detail of their performance on the football field or the basketball court, analyzing their footwork, the way they carry their bodies and the way they are interacting with their teammates. You too are an athlete in pageantry and you have to take your own training just as seriously. Once you have observed yourself on film, then compare your walk to some of the more polished pageant contestants or walking coaches and see if you can make the changes on your own.
Use the internet
The final thing that you can do to bring your walking and posing skills up to a more professional level if you don’t have a coach is to take advantage of all of the free resources on the internet. There are literally hundreds of informational pageant and coaching videos available online that have been created by notable titleholders and pageant contestants, as well as professional coaches.
Grab yourself a cup of coffee, tea or fresh, cold good-for-you water, a pen and paper and check out youtube for some first class tutorials. You are bound to find tons of advice and tips that you can use right now. Then move the furniture out of the way, slip on those Tippy Tops and put on some strutting music and do your thing! You’ve got this girl!
How can I find a coach?
If you are new to pageantry you may need to work with a coach to help you learn to master the walk, the poses and the finer points of the evening gown or formal wear portion of your pageant. Coaches that specialize in walking and posing are especially good at helping a pageant girl figure out what she needs to do to bring her performance up to a higher standard.
Most walking coaches have either modeled professionally or they have competed in pageants themselves, so they know exactly what defines an exceptional evening gown walk and what differentiates the evening gown competition from other aspects of competition like swimsuit. Each area of pageant competition has a different feel, different styles of behaving on stage and most especially different walks and poses.
However, you have to understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to walking and posing. You have to be able to infuse your walk and posing with your own personality and discover your own style. That is where a good coach can help you develop the foundation of a good walk and teach you to put your own stamp on it. If you just check out the Coaching Directory on Pageant Planet, you will be able to locate any coaches in your area.
If you do not find specific walking coaches in your area, contact any of the coaches listed that reside in your city or state to find out what they specialize in. If the local coaches near you do not teach walking and posing in evening gown specifically, then ask them if they could refer you to someone they know or have worked with who might be able to help you. One of the absolute best ways to get help and find resources in pageantry is by word of mouth.
If you have tried everything and you just cannot locate a good coach in your area, then widen the search! It is absolutely worth your time and money to find a coach who can bring out the best in you.
Events and expos
Keep an eye out for events and pageant expos that happen from time to time around the country. In the United States, for instance, there are pageant expos every couple of months in different areas. These incredible events bring some of the biggest names in the pageant industry together to teach anyone who wants to attend. They usually have free seminars that cover a variety of subjects, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions that you can pay for, for a minimal fee.
You have the opportunity to work with a famous professional coach for much less than it would cost you to work with them in their usual locations. You can spend an hour or two with a walking and posing coach over the course of the expo and totally change your evening gown performance in no time. This is such a good investment in your pageant career and these types of events are usually very easy to find.
They are usually affiliated with the pageant dresses stores in your area or actual pageant systems in your city. So, make sure to frequently check the social media and websites of these organizations for word of any upcoming expos. Be sure to also check the Facebook and Instagram pages of the pageant coaches in the industry. They will always let their friends and followers know when they are participating in pageant events and you can get the scoop before anyone else!
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