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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One of the highlights of every pageant is the evening gown competition. The evening gown, also known as formalwear, phase conjures images of contestants gliding across the stage in beautiful pageant dresses exhibiting grace and poise. This is truly a contestant’s moment to shine.
The evening gown competition is the phase of competition during which every contestant picks her choice of pageant dresses and models it on stage for the judging panel. The goal of this competition is to portray your personal sense of fashion through your pageant dress and styling while conveying poise and stage presence to the judges.
Since the evening gown competition is signature to every pageant, mastering the basics of this category is essential in winning your dream title. Starting with the basics, evening gown is the phase of competition where a contestant showcases, according to pageants like Miss USA, “style, grace and elegance” to show is she “confidently beautiful” while wearing a gorgeous, normally long, pageant dress. Pageant dresses can come in a wide range of styles and lengths. Understanding the differences, and which pageant dresses are right for your age division, will streamline your pageant preparation and help you capture your dream title.
The pageant evening gown competition is present in almost every pageant system and is usually worth at least 25 percent of your overall score. This means that this competition is a huge deal when it comes to preparing for your next pageant. Think of this competition as a way to show case your personal style as a titleholder.
Are you bold? Pick a bright color pageant dress to convey that to your judges. How about timeless and elegant? Go with a simple and pretty pageant dress to sweep the judges off their feet. This competition says a lot about your personality and ability to handle all eyes on you with grace.
Silhouettes, and styles, refer to the fit and structure of the gown. When talking about silhouettes, you are looking at the very basic structure of the gown. The style of the gown is your chance to personalize it! The number one question to ask yourself is what feeling do you want to evoke with your gown?
Evening gown is truly your chance to feel like a princess. After all, you are competing to be the next queen. One of the most popular styles, a ballgown consists of a fitted bodice paired with a dramatic full skirt. While more common the younger divisions, ballgowns have been worn by titleholders across all age divisions. Since ballgowns are so popular, the key to standing out lies with the unique touch you bring to the gown to help it stand out. Grand ballgown pageant dresses with lots of detailing can be a great way to achieve this look. As mentioned above, Ms. Earth Air, Adele Scala, went for true royalty in this amazing ballgown. The sheer size is perfect for a large national stage. The crisscross pattern of the glitter captures the light beautifully causing her to glisten under the stage.
Elite Miss Earth United States, Adele Scala during the 2018 Ms. Earth Pageant. Photo: Miss Elite Earth United States
However, maybe this is just a bit too much sparkle for you. That’s okay! You can still evoke the royal feel without all the shine! For example, Miss South Dakota USA 2018, Madison Nipe, wore this Sherri Hill ballgown as her opening number outfit for Miss USA 2018.
While she did not wear it for evening gown, it is certainly a great pageant dress choice for the category! There is not a single sequin on this ballgown, but she still looks royal. The silk fabric moves wonderfully onstage. In addition, the silk has a nice sheen that still evokes royalty, without all the sparkle, a la Meghan Markle.
Miss South Dakota USA 2018, Madison Nipe, dons a Sherri Hill ballgown after being called as a Top 15 finalist at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
One of the most famous 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.
Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo, competes during the evening gown competition during the 2012 Miss Universe Pageant. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Want to look like a queen? Find your ballgown pageant dresses in the Pageant Planet Shop!
A glamorous style is for those who love to follow Hollywood trends and want to look like a movie star. They key to glamour is a whole lot of sparkle. Miss Nevada USA 2018, Carolina Urrea, did just that donning the silver masterpiece during the Final Look at Miss USA 2018. This gown truly is a work on art. She can not only walk the Miss USA stage, but the Oscars red carpet in this gown!
Miss Nevada USA 2018, Carolina Urrea, during the Final Look at Miss USA 2018. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Now glamour does not necessarily mean you need a column-eques gown. If you want to add a bit more movement, trains are an excellent way to do so! As mentioned above, Ms. Earth 2018, Corinne Devin, wore a completely sequined red gown that oozed Jessica Rabbit. To add more movement and up the glamour, as well as match the grand stage, the gown comes complete with a long, flowing train. The look was clearly a hit as she brought home the international title.
Ms. Earth 2018, Corinne Devin, poses with a member of her pageant preparation team after capturing her international title. Photo: Instagram
Sleek and sexy
The mermaid style is the most dramatic silhouette. Mermaid gowns are tight throughout the bodice and hips giving way to dramatic flares at or below the knee.
This type of style creates a very sexy look. Keeping this in mind, it is better to reserve this style for Miss and beyond. In addition, the super tight fit of these gowns can making walking difficult. Miss Georgia USA 2018, Brooke Johnson, looked exquisite when she graced the Miss USA 2018 stage in this detailed mermaid gown. The dramatic fit showed off every curve of her body and she owned it onstage.
Miss Georgia USA 2018, Marianny Egurrola, competes during the 2018 Miss USA Pageant. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
The sleek and sexy pageant dresses are a big trend in recent years. These pageant dresses, usually made from jersey, are tight-fitting with dramatic cutouts or sheer panels. The look requires confidence and a lot of practice time to pull off. Miss White River 2018, Gracie Stover, wore this sexy black number during the evening gown competition at Miss Arkansas 2018. Velvet is another great fabric to use when going for this style. It clings but is more forgiving than a thin jersey. The sheer cutout adds a pop of detail to help elevate her black gown and help her stand out.
Miss White River 2018, Gracie Stover, competes during the preliminary evening gown competition at Miss Arkansas 2018. Photo: Miss Arkansas Organization
Now, a modest look is perfectly fine as well! In fact, it is always important to research your pageant beforehand because, depending on your system, more modest pageant dresses may be preferred!
Miss Kentucky 2018, Katie Bouchard, wore this modest number to help her achieve her dream of going to Miss America! The long sleeves and modest v-neck provide a lot of coverage, which does well with the Miss America Organization. A long train and all-over lace, plus the innocent white color, still show off her shape without showing a thing.
Miss Kentucky 2018, Katie Bouchard. Photo: Miss Kentucky Organization
Evening gown is a huge opportunity to make a fashion statement. Taking a risk and going with a really unique style can help you stand out and bring home your dream title. Miss Arkansas 2017, Maggie Benton, wore this intricate pageant dress during the 2018 Miss Arkansas Pageant. There is a lot going on here. There is beadwork, pattern and fringe. However, one key to pulling off a unique gown is balance. With so much going on at the top, the gown has a very simple black skirt with horsehair trim to give some extra movement. This prevents the pageant dresses from becoming too overwhelming. The rule is simple, if the top is complicated, keep the bottom simple. If the bottom is complicated, keep the top simple.
Miss Arkansas 2017, Maggie Benton, during the 2018 Miss Arkansas Pageant. Photo: Miss Arkansas Organization
This is the most flattering pageant dresses cut on the market today. An a-line has a fitted bodice with a skirt that gradually flares out. The result is an instant hourglass silhouette. An a-line is a great style for Preteens and Teens. The balance of puff and fit is perfect for contestants who have grown out of the younger divisions but are still a bit young for some of the more fitted styles seen in Miss and above.
Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen 2017, Annie Swan competes during the final night of the 2017 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant. Photo: Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization
A cupcake dress is a short pageant dress worn by a contestant typically under the age of 12 in a glitz pageant. Made famous on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” these short pageant dresses are tiny masterpieces. There are a few signature features on a cupcake dress: a short, puffy skirt (usually with ruffles), a fitted bodice and no shortage of rhinestones.
A perfect example comes from the Queen of Glitz herself, Eden Wood. Wood rose to fame after being a consistent face on the early episodes of TLC’s, Toddler’s and Tiaras. The purple and pink cupcake pageant dress is proof of why Wood has held over 300 titles. The dramatic ruffle skirt combined with the rhinestone, jewel and feather encrusted top is the epitome of glitz.
Eden Wood, former "Toddlers and Tiaras" star, lighting up the stage during her pageant days. Photo: Eden Wood Facebook page
Now that you know what styles of pageant dresses are out there, check out the Pageant Planet Dress Gallery to find one that works for you!
Evening gown is almost always going to be held in the same place as the rest of the pageant. So, it is more a question of where is your pageant going to be held, otherwise called the venue.
“Depending on the pageant venue, evening gown has been held in ballrooms, country clubs, theater stages and even outdoor stages,” said Miss Maryland Earth United States 2018, Amber Dawn Butler.
Butler has been competing in pageants since she was a teenager. She has held titles in multiple systems including the Miss Teen USA, Miss America and Miss Earth Organizations. Most notably, Butler held the title of Miss Florida Earth United States 2017 where she placed in the Top 15 and was name Miss Congeniality at the 2017 Miss Earth United States Pageant.
Local pageants are usually going to have the smallest stages. Pageant venues for these normally include high school auditoriums, small hotel conference rooms or country clubs, as Butler suggested. With a local pageant, it is always important to try to practice on the stage before the pageant! Since local pageants tend to have smaller budgets, you are stuck with the stage you get.
For example, if your pageant is in a hotel conference room or outside, the stage will be temporary. Many of these stages, in fact, have an outdoor carpeting so they can withstand weather conditions. These stages can be a challenge to walk on. In addition, since the stage is collapsible, there are many small spots wear a heel could get stuck. High school auditoriums, another common location, also present challenges. Depending on the school’s love for their theatre department, the stage could be beautiful or slippery and potentially dangerous for super tall heels combined with a long train.
MIss Homestead 2018, Lauren Bromfield, was crowned on the Seminole Theatre stage in Homestead, Florida. Photo: Allen J Photography
The type of venue you get with a state pageant is really going to depend on your system. Bigger pageants, like those with the Miss America Organization, have larger budgets for their state productions. A smaller system still developing past just a national pageant, may have a smaller budget for their state pageants. “Depending on stage setup, even states can be a bit cramped,” said Butler.
That was not the case for the Miss Florida Pageant this year, held at the RP Funding Center Youkey Theater in Lakeland, Florida. The stage was big enough for this giant opening number production, choreographed by Shea Sullivan. The number featured all 39 contestants, Miss Florida 2017 Sara Zeng and a slew of backup dancers.
The contestants for Miss Florida 2018 during the opening number on the final night of competition. Photo: Miss Florida Organization
National and International
“You definitely get more space at the national level,” said Butler. We all know this to be true. Think of all the big pageants, Miss America, Miss USA, Miss World, the list goes on. National and international pageants, even a smaller ones, will tend to have at least a decent production budget. One of the most famous national stages belongs to Miss Earth United States.
Last year, the pageant was held at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall located in Arlington, Virginia, right outside of Washington D.C. “The Miss Earth United States stage was honestly the most beautiful, magical stage I have ever stepped on,” said Butler. “The steps were wide enough, there was a wide runway and the lighting was perfect.”
The Top 10 for Miss Earth United States 2017. Photo: DMV Media
I cannot say this enough, research your pageant beforehand! The time allotted for each part of the competition is different for every pageant. Some pageants adhere to strict time rules while others have none. The venue is also a factor.
As a tip, if you have no time restrictions for evening gown, plan a routine that is around 90 seconds. This forces you to take your time, preventing your walk from being too fast. It also gives you time to connect with the judges, audience and show off your pageant dress.
Local pageants are normally going to have smaller stages. This presents a challenge because, since there is not that much room, you may be tempted to rush through your routine.
“You never want to get off a small stage and only took 15 seconds in front of the judges,” said Butler. “Small stages mean you have to pose longer, which feels very awkward for everyone involved. Regardless, never sacrifice your stage time!”
She is absolutely correct. I served as the head judge for a local pageant a couple years ago. The venue was a local church with a small stage. The biggest mistake contestants made was rushing through their evening gown. When you have a small stage, you have to pose longer since your walk is shorter so the judges can look at you. When a contestant rushed through her walk, she did not give me or the other judges a chance to connect or take in the beauty of the evening gown competition, which ultimately affected their scores.
In addition, the pageant I judged allowed contestants to receive their scores and comments. However, when you rush through a routine, you barely give judges enough time to write down scores, much less comments on why we gave those scores. This can be very awkward as a judge. No one ever wants to give a low score, but it happens and when we are given the chance to explain it to a contestant, we want to. However, many pageants, like the one I judged, barred contestants from communicating with judges, leaving the comment section on the score sheets as our only way of communicating. If you take a few extra seconds to pose, you give the judges a chance to write comments and communicate with you as well.
Again, the amount of time you have depends of the venue. However, state pageants are where you often get the shortest amount of time. State pageants may have the same number of contestants as a national pageant, but not the budget or time. With many girls to get through, time is limited. It is important to practice your walk as much as possible to avoid losing points for simply for being on the stage too long!
National and International
National pageants are going to have bigger stages, so naturally, you will have a bit more time for your evening gown. However, timing on national and international pageants is often different between the preliminary and final competitions. For the preliminary competition, the time frame is looser.
“The national stages are perfect for having plenty of time to connect with the judges and let yourself relax,” said Butler of her experience during the preliminary evening gown competition at Miss Earth United States 2017. The final night of competition has a very limited amount of time, especially if it is being televised. As a result, you do not have nearly as much time for the evening gown competition. “I’d say you get 25 seconds tops for Nationals,” said Butler regarding the final night of competition at Miss Earth United States 2017. “There's more overlap in contestants on the national level, with two on stage at a time, as where locals will usually clear the stage for each contestant.”
Amber Dawn Butler, representing Florida at the 2017 Miss Earth United States, receives her award for Miss Congeniality. Photo: Miss Earth United States
Depending on which system you choose to compete in, you will typically have the same judges from your other phases of competition. This is your time to show them your style, grace and poise like you haven’t had the chance to during the swimsuit and talent or fun fashion competition. In the Miss America or Miss USA pageant, they usually have a preliminary set of judges and a different set for finals. If you are able to before the competition, research your pageant to see who the judges are on the panel to get a sense of what type of people can be on the your panel.
For the larger pageants, directors typically reach out to former titleholders and those familiar with the job duties and the system. The Miss USA 2018 pageant included several former Miss USAs and people on staff with IMG as well. When performing for former titleholders, remember to know the system inside and out and act like you already won.
Show them you are mature enough to hand the responsibilities. It can be a lot of pressure to compete in front of the women and men who were in your shoes and they may have a higher standard when to comes to judging, so make sure you are 100% on point with your evening gown presentation. Leave no stone unturned and work with a coach diligently to prepare for even the worst case scenario.
To keep things interesting, your director may recruit a judge who had no idea what a pageant was before they were invited to judge yours. We call this the novice judge. Similar to being a newcomer to competing in pageants, the novice judge has a lot to learn and absorb. This person may not know the little details it takes to compete or all the names of your turns but they are more than likely looking for the person who is consistent and presents the overall package.
During pageant evening gown, when it comes to impressing the novice judge, look the part and act accordingly. Eye contact is important to make them feel welcome and assured that you are the right person for the crown. Always acknowledge their presence and entertain them. This judge may score you higher simply because they aren’t sure what a 4 or 5 performance looks like. So unless you come completely unprepared, the novice judge will probably go easier on you than a previous titleholder will score you.
It is common for many pageants at the local and state level to use the same set of judges for every round of competition. Depending on how small the pageant is, they more than likely don’t have the resources to have multiple set of judges. This option works in your favor because the panel is familiar with you already from talking with you during interview. When it comes to evening gown, if you have the same set of judges from the other phases of competition, they key here is to leave them with a lasting impression of how beautiful or handsome you are and why you look like you deserve the crown.
They already heard from you in interview interview, examined your physique through swimsuit or fitness, saw your fun side and personality in fun fashion or runway and were entertained by you during talent, now during evening gown it’s time to show your poise and that the crown is rightfully yours. Use this limelight for you and bathe in the moment.
Some systems use a different panel of judges for interview and another for the stage competition. This forces you to make multiple first impressions in different ways. The judges from interview heard you speak and about your platform and service. The onstage panel won’t hear you speak until it’s time for onstage question. For evening gown, the focus is on your look through your pageant dress choice and styling.
If they haven’t heard you speak, you have to really look the part as mentioned above. Another difference with separate judging panels is the qualifications of the judges. You don’t have to do as much research about the panel judging the onstage portion because you aren’t going to try to relate to them, your goal here is to impress them without saying a word.
Typically directors choose judges who are experts in their field, musicians, dancers, politicians, local celebrities, etc. They may be used to the limelight already and are looking for a person who isn’t afraid to shine. It almost a guarantee, that if you have a “celebrity” set of judges, they are looking for an element of entertainment and grace. Imagine yourself walking amongst them on a red carpet and don’t be intimidated by their fame. The best part about having a different set of judges from interview to onstage is, if you had a not-so-stellar interview, these new judges don’t have a clue so win every round and be consistent.
Pageant directors, are you looking for judges for your next pageant? Find your next judging panel here!
So you finished competing in all the phases of competition and now it’s that time to walk out on stage and put the icing on top of your performance. What exactly are the judges expecting from you and what should you expect from the judges during this time?
What do the judges expect?
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 is true to you. It does not always have to be your favorite color, but rather one that complements your skin tone and stands out on the stage. The color will be your staple once you are crowned and will be memorable for years to come.
Olivia Jordan after she won Miss USA 2015
Remember how our jaws drop when Olivia Jordan came out in that bubble gum pink ball gown? Although some may associate pink with preteens or teens, 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 First Runner-Up!
Miss USA 2014 Nia Sanchez competing at Miss Universe 2014
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.
What to expect from the judges during evening gown?
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.
Pageant directors, are you looking for judges for your next pageant? Find your next judging panel here!
Choosing your pageant dress is hands down on of the best parts of training and preparation. Finding the gown fit for your style and personality is going to be important if you want the judges to get an overall image of you. For evening gown, contestants wear long, floor length pageant dresses to their liking. The pageant dresses can range from form-fitting, to flowy, to jersey and pageant dresses with capes.
Try different options
Pageant dresses come in all different types of fabrics as well from chiffon, to bedazzled to simple (one color) or can have patterns on it. As we’ll mention later, there are tons of sources to find pageant dresses inspiration. Look at runways shows, prom and pageant magazines, pageant-based Instagram accounts and other pageant contestants to see what’s in style and see if you can add your own spin to it. Try on all different styles of pageant dresses to see which one looks best on your body type and showcases the beauty inside of you. Be true to yourself, if it feels uncomfortable to you in the store, it will definitely feel off to you once you hit the pageant stage.
Set a budget for your pageant dresses
Set a budget for your evening gown and try your best to stick to you. Do not neglect to check out different shops, boutiques or even consignment shops. There are some Facebook groups, where girls will wear a pageant dress and sell it at a lower price. Definitely check out these options because you could be getting a really good, name brand gown for hundreds of dollars off, simply because the person selling it wants it off their hands. A word of caution: if you find a gown online, triple check the measurements on the site and your measurements to make sure you get the best fit. Most online retailers have a strict return policy with pageant dresses.
Practice, practice, practice in your pageant dresses
Practice walking in your shoes and pageant dresses numerous times to get your presentation how you want it. You can work with our coaching team to help perfect your onstage walk in both evening gown and swimsuit before your big day. This will help you be 100% cool, calm and collected during finals night.
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 part of branding is to think about your pageant’s brand. What is your pageant all about? What are the values and ideals that your pageant think are important? Is it a more conservative style of pageant or is it really fashion forward? 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 looking for. The second part of branding is all about your own personal brand. No matter what kind of pageant that you are competing in, you still have to find a pageant dress that fits your personality and style. You still have to be true to yourself and find a gown that makes you look your very best.
When it comes to pageant guidelines, some pageants may have very specific ideas of what they want their contestants’ pageant dresses to look like. Other pageants don’t have rules that they want you to adhere to. It’s very important to look through all of the paperwork that your pageant director has given you, or to look through your contestant handbook if you have one, or even on the pageant’s website.
If your particular pageant has rules about what you must wear, 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. Other pageants will tell you that you cannot wear a pageant dress that is long in the back and short in the front. They want your pageant dress to touch the floor completely. So, just make sure to find out what your pageant will allow and won’t allow. If you cannot find that information readily available, ask your director.
The third point to keep in mind when selecting your pageant dresses is age appropriateness. The areas where contestants struggle are usually in the teen years or in the Mrs. or Ms. pageants. Pageant systems want their Teen contestants to look like teens, not Miss contestants and it can be challenging for teens to understand this. 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 a grown woman who is married, has children or is competing in a pageant specifically for married women or more mature ladies, 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. Ironically, some of the rules that apply to teens, also apply to you. You can wear something that is clearly adult, like a gown with a leg slit, or a gown with 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 is it 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. It is extremely rare for a girl to find a pageant dress that fits her to perfection directly from the store. All pageant dresses must be tailored specifically for your body, so factor that cost into your pageant dress budget. There are four mistakes that most inexperienced pageant contestants make when it comes to evening gown fit. The pageant dresses can be too short, too long, too tight or too loose.
A pageant dress is too short if you can see your shoes. This is one of the mistakes that you will see at just about every single pageant. 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. This is another very frequent rookie mistake seen at every pageant.
A pageant dress is too tight if it ripples or pulling lines appear, especially under the arms around the bust or around the hips. If a pageant dresses is too tight, it will be evident as soon as you start moving.
A pageant dress may be too big if it gapes open or feels loose and this is not something that a lot of girls will notice on their own. Most often this will occur around the bust and a professional seamstress should be able to spot this right away and fix it easily. Make sure to take the exact shoes and undergarments that you plan on wearing at the pageant to every fitting that you have. This is so important! If you change your shoes, the length of the dress will change making it impossible to get the perfect fit.
Style for your body
Style for your body is a major, major point and this is the part that you absolutely have to get right to not only get the ideal gown for you, but to score well in the evening gown portion of competition. The perfect pageant gown is comprised of the following: fabric, fit, color and style. If one of these areas is off, you will never have a flawless pageant gown, so it is vital that you think of them as equally important. Let me just say this first. If you are new to pageants, you are going to have get educated about gown styles and it is going to take some time, so be patient.
You are going to 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. You not only have to find what styles look amazing on you and make the most of your best features, but you have to learn what each style does on each type of body. Let’s discuss some of the pros and cons for some specific styles and what they can do for different figure types.
If you do not have much of a waist or have a straight body from your waist to your hips, then go for a wrapped style waist or ruching when looking at gowns.
If you have a bit of a tummy, then an empire waist can hide that and make you long and lean.
If you are busty, do not wear a gown with small or spaghetti straps. Find a gown with a tank style top, or one with a v-neck or lower neckline.
If you are more of a pear shape and have larger hips and fuller thighs, then an a-line gown will look amazing on you, and will balance out your frame.
If you are shorter and very small, do not wear a two-tone dress, or a gown with a mermaid skirt, as that will make your bottom half look even shorter. Find something that makes you look longer and that does not break up your body, like an a-line or sheath style gown.
If you have a larger body type, or are fuller around the tummy or the hips and thighs, styles with a lot of little details will create additional volume on your frame. Additions like lots of ruffles, fringe or rhinestones, or head to toe embellishment and flashy design patterns over the entire gown will just add bulk. The same is true ironically, if you have a very petite frame. These types of details can overwhelm someone who is smaller or fine boned. Make sure if you are larger in one area or if you are overall very petite that you choose your embellishments with care. There is nothing wrong with rhinestones or pretty details, just take care that those kinds of accents are in the right areas for your figure.
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. 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.
What most people don’t know is that you can create the impression that you have the perfectly proportioned body with the right clothing choices. Now, of course no girl has the perfect body, but if you know what you’re doing, you can give the illusion that you are perfectly proportioned, whatever shape you have. 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.
Foundation and under garments
Once you have found the perfect gown for your figure, then you must make sure that you have the perfect foundation and under garments to go with it. It does not make sense to find the most gorgeous figure hugging gown that looks incredible on you if it’s only going to show panty lines or hug you in places that you don’t want to be hugged. Foundation wear made by companies like Spanx are designed to be worn under your pageant dress to create the 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 may not require a bra, but you just want to make sure that nothing is showing through your gown that should not be showing.
Finally, the last thing to keep in mind when picking out your pageant dresses is the total picture that you are creating. 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. Everything that you do has to complement the gown that you have chosen. The same 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. You do not need to wear 5 different accessories with your gown. Do not overdo it. You do not need to wear gloves or a necklace. Most pageant dresses 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, not an armful of shiny bangles. If you are in doubt about what jewelry to wear, be conservative and just go with the perfect earrings.
National Elite Teen Miss Kayla Black dishes on her tips on how she selected her gown for nationals.
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.
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.
The downside here is that the sizes are going to be limited, the pageant dresses have already been altered and they may have some tears or stains. Most girls are pretty upfront about any issues with their gowns but you just never know. Just be careful when you make a purchase from a resale site. But, overall they are a wonderful place to buy and sell secondhand pageant dresses.
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."
Savvy Shields, Miss America 2017. Photo: Miss America 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.”
Whitney Wandland, Miss Illinois USA 2017. Photo: Whitney Wandland Instagram
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.
LaToya Mayo, Miss Black District of Columbia USA 2017. Photo: Miss Black District of Columbia
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.
Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Universe 2015. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Alyssa Campanella, Miss USA 2011. Photo: Miss USA
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.
Olivia Culpo, Miss Universe 2012. Photo: Miss USA Organization
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.
Olivia Jordan, Miss USA 2015. Photo: Miss Universe Organization L.P., LLLP
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.
An example of the proper type of hanger to use for an evening gown. This one can be customize. Buy it here. Photo: Pinterest
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.
Miss Oklahoma Teen USA 2017 Baylee Ogle after finding her dress for Miss Teen USA 2017 at Serendipity. Photo: Instagram
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!
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.
Proms, Pageants, & Pretty Things located in Roanoke, Virginia. Photo: Proms, Pageants, & Pretty Things Facebook Page
Proms, Pageants, & Pretty Things is located in Roanoke, Virginia and has previously been featured in The Knot. A perfect example of a full service pageant store, they were ranked among Pageant Planet’s Top 10 Dress Stores of 2017. Among the trained staff at Proms, Pageants, & Pretty Things is Arielle Saige, President of the Winners Circle pageant coaching business. Having an expert in pageantry and pageant coaching allows the team at Proms, Pageants, & Pretty Things to help you select your next winning gown and accessories.
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.
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
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.
Alee-Sutton Hethcoat, Miss Tennessee 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.
Bayleigh Dayton, Miss Missouri USA 2017, competes as a top 10 finalist in her evening gown during The 2017 MISS USA® Competition. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
"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!
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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