Here’s Why Miss America Still Needs Pageant Dresses

Nazy Rafaeil
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Last updated 4 months ago.

It has just been announced that the Miss America pageant will undergo a dramatic overhaul and that contestants will no longer wear pageant dresses or take part in a swimsuit section of the contest. These big changes turn the historical contest into something very different – can it now even be considered a pageant?

The news remained a secret for several months but was voted on back in March this year by the mostly female board who run the contest.

“No Longer a Pageant”

Gretchen Carlson, who is the organization’s current chairwoman, spoke on the breaking news. According to Today she stated: “We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment.”

She explained that instead of the swimsuit section of the contest, there will be a bigger focus on personality and exploring the candidate’s personal achievements: “In its place, each candidate will participate in a live interactive session with the judges, where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.”

While focusing on personality, talents and passions are of course not a negative aspect, we also have to ask, why can’t they wear pageant dresses? According to the organization, the dress code will now be different from the historically famous and glamorous pageant dresses that are typically worn.

What contests can wear remains loosely defined. Carlson explained that they: “now give participants the freedom to outwardly express their self-confidence in evening attire of their choosing while discussing how they will advance their social impact initiatives.”

A Historical Event

Miss America began as a pageant held on the beach in Atlantic City in 1921. It has become a part of America’s very own cultural identity. Many viewers tune in to watch how each contestant has styled herself – in glamorous, stylish and unique dresses that aim to express their personality.

Jovani as a brand has dressed many of the contestants, including the most recent winner, Cara Mund. Pageant dresses are designed to celebrate women, their personalities and beauty of the female form. While focus on other aspects of the contestants is a great change, by changing the dress code, Miss America is failing to pay attention to its own important and rich history.

A history that began with a swimsuit contest on the beach! Miss America has since always been tied to fashion, beauty and its trends. Will anyone be impressed by casual outfits on the stage?

A major part of the contest is about embracing glamour. To feel like a truly crowned queen, you have to dress like one. There is nothing degrading about wearing a beautiful pageant design on stage. One that shows off who you are and embraces your female qualities – confidence, your style, your own taste.

The pageant dress is in itself a very beautiful and celebratory design that aims to make each woman feel like the best version of herself.

Pageants such as Miss America have a rich and important history. They have taken place around the world and have been held in many different forms, but the US feels like the home of the pageant. Historically speaking, they began as beauty or swimwear contests.

In the 1950s, a pin-up look was popular and the latest fashionable swimwear trends were flaunted on stage. This encouraged women to wear what they wanted to – and to not feel ashamed of their own bodies. It marked an important cultural transition and began a tradition.

Embracing Female Empowerment 

Organizers of the contest are right to question the format and style of the show – looking forward and embracing positive change is always encouraging and exciting. More focus on the participants as individuals and less focus on physical appearance is a big jump forward. However, we need to remember and pay some respect to its heritage, too.

According to the NY Post,  1972 Miss New York Judith Graham, agreed that not everything needs to change about the famous pageant: “I say stick with the program. It’s worked for almost a hundred years. It ain’t broke don’t fix it. And I don’t think it’s broken! At all!”

Miss America needs pageant dresses! They express individuality, personality and female confidence. They capture the glamour and formal aspects that make the pageant contest what it is. They respect the history of the major annual event, while also being able to evolve with what is to come.

After all, pageant dresses have themselves been revamped over the years to include the latest fashion trends. Gone are the princess style dresses from the ’80s and ’90s. Pageant designs are sleek, fashion-forward and body positive. They are modern dresses, for modern and powerful women, who deserves to dress like the winners they are.

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