What Pageants Teach Us About Style

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When I was in a private, Catholic school in NJ, I wore a uniform. And I loved it. For someone who can barely make the decision between a calamari or bruschetta appetizer in a reasonable amount of time, I appreciated not having to decide what to wear before the Sun even came up in the morning. It saved me time. That all changed when I started attending a public high school. On my very first day, I proudly wore camouflage, wide-leg dance pants with a matching camo shirt because it was “in.” I know what you’re thinking...Camo is never “in.” I had a lot to learn about fashion, and more importantly, style after transitioning from private to public school. Fashion is what’s “in,” whereas style is timeless - what looks good always. I wish I had done pageants sooner than in my 20s because there is a TON pageants have taught me about style – especially for petite women. For example, Miss Universe Runway Coach, Correspondent, and Former Top Model Lu Sierra once said in an interview with Win A Pageant Podcast Host Alycia Darby that if you’re petite, you should stay away from mermaid dresses because they make you look shorter. Where were you when I was getting ready for prom, Lu?! 

Here are some other things that are good to note, not just for petite women, but in general:

1.)  It’s all about the fit. First and foremost, your outfit should fit you. No human being is alike. We come in different shapes and sizes. Yet clothing companies, especially in the United States, tend to make clothes for 8’5”, Size 300 women…At least in my case. So find yourself a fantastic seamstress (as I did) or tailor (several stores offer this now for free or discounted rates) to alter the clothes to fit YOU. If it doesn’t fit you perfectly, it’s not going to flatter you. Lu writes, “Choosing a dress can be tough. Most of all make sure it fits, highlights you best features, and makes you feel FANTASTIC.” Fit first. Everything else comes second.

2.)  “No puckers!” Save the puckers for your Instagram photos. My coach once told me to avoid gowns, bikinis, etc. that pucker (aka are rouched). Puckering (whether intended in the design or not) is generally not flattering. You want smooth lines. As a former judge in many systems, including America, he states, “Puckers indicate that the item of clothing doesn't fit right. [Ruching] indicates that you are trying to disguise or hide something (roll of fat, big belly, etc). In a pageant, you want the swimsuit to fit perfectly flat to show off your figure. Many contestants have their swimsuit tailored. In gown, you want to give the impression that you're not covering up anything.”

 3.)  No patterns. Patterns are distracting. Unless you’re working a runway, you are not selling clothes. You’re selling yourself. In that conference room. At that restaurant. On the subway. At your yoga class. In your competition interview. In your job interview. At the Miss USA competition, bikinis are typically sponsored by a designer, and women don’t necessarily have a choice in what bikini they are to wear on the big stage. In my opinion, women who are given patterned suits tend to be at a significant disadvantage in this portion of the competition. Another reason to avoid patterns, for petite women, is that solid colors tend to make us appear taller (think solid-colored jumpsuits and gowns). With patterns, especially on stage (but also true for life), eyes tend to go on a patterned gown or suit or shirt, when you want their eyes on your face. On you. Not on your clothes.

 4.)  Stay away from distracting jewelry. Earrings tend to be fine (even long, sparkly ones) because they draw attention to the face, but similar to what we discussed with patterns, bracelets and necklaces are things that make the brain go “ohh, shiny!” and draw attention away from the face.

 5.)  Choose colors that suit your skin tone. For example, speaking specifically to pageants for a moment, if you know you are going to be a different shade of tan in January, when your pageant is taking place, and you are shopping for dresses in August, look back at old photos to figure out what your skin tone may be in January and plan accordingly. Or, find an incredible dress that suits you in August, and plan on getting a spray tan in January ahead of your pageant. Also, don’t pick a color that will wash you out on stage or in life. Pastels are terrible on me. Choose colors that are generally safe for you. And not just safe, phenomenal on you. Pageants are not the time to start experimenting with some obscure shade of fuchsia.

Of course, as with all things in life, there are exceptions to the rules. And while I am grateful for these guidelines for saving me from some fashion faux paus, sometimes, I just want to wear pastel-colored, puckered patterns with distracting jewelry! And that’s okay too.