Can You Copy a Past Winner's Pageant Gown?

Can You Copy a Past Winner's Pageant Gown?

No, Don't Copy a Previous Pageant Gown...

We are often asked if it is safe to copy a past pageant winner's gown. Because what pageant judges will go for is unpredictable, many contestants try to improve their odds of winning by copying the gown worn by the reigning queen or a recent titleholder. “Very often people think that a dress is what wins the pageant,” observes Elliott-Bear. “They come in knowing all these different gowns the winners have worn. I’ll hear, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Susan Akin’s dress,’ or ‘That’s Debra Maffett’s dress.’ They see it on TV and they think, ‘They’re winners, they’ve been there and won, so maybe the same dress will work for me.’ They have it in their mind that this is the dress that wins.”

Unfortunately, copying a previous winner’s gown, hoping that it will prove equally lucky for you, is the worst move you could make. Once a gown has been worn by a major winner it is copied relentlessly. Many of your rivals will be copying her “winning look” too. “Every year, whatever Miss America wears, I see thousands of those dresses for the next year,” Vernon DeSear admits with a chuckle, adding, “Be original!”

Dare to Be Different – Beautifully

“Don’t be afraid to be different,” advises Debbie Brown, who wardrobed Lu Parker, Miss USA 1994, in an understated gown with a cut-out midriff.

Judges tire of seeing so many lookalikes and often will select a young woman wearing a completely different look. Consider Miss USAs Michelle Royer, Shannon Marketic, and Lu Parker. In the midst of the string of winners in strapless gowns, these three women won wearing strikingly different styles - still the right image for Miss USA, but individual.

  • Royer wore a modest, yet elegant, blue gown with long sleeves.
  • Marketic wore a romantic black lace gown with a full skirt and lace shoulder ruffles.
  • Parker wore a sleek, unadorned, black gown with a midriff keyhole.

There are other examples of women who dared to be different and won.

Miss Universe 1984 in pageant evening gown competition
Successful pageant gowns range widely! Miss Universe 1984 Yvonne Ryding won the crown wearing a highly unusual evening gown - a flowing white lace caftan.
  • When the vast majority of Miss Americas had worn white, Carolyn Sapp dared to wear a black velvet-and-lace creation. She won.
  • When most Miss Universes wore light colors, Miss Canada, Karen Baldwin, showed up in a unique black sequin strapless gown with a marabou feather skirt, and won.
  • Sweden’s Yvonne Ryding wore an even more unique style-an unfitted, flowing white lace dress and cape, and became Miss Universe 1984.
  • New York’s Marie Soden won the 1976 International Rose of Tralee title wearing an unfitted ivory lace caftan.
  • Jamie Solinger won Miss Teen USA in a bright green chiffon dress.
  • Cheryl Prewitt wore a one-of-a-kind floral print chiffon gown with three rhinestone straps across one shoulder.
  • Debra Carthy-Deu, Miss Puerto Rico, won the 1985 Miss Universe Pageant wearing an ankle-length evening gown that demonstrated her individuality and willingness to wear something significantly different from other contestants.
Miss Universe 1985 in pageant gown
Debra Carthy-Deu, Miss Puerto Rico, won the 1985 Miss Universe Pageant wearing an ankle-length evening gown that demonstrated her individuality and willingness to wear something significantly different from other contestants.

Nothing even remotely like these styles had won before, but the young ladies made their gowns winners.

As these titleholders demonstrated, one of the secrets to capturing the crown is wearing an evening gown that is so beau­tifully different that judges can’t help but notice you. “Don’t be afraid to be different,” says Debbie Brown. “I go to so many pageants where you see all these dresses that are the same thing over and over and over. They’re just clones. When somebody comes onstage with something different on, you sit up and notice her.”

But, unlike winners, who dare to stand out from the crowd, most contestants lack the confidence to be original. Instead, they copy. What they fail to understand is that a true winner does not copy another woman. She has confidence in her own taste and dares to wear what truly flatters her. “A winner doesn’t wear something just because somebody says that’s what wins,” says Kathleen Munson, author of several modeling videos and books. “She is an individualist who goes with what works for her. A winner is not a copy.” Dare to be different.

Yes, Copying Past Winners' Pageant Gowns Can Work

On the other hand, sometimes carefully and strategically copying previous pageant winners' gowns can work beautifully.  There are certain classic designs and colors that national and international pageant winners have worn with consistent success.  Studying those gown styles and color combinations and emulating them can help you select a gown that is unique to you, but possesses the proven traits of previous winners' gowns.

While we generally advise contestants to avoid wearing a gown that closely resembles the immediate past winner in her pageant system.  Obviously, such blatant copying just makes you look like a copycat and will backfire. However, if a successful gown style was worn several years back or by a winner in a different pageant system, it can most often be worn without risk of looking like a copycat.

For example, the following pageant gown styles are highly successful in pageant evening gown competitions and have been recycled with great success by other contestants...

  • White lace fitted gown with long sleeves: Worn by Miss America 1973, Terry Meeuswen, and recycled by Miss America 2009, Kati Stam.
  • White fitted gown with spaghetti straps, rhinestone straps or fur cap sleeves: First worn by Susan Akin, Miss America 1986, then recycled in slightly modified styles by  Amelia Vega, Miss Universe 2003, and Natalie Glebova, Miss Universe 2005.
  • Red strapless or one-shoulder style gown: Worn by Dorothy Benham 1976 and recycled well by Miss Universe 1995 Chelsi Smith, Miss Universe 2000, Lara Dutta, Stefania Fernandez, Miss Universe 2009 and Ximena Navarette, Miss Universe 2010.
  • Classic, simple, mostly unadorned black gown: Worn by Lupita Jones, Miss Universe 1991, then again successfully by Miss USA 1994, Lu Parker, Nicole Johnson, Miss America 19991, Miss America 2001, Katie Harmon, and Chelsea Cooley, Miss USA 2005.
  • Yellow strapless gown: Worn by Miss America 2004, Ericka Dunlap, and also successfully worn by Dayana Mendoza is Miss Universe 2008, Miss US International 2009, Miss Universe 2011, Leila Lopes, and in a similar modified style by Miss America 2010, Caressa Cameron.
  • Black gown with beaded bodice: Worn by Miss World 2004, Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir, and again by Miss America 2007, Lauren Nelson.

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