“Think of yourself as a canvas,” advises pageant clothier Thomas Tolbert, of Legends. “We are going to paint a masterpiece. You’re telling me about yourself.”
Nothing is more crucial to a young woman’s chances of winning the crown than looking like a winner. And winning images are created.
“Think of yourself as a canvas,” advises pageant clothier Thomas Tolbert, of Legends. “We are going to paint a masterpiece. You’re telling me about yourself.” To create an effective image, the girl has to understand not only the pageant she is entering, but who she is and what she wants her image to “say” to judges. He explains, “You’ve got to go in and find what is inside their brains, their emotions. That’s what is going to help me to dress them correctly and let the judges know who they are before they ever speak one word.”
Creating an effective image is a matter of finding the right “theme” for the young woman. Is she a vivacious southern belle like Phyllis George or Mary Ann Mobley? Is she a smart, no-nonsense personality like Diane Sawyer or Leanza Cornett?
“You’re creating an image all the way through and you need to stick with it,” explains Debbie Brown, a pageant clothier who dressed Miss America 1994 and Miss USA 1994. “The main thing when you’re creating an image is to be your personality.”
Debbie offers an example: “Suppose that from the interview, the judges know that you’re very intelligent, your personality is reserved, and your talent is opera. Then you come out in the evening gown competition wearing a slinky, low-cut, hot-red gown that Gypsy Rose Lee would wear. The judges are going to be confused and wonder, ‘Is this girl real, or is she putting on a show because she wants us to think she’s like this?’” If a girl’s image contradicts her personality, says Brown, “It leaves you hanging like you don’t know who she is.”
The image you create with your clothing, hairstyle, cosmetics, and carriage should instantly tell the judges who you are. Or, as pageant photographer David Bartley puts it, “Does your image match your message?”
A young woman’s image should not only match her personal style, it should also present her at her finest. “People sell themselves short by not looking their best,” says Bartley. “Like it or not, fair or not, that’s life. There is a direct correlation between what you look like and your success. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. It doesn’t mean you have to be the most gorgeous person. It means that you’re the best version of you, that you have taken the time and effort to make yourself look your best.”
A recent example of how much image can improve a contestant’s chances is Lu Parker, Miss USA 1994. I compared her appearance minus make-up and with her thick hair let down in television’s Secrets Revealed and in her state program book, against her appearance at the Miss USA Pageant. Talk about improvements. I hope she’ll forgive me for saying so, but I never could have picked her from either as the next Miss USA. She had the winning figure, personality, and intelligence right along-but a better image, improved hairstyle, and makeup, helped the rest of us to see the champion in a champion.
Ultimately, the development of a winning image is one of the most valuable rewards of the pageant experience. “Whether or not they win the title, the self-improvement they receive is worth it,” asserts Thomas Tolbert. “Everybody says, ‘We’re going for the crown.’ Yes, I believe they are all going for the crown- but it’s also a growing process. Getting to know yourself, to improve yourself-that’s all part of the whole ‘package.’”
Develop a winning image for pageants … and life.