How to Pick The Best Pageant Swimsuit

The ideal pageant swimsuit should make your figure look well proportioned, camouflage figure flaws, create a winning image, and help you stand out from the crowd.

Since your choice of suit can dramatically alter how you look onstage, you don’t want to settle for just a pretty swimsuit. You want the perfect swimsuit.

Pageant Swimsuit

Miss America 2009, Kati Stam, won the swimsuit competition wearing a very flattering black bikini swimsuit.

When your swimsuit can mean the difference between success and failure, you don’t want to take chances. Luckily, you won’t have to. Today’s pageant swimsuits are marvels of modern engineering designed especially for stage competition. “A pageant swimsuit is not even close to a suit you would swim in,” says Cheryl Prewitt Salem, former Miss America and founder of C.P. Annie Productions, Inc., a leading pageant swim wear manufacturer. “They have to be specially constructed for the stage.”

Today’s swimsuits sport high-tech fabrics, linings, and camouflaging designs to fool the eye and flatter the figure. “There is an art, a technique to this,” admits pageant clothier, Thomas Tolbert, of Georgia’s Legends. “It’s no longer just grab something and go on with the pageant.”

No doubt about it, the swimsuit competition has gone high tech. Many pageant apparel shops even feature state-of-the-art “lighting rooms” equipped with runways, stage lighting systems, and video equipment aimed from the judges’ eye level to record how a customer looks in various styles and colors. “We have the girls try on all the styles and all the colors to see which suit makes her look her very best,” says Nancy Fish, co-owner of Arkansas’ K.T.’s The Winning Edge. “Then we have her walk in the suits in different lights. . .. You’ve got to do whatever you can to be on top of the game and beat the competition.”

The Right Swimsuit Style for the Pageant

Often the choice of swimsuit will depend upon the pageant a young woman is entering. Styles fall into three categories.

  • In scholarship pageants, like Miss America, contestants usually wear conservative, lined, constructed, two-piece swimsuits, usually in a solid color, with a leg cut-up no higher than the front hipbone. In more recent years, their pageant swimsuits have become sexier, more similar to Miss USA swimsuit styles.
  • In traditional beauty pageants like Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss World swimsuits are less conservative bikinis with a higher-cut leg and derriere.
  • In bikini contests, like Miss Hawaiian Tropic, entrants compete in barely there string bikinis.

Selection of an appropriate style is much easier now that many major pageant systems have sponsoring swimwear companies that provide or sell regulation swim wear to contestants. As of 1994, the Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, GuyRex’s Miss United States, Miss Teen All American, and Mrs. America pageants each used an official swim wear line.

But what if the pageant you are entering doesn’t have a swimwear sponsor? Will any swimsuit do? Rarely.

Regular department store swimsuits are seldom suitable for stage competition because they are insufficiently lined for modesty under intense stage lights and lack the construction and styles needed to properly shape the body onstage. Contestants who are serious about scoring highly should wear swim wear designed specifically for stage competition. Pageant swimwear is available in pageant specialty shops and some bridal boutiques, or by mail order.

Swimwear can be ordered from some pageant swim wear collections with custom features such as higher-cut legs, shorter or longer “girth measurements” (to fit short or long torsos), and extra-large bra cups. Swimwear designers can also custom-make competition suits from scratch for hard-to-fit figures.

The two major factors in swimsuit competition are the body and what covers it. After you invest months of time and effort perfecting your physique, make sure what decorates it creates the best possible “frame” for your work.

How a Pageant Swimsuit Should Fit – Alteration Tips

But even the finest swimsuit can flop if its fit doesn’t do the body justice. “Fit is so important with your swimsuit,” says Debbie Brown, of South Carolina’s Brides & Beauties. A suit that fits poorly will emphasize figure faults and hurt the contestant’s overall look. A perfectly fitted suit will create a sleek look that enhances even an average figure. “You can alter a swimsuit just like you can alter a dress,” explains Debbie, who worked with 1993 America’s National Teenager, Miss America 1994, and Miss USA 1994. “Alteration is everything.”

The fit of a swimsuit also affects how a young woman feels onstage. “Fit is the most important thing,” asserts Tricia Copelin, a swimwear designer and owner of Custom Creations by Tricia. “If the suit fits well she is going to feel well in it, and she is going to project confidence.”

Miss America 1990 is a case in point. Although Debbye Turner won the Miss Missouri title wearing a yellow suit, officials suggested she order a custom suit for the nationals. When the new swimsuit arrived days before the pageant, Debbye discovered it didn’t fit as well. Despite speedy alterations, she still had reservations. “It wasn’t exactly right – but I knew my yellow suit fit perfectly and I felt much more comfortable in it. My director told me, ‘You do whatever makes you feel better.”’ Turner decided to wear the original, better-fitting, yellow model and won the swimsuit competition … and the crown.

Pageant Swimsuit Fit Checklist

  • Good fit is neither loose, nor so tight that the suit cuts into the shoulders, arms, legs, back, or bust.
  • Fabric should mold against torso at all points with no wrinkles around bust, sides, abdomen, hips, or waist.
  • No puckers should appear when the body is moving.
  • Seat should smoothly cover and support the entire derriere. No wrinkles or exposure of derriere cheeks.
  • Check for any camel-toe effect (inappropriate outline of pubic area showing). If needed, use an extra layer of fabric hand-stitched inside the crotch or wear an ultra thin panti-liner. Check both carefully under mock stage lights well before competition.
  • Brassiere should not be so tight that the bust appears to be straining to pop out. (Remember to do fittings with any padding you plan to use.)

When you’ve worked for months to develop a winning figure, make sure you flatter your new-and-improved form with flawless fit.

Swimsuit Competition


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