For a young woman competing in a pageant, selecting the right evening gown is as important as choosing the perfect wedding dress.

A wedding dress is all about making your dreams come true. The perfect pageant gown is about creating the illusion of perfection in your allotted minute of competition. The evening gown should make you stand out in a positive way, emphasizing your strong points and hiding everything you want hidden.

First consideration is the colour of the gown. Instinctively you may go for your favourite colour. However, this may not be a colour that looks good on stage or good on you under strong stage lights. The perfect colour may be one that you dislike.

Next is the shape of the dress. If you are 5’8” or taller you can probably get away with any shape. If you are 5’5” or less the most advisable shape is one that turns you into an upward pointing arrow, i.e. a column shape with a halter top and in a solid colour. Stay away from any dress that creates horizontal lines across your body, but do look for vertical lines. If your height is in between, the determining factor is your body shape.



The siren or fishtail dress is an extremely popular shape. I do advise against this shape though. If the dress is too narrow around the thighs and knees it will interfere with your walk. If you have wide hips, particularly with a narrow waist, the fishtail dress will draw inordinate attention to your hips.

Avoid two-piece dresses. They create horizontal lines and lack the elegance required for an evening gown competition. Avoid also dresses with very long trains, or trains in general, as they are difficult to handle and accidents waiting to happen.

The two dress shapes I recommend are two sides of the same coin, the column dress and the full-skirted ball gown. The column dress has no flares, whereas the full-skirted gown can have from a few to many flares. Both shapes work amazingly in a strapless style.

A classic example of the column dress was worn by Ariadne Gutierrez, Miss Colombia, in the 2015 Miss Universe Evening Gown competition.


The full-skirted gown is ideal for showcasing a narrow waist and an hourglass figure. If you have broad shoulders and narrow hips, this type of gown will balance out your figure and if you are bottom-heavy, this dress shape is ideal for drawing attention elsewhere.

The full-skirted gown even works for shorter girls, who should however wear platform shoes with this style. A great example is the gown styling of Olivia Culpo, Miss Universe 2012.

When selecting a gown, make sure you have at least one extra pair of critical eyes to look at you from every angle. Isn’t that how you would shop for your wedding dress?


THOWBACK (way, way back): The 1997 Miss Universe Pageant

In 1997, I wrote this review of the 1997 Miss Universe pageant. Rereading it this weak I was surprised by how spot on my evaluation of Donald Trump really was. I predicted that the Miss Universe pageant would die under his stewardship. It did not, but the Miss Universe pageant has lost its lustre and the US ratings of the Final Show are at their lowest in the competition’s long history. I also said that the show could have been one of the best ever; looking back now it really was.

The 1997 Miss Universe pageant has left a bitter aftertaste, for its general tackiness, the treatment of the media and the crass commercialism which dominated it. The tone was set by THE announcement and  the blatant exploitation of what should have been a private drama. If the timing of THE announcement was ever in doubt, one need only follow the carefully rehearsed on stage banter about what was new in Marla Maples’ life.

Everything was basically cheap: from the trailer park offices, to the photocopied passes and Delegates’ Handbook.  Everyday there was some ruckus involving the media and the very tight working conditions which were allowed to them. After the first week, the only events open to the media were the rehearsals for about a half hour every day.  Everybody seemed confused and it would appear that everything could unravel at any moment. The security was a joke, as no pass had a photograph and nothing was checked.

The stage itself was really beautiful and the show could have been one of the best ever. It was marred however by its flattery of the Miss America Pageant (imitation is the sincerest form of?) . The double Judges’ Panels, the call-inn audience question, the lame attempt at squeezing a talent round out of what is not a talent-based competition and the outdated swimsuits, made one wonder if it was really May in Miami Beach and not September in Atlantic City.

Marla and George finally seem to have gotten the hang of it, although there is plenty room for improvement. Let’s bring back Bob Goen and a former Miss Universe as guest commentator.

The 10 semi-finalists were as predictable as ever. Besides the “Staple 4″ (USA, Venezuela, India and Sweden), Miss Italy was there to prove that Miss Universe is not racist, even if she was the most vulgar girl there.

Miss Curaçao, Miss Panama, Miss Puerto Rico and Miss Trinidad & Tobago were true beauty queens (the REAL semi-finalists) and Miss Estonia was her comic relief self.

Brook Mahealani Lee won deservedly based on her finals answer. Marena Bencomo was CORRUPTLY boosted by her compatriot Carolina Herrera (they are from Venezuela after all and remember the saying about old dogs?) and Margot Bourgeois was affected by her honest, but unpageantlike, answer to the final question.

In the hands of Donald Trump, the Miss Universe pageant is bound to die soon. How can this man head a pageant that requires its contestants to be a positive role model to their communities and the world, when he himself is an example of the basest human emotions?

Marla and THE Donald never seemed like a divorcing couple (am I the only one who saw the encouraging caress of Marla’s arm?). Donald Trump was besides himself at the Coronation Ball when he heard about the show’s exceptional rating and “jokingly” told those present that he was sure he had done nothing to affect those ratings (talk about blowing your own horn!).

Its very painful to see that Miss Universe has become the pageant that exploits the national pride and aspirations of most countries in the world for the financial benefit of one despicable human being!

A concerned (almost former) fan of and reporter at the 1997 Miss Universe pageant




The idea to use so-called nude shoes to create the illusion of height came from the movies. It was found that being unable to tell where Ginger Rogers’ legs ended made her appear taller in her dance sequences. This trick was taken over by other actresses and eventually became popular in beauty pageants.


The illusion is to make someone who is at a distance, like a judge, see “leg” when they should already see “shoe”. To achieve this “trompe-l’oeil”, the best nude shoe is one that is closed-toe, made of natural or suede, NEVER patent, leather, in a colour that closely matches the colour of your own skin.JIMM-WZ10_V2 copy It is not always easy to find a perfect colour match. Therefore, if your skin is darker than the shoe you should get the nude shoes and dye them to a colour that is close to your own skin colour. If your skin colour is lighter than the shoe, buy white ones and have them dyed appropriately.

In recent years, nude platform shoes and sandals have become wildly popular, supposedly with the intention of creating the illusion of height. In a swimwear round though, platform footwear will have the opposite effect. Rather than making the feet disappear, they actually draw attention to them.

For any type of platform footwear to work as a way to create the illusion of height, the shoes must be invisible. This means they must only be used in the evening wear round and preferably be in the same colour and material as the gown you are wearing.

Even though Miss Universe uses the so-called “tippy tops” in their swimsuit competitions, these shoes are a shorter girl’s worst enemies. If everyone is wearing the same shoes, height differences will be just as visible as without them. If your height is less than 5’7”, these sandals will make you look like you are walking on blocks and accentuate your real length. Tippy tops truly only look good on the tall girls, those who should not feel the need to create the illusion of more height.

While the Miss Universe contest can be blamed for the popularity of the “tippy tops”, they actually did provide their contestants with the ideal footwear during their 1997 contest, as can be seen in the picture below, even though the shoe colour was not always a perfect match.

IMG_0844 copy

When selecting footwear for particularly the swimwear competition, make sure that your shoes do not say that you are unhappy with your height. This will definitely tell the judges that you are less than confident with who you are. And that is not a good thing!

NOTEWORTHY: An Interview with Anne-marie Braafheid

It was July 13, 1968, and on a stage in Miami Beach a young school teacher from Curaçao made history becoming the first black woman to be a finalist at the Miss Universe contest, almost winning the crown. It was only Curaçao’s 6th participation in the contest, so it could have been expected that the island would have its first Miss Universe crown soon after. Yet in the 48 years since, none of the contestants from Curaçao, some of which did make the semi-finals, have been able to equal yet alone surpass the performance of that young lady, Anne-marie Braafheid, First Runner-up to Miss Universe 1968.

The reigning Miss Curaçao, Imelda Thodé, approached Anne-marie to enter the local competition. It was the cultural baggage accumulated through her education as a teacher and her participation in theatre, ballet and modeling that motivated Anne-marie to accept the invitation. By reading international magazines such as Vogue and in her travels to Europe Anne-marie became familiar with the international beauty standards of the late sixties, in which black and slim was also considered beautiful, contrary to the local view that only white and voluptuous was beautiful. She was further encouraged by the interest in her as a model by a local photographer and modelling school.

Anne-marie was sure that she possessed all the ingredients to win the Miss Curaçao title, like the right measurements, beauty, talent, education, public speaking capabilities and proficiency in five languages including English. Anne-marie remembers: “that the jury consisted of a panel of international tourists also helped to boost my confidence. I took advice from experts to prepare myself to the utmost”.

To prepare for the Miss Universe pageant, Anne-marie ignored the wave of criticism in the local community from those who did not agree that a black girl born in Surinam had become Miss Curaçao. She told everyone that from the age of three she was raised in Curaçao and that “I am a Yu di Korsou and that black is beautiful” Anne-marie also spent a lot of time with the Miss Venezuela candidates who had come to Curaçao for their training that year. She practiced social skills, etiquette and protocol with them and was invited to attend the Miss Venezuela pageant in Caracas (the winner, Peggy Kopp, finished in fourth place behind Anne-marie at Miss Universe). In Caracas Anne-marie got further training in public speaking, took makeup lessons and gave interviews on television. The government of Curaçao also invested a reasonable amount of money in her wardrobe and gave her a chaperone, who also guided her wardrobe choices.

Anne-marie told us that she always competes to win and the Miss Universe contest was no exception: “due to the attention I got during the rehearsals, events and photo sessions my expectation grew. When two days before the final night I was chosen in the fifteen semi-finalists I realised that the crown could be in our reach”.

Anne-marie recalls that many people worldwide, including herself, were surprised when Miss Brazil, who had only cried in the interview competition, walked away with the title. Anne-marie’s participation on the other hand was sassy and she answered Bob Barker’s last question as to who would be the winner, by acting out the children’s rhyme “Ini Mini Maini Moo”. This is something pageant fans worldwide still remember about the woman who many believe should have been the first Miss Universe from Curaçao.

When asked why she thinks that in the years since that faithful night Curaçao has never come as close to winning the Miss Universe title, Anne-marie states that the high cost of participation prevents many girls from entering the competition, with the result that “often we do not get the right girl on the right place”. She also finds that the public interest in beauty pageants has dropped in Curaçao. The high price of tickets to the events has contributed to this, particularly among young people: “sponsors are more difficult to be found. The government is less involved. Also often girls that might have a chance to win prefer to finish their studies. Our training periods are too short. Often our candidates are schoolgirls who are too young, have never travelled outside of Curaçao and do not possess the maturity to participate at the Miss Universe level”.  

We also asked Anne-marie whether she thinks a young woman from Curaçao can ever win the Miss Universe competition. In her opinion in recent years the pageant is influenced by economics and Curaçao is a very small economic entity. “The spirit of time is not in our favor” she appraises, “yet one can never know when the time will be ripe again for us. In my days I think that, apart from my beauty and talent, due to my color I was part of the spirit of time”. Anne-marie considers that this was reflected in the outcome of the pageant. It was time for “Black is Beautiful”, just months after the asassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Anne-marie does have a message for young women wishing to compete in their local preliminary to the Miss Universe pageant: “have fun, be happy, enjoy your training period and participation as a valuable addition for the rest of your life. Increase your cultural and general knowledge, get your body in optimal condition, be eccentric! Read international magazines and newspapers. Watch documentaries. Travel. Learn to communicate at all levels. Join one of the youth divisions of social clubs like Junior Chambers, Rotary, Lions. Start in time preparing yourself mentally and physically. Eat healthy, greens and fruits. Get a good hair dresser in time. Know your look in time. Seek for advice by professionals concerning dress code, makeup, hair fashion. Contact former delegates to learn from their experiences. Contact people in the world of theater to enhance your breathing technique when speaking. Make etiquette part of your life style. Once you are participating give it your all”.

That is quite a number of recommendations. Then again, it will take considerable preparation and hard work to reach the bar that was set so high on that July 13th in Miami Beach.


This interview with Anne-marie Braafheid by Richard John Isa was first published in the “Amigoe Express” magazine in her native Curaçao.


With the exception of Miss World, all renowned beauty competitions include a swimsuit segment. The importance it takes in the determination of the final result varies from system to system, but it cannot be denied that the figure of the contestant is responsible for a significant part of her total score.

You would assume this would indicate that as a contestant you have to strive for the perfect body. Nothing is further from the truth.

To begin with, what exactly is the perfect figure?


Over the years the perception of the ideal figure has changed considerably. Miss Universe contestants in the Fifties and early Sixties would be considered “zaftig” by today’s standard (ABOVE PHOTO) and if they saw today’s delegates (PHOTO BELOW) they would probably urge them to have a hamburger.

Miss Universe 2015

In the heyday of pageantry the measurements 36-24-36 (inches for chest-waist-hips) were considered to be the ideals to strive for. Note however that if you are 5’2” with the measurements 36-24-36 you will look quite different than if you are 6’ with the same. Another thing is that you could be a bodybuilder with those ideal measurements. There is nothing wrong with that, yet that is not a look favoured by beauty pageants.

Then there is the pesky issue of proportions. How are your legs? Are they short, long or just right? A yardstick for evaluation indicates that the distance from the top of the thighs to the ground should be the same as the distance between the same starting point and the top of your head. Whatever the ideal may be, proportions are something you are born with and are not changeable or operable.

Take a look at Miss Universe 2014 in 2015, Paulina Vega. For many she won because she has a perfect figure. If you look closely though you will notice that her hips are considerably wider than her chest area. In her case, she does have the benefit of having wide shoulders.

Paulina through her walk and poses created the illusion of perfection. Her figure at Miss Universe was very lean and that is the first requirement for a winning swimsuit performance. Leanness and firmness are the operative words. Any perceived disproportion is then dealt with through your walk and posing to create the illusion of perfection, by beauty pageant standards.

The choice of swimsuit can also go a long way in helping you achieve perfection, but not all pageant systems allow their participants to bring their own competition swimwear.

So, to prepare yourself for the swimsuit competition first and foremost eat healthy and exercise. Once you have achieved the best fitness result for you, familiarise yourself with your body. Then find yourself a catwalk coach that is able to not just teach you how to walk and pose, but most importantly to design a swimsuit performance that is going to win you that portion of your competition.

Photo credits: Marcos Hirakawa, Emil Naquib, Miss Universe Organization






It is easy to spot a winner.  If you can imagine her on stage in an international pageant, she’s the one.

It sounds basic, but the pageant world has never been more competitive and it is usually apparent to a judge from the outset who has the attributes and qualities required to be able to rise to the challenge.

I look for energy, poise and elegance in a contestant on stage.  I don’t like to see an over-exaggerated walk, nor the flicking of a swimwear sarong like an aggressive matador.  Keep use of hands to a minimum.  Confidence is key, and less is more when it comes to a beautiful, flowing walk with great posture.  Posture is a bugbear of mine – head up, shoulders back.  It makes such a difference to how you look and feel.

In interviews and on stage, I love a contestant who will look each judge in the eye in turn – it conveys great warmth.  Interviews should be fluent and eloquent without gabbling, and a well-prepared finalist will steer the conversation so as to talk about the subjects close to her heart.  To me, interviews are less about their content than assessing how a contestant handles herself under pressure, and her ability to be able to talk articulately in a given situation.

A judge wants to see natural confidence embued with an unbeatable star quality.  If you can walk, smile, talk and feel like a princess, you have all the attributes required to become a queen.

Sally-Ann Fawcett

Recognised as the “Hedda Gabler of the Pageant World”, Sally-Ann Fawcett is the author of “Misdemeanours:  Beauty Queen Scandals” and the forthcoming “More Misdemeanours” (Amazon).

A former participant herself, Sally-Ann is a much in demand judge at pageants throughout Great Britain.

Photo Credit: Lee Dare



Welcome to The Pageant Consultancy, where our aim is to provide you with useful and relevant advice as you embark on that very unique experience called beauty pageants. You can also visit us if you just want to put your best foot forward as you present yourself to the world on a day-to-day basis.

We will provide you with the necessary information to get you started and/or organised in your preparations to compete in any beauty pageant, anywhere in the world. Off course we cannot take the place of a live coach, someone who is actually with you to observe and comment on your performance. Depending on where you are competing in the world and in which pageant system, your pageant organisers will provide either no or limited preparatory coaching leading up to the competition or they may subject you to intense, detail-oriented, training in the months, weeks and days ahead of that important Finals Night. Therefore you may not require the services of a live coach or that coach may ultimately be the main catalyst for you wearing that desired crown.

A live coach is useful because you are obviously unable to look at yourself during your presentations. You may think you are doing everything perfectly yet be overlooking an important detail. That is where the coach comes in, to be the eyes you cannot be for yourself.

Before you get to the point of selecting a coach, we will assist you in preparing yourself in all aspects of competition. This way you can identify which areas you require most coaching in, thereby using your budget in the best way possible.

You will probably spend months preparing for your competition. Your actual competition time however, will be between three to nine minutes, depending on the time allotted to the Personal Interview. Therefore you will put in a lot of work in order to make an impact in a very, very short time.

We are here to share with you what we have learned about successful competition in over thirty years of experience. We will answer your questions and point you in the direction of available resources, wherever you may be competing.

Pageants are a unique arena in which young women can acquire skills and resources that will serve them in whatever path they chose later in life. Let us be your first step in that endeavour!


Richard John Isa, Coordinator, The Pageant Consultancy


Photo Credit: Nigel Wilson