In an organization that bolsters helping women with the financial means to pursue higher education, it is ironic that Miss America also unintentionally encourages an unhealthy, exorbitant expenditure in the categories necessary to win money in the first place. Perhaps the allure of winning scholarship money is eclipsed by fulfilling childhood dreams of being Miss America or the glistening opportunity of winning a crown. However, Miss America is first and foremost a scholarship organization- the largest scholarship provider for young women in the country. With that in mind, it is somewhat shocking how young women spend thousands of dollars each year to compete in a pageant only to walk away with, most commonly, a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and (hopefully) a sparkly new crown. According to an online study, pageant contestants spend on average between $2,475 and $15,000 on gowns, wardrobe, hair & makeup, shoes, and coaching before even stepping foot on a stage. Yes, a few girls win enough money to graduate college debt free, but the majority rarely break even to justify the money spent with the scholarships won. While the cost of competing in a pageant varies for each state and pageant system, logistically speaking, is the amount of money spent on a pageant proportional to the outcome?
When I was a senior in high school, my mom took me to Ypsilon Dresses in Salt Lake City, Utah to find a dress for my very first local competition, Miss Meridian. Miss Meridian was only a week away, and I still could not find a dress long enough for my six-foot frame. I serendipitously stumbled upon a light pink Jovani evening gown that was the first (and only) dress I had found that afforded me the luxury of wearing high heels. At that point, the price did not matter. The gown cost $500 which at the time, seemed like a lot of money to spend on one wardrobe item. However, after competing at Miss Idaho for three years and then Miss America, I have come to realize that $500 is nothing compared to the cost of custom and couture dresses some girls spend on one frock. A myriad of contestant’s evening gowns cost more than my fall quarter tuition at UC Davis. With the competitive misconception that “new and expensive” gives you an edge in the competition, it is no wonder women invest a copious amount of money into an evening gown with the hopes that it will be their winning ticket to the crown. Kudos to the girls who have the ability and desire to spend that kind of money in pageantry, however for the others like myself who are already riddled with student loans and debt, know that you do not have to break the bank to capture a crown.
The same light pink evening gown I bought my senior year of high school was the same evening gown I wore as a rising senior in college when I won Miss Idaho. Three years, eight competitions, one dress. While my light pink dress has definitely lost its luster, it is proof that you can be successful in pageants on a budget. Furthermore, it attests that dresses don’t win pageants, but the girls wearing them do. I have lost more times than I won wearing my light pink evening gown. Each year at Miss Idaho, my dress stayed the same. It was the girl wearing the dress who changed. Instead of investing more money every year in a new dress, I invested time in upgrading myself. Never discount your capabilities because your bank account dips lower than your dreams. To this day, I am still relieved to have found a dress that didn’t end at my ankles, but most of all, I am grateful I chose to wear that same dress throughout my entire Miss Idaho pageant career. Call it fate or my lucky dress, I call it the best five-hundred dollars I ever spent.