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For the sake of this column, let’s ignore the inherent women-judged-as-meat aspect of pageants and consider how someone comes to look like Miss Universe.
Surely much is genetic, but much is also the result of hard work and flattering fashion.
Miss Universe Stefania Fernandez, who passes on her crown during the live pageant Monday, Aug. 23, on NBC, and Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, talk about the pageant’s fashions and this year’s show.
The show traditionally opens with women wearing national costumes, which cost up to $20,000. Fifteen semifinalists, showcasing this year’s heavy metal theme, are likely next (the final lineup was being set at this writing). They’ll wear sexy cocktail dresses by Sherri Hill.
“Black will be our basic,” Shugart says. “Some will have nuts and bolts across the bodice, variations on the dress. There will be a lot of grays and hand painting; some will be a dark silver with black beading.”
Any woman who has ever built an outfit around a pair of shoes will relate to this: They found a pair of shoes, then decided on outfits. Here, it’s Nina Shoes, with 6-inch heels and a silver platform, Shugart says.
Fernandez, 5 feet 10 inches, says, “I practiced every day in Venezuela, so when I went to Miss Universe, it was very easy for me.”
The show usually segues into the swimsuit competition. This is when those who proudly define themselves as feminists often start railing about subjugation. But wait a moment.
This year’s swimsuit label is Dar be Dar, and the designer, Tala Raasi, creates sensual designs she says empower women. Her history is a feminist fight. Raasi was celebrating her 16th birthday in Iran and removed her conservative attire to reveal a miniskirt. The religious police were summoned, and she received 40 lashes. Swimsuits “represent freedom to her,” Shugart says.
The Miss Universe pageant is the only beauty contest with bona fide fashion roots; the swimsuit company, Catalina, began it. David Profeta is designing the cover-ups to resemble chain mail.
Then it’s time for gowns. Fernandez prefers the elegance of Carolina Herrara and Angel Sanchez.
Still, the overriding question remains: Can women achieve this look?
“Absolutely,” Shugart says. “Our biggest audience for the pageant is women.”
“The biggest question we have is how do they get that hair?” she says, adding that anyone can create that look with the right products. “It also translates in fashion as well. It’s a question of finding what works for you. If you have a certain body type, you know to dress accordingly. What makes you feel comfortable, whether hair, fashion or anything, is confidence.”
 And if one wants to look like a beauty contestant, there are two musts: sashes and tiaras.