The Most Over-the-Top Miss Universe Costumes, From High Camp to High Cringe

We’re talking Lady Gaga levels of theatrics, people.

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Photo: Getty Images, Miss Universe Pageant 2022 (Getty Images)

The highlight of the Miss Universe pageant might widely be considered the finale, in which a single woman is deemed so representative of femininity that she can stand in for the entire galaxy. Contestants may give a more political answer, saying the best thing about the multi-day event is the camaraderie and sisterhood, or something like that. But for viewers, the undisputed champion of Miss Universe isn’t a single person, but the entirety of the pageant’s National Costume Contest. And good God, did the National Costume Contest deliver.

America’s first Filipino American Miss USA, R’Bonney Gabriel, was crowned the 71st Miss Universe on Saturday night, beating out Amanda Dudamel from Venezuela and Andreína Martínez from the Dominican Republic. She faced 83 other competitors in total, fighting for the coveted crown and title from a stage in New Orleans. While Gabriel proved to be a valiant contestant, speaking on outdated contestant age limits and the far-too-recent change to allow mothers and married women to compete, she will probably best be remembered in the cultural imagination for her perfectly absurdist take on Americana.

The pageant’s National Costume Contest allows contestants to use their bodies as an artistic, political, and cultural canvas of sorts and encourages them to go all out—sometimes, so far out that viewers have no idea what the fuck is happening onstage. Other times, the near-drag performances are, uh, a little too on the nose. In 2002, Miss USA dressed as a firefighter months after 9/11 took place. In 2007, she was dressed as Elvis Presley. Other Miss USAs have gone as NASCAR drivers and comic book characters.

It’s easy to make fun of women who compete in pageants, but some of these parade floats, I mean outfits, are legitimate works of art and at the very least are entertaining for those of us choosing popcorn over platform heels.

Right this way for the feast of glamour—and literal food—adorning this year’s contestants!

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