Loretta Kowal has the clothes part of the Miss Maryland USA contest shopped to perfection: a fuchsia, custom-made bathing suit; an emerald-green cocktail dress; a long, red-sequined evening gown.
The Severna Park resident has the long-legged, long-haired, good looks and the modeling experience likely to help her perform well in the November event.
But the 22-year-old, who recently made it to the semifinals of the contest, is a little worried about what she'll do if she wins.
If Kowal were to become the next Miss Maryland, she would be eligible for the Miss USA pageant, in which she would face yet another interview.
The medical secretary is not terribly confident in conversation.
"I've done bikini contests in Ocean City, but this is different. Here, you have to be elegant," says Kowal.
She laughs. "I'm doing (the Miss Maryland USA contest) because there's no talent involved."
What she does have is determination and a face that makes men halt and gawk on the streets of Annapolis.
"If I don't win this year, I'll go next year and keep trying and trying until I hit age 27 andcan't do it anymore," Kowal says.
Beauty pageants sometimes become a path to professional modeling, which is Kowal's goal. "Plus, I would love meeting people."
Entering a contest such as the Miss Maryland pageant is a complicated business.
The easiest part was sending an application, a $25 fee and a full body photo. After being chosen as a semifinalist, she paid $395 for the pageant weekend in Baltimore.
Kowal already knew the basics of beauty pageants. Last year she was selected as a semifinalist in the Miss Maryland contest, but didn't continue in the competition because of the expense.
She's taken classes at the John Casablancas Modeling Agency in Towson, learning how to apply makeup for color or black-and-white photographs, how to walk on a runway and how to be interviewed.
But she's still nervous. Kowal is taking no chances with her costumes, paying $70 to havea swimsuit made by the Annapolis tailor who made the suit worn by last year's Miss Maryland. She found a $600 red formal for $50 that only needed to be tightened in the waist.
The young woman recounts oddities in her personal history, items that might snag an interviewer's interest. She mentions her pet ferret, bought with the money she made modeling.
"They paid me $200 for one assignment," she says, "and I went straight to a pet store with the money, and there he was."
Kowal says her father loves rodents, and she grew up with pet rats."I used to eat dinner with one of them on my shoulder," she says, twirling a wisp of navy skirt.
A graduate of Severna Park High, Kowal briefly attended Anne Arundel Community College before becoming secretary to an oncologist in Annapolis.
Her goals would take her farfrom home, Kowal says. The winner of the Miss Maryland pageant receives about $2,500 in cash and prizes, including a fur coat and an answering machine.
"There's a lot of travel involved, as well as community service events," Kowal says. "And (winning) would look really good on a resume if I went into modeling. For a lot of girls, contests have led to permanent modeling jobs or television."
Or it could lead to the 1992 Miss USA Pageant, a chance at winning $225,000 and exposure on national television.
Right now, she's just entering the state contest with some friends as a lark, Kowal says.
"I'd be happy to be one of the 15 finalists," she says. "I'm just doing this for fun."
Then she pauses and smiles, a bright, aspiring cover-girl sort of smile.
"And to win."