Beauties with baggage

There's no such thing as too many clothes

Miss Usa In Baltimore

April 08, 2005|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

When you see them on television Monday night, the 51 Miss USA contestants will be fashion eye candy, in little red dresses, identical floral-print bikinis and fabulous, floor-sweeping evening gowns.

Three outfit changes in one two-hour evening? For these women, that's a piece of carb-free cake.

By the time one lucky lady is crowned Miss USA at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre, the contestants will have changed clothes about 1,071 times, over 18 jam-packed days. They will have lugged more than 600 suitcases, trunks, boxes and garment bags to town with close to 1,300 pairs of shoes, and hundreds of gallons of shampoo, conditioner, liquid foundation, self-tanners and lip gloss.

We won't even try to count the bobby pins.

The excess is absolutely necessary, the beauty queens say. Over the three weeks on location, there are events every day, each requiring a different style of dress. And even if no judges are present, cameras are flashing, the public is scrutinizing. Every day is a day they have to be "on."

"When you're at a competition like this, you always want to look your best and reflect your own personal style," says Sarah Medley, Miss South Carolina USA. "They look at things like that. They want to see how you present yourself, that you're a stylish, modern woman."

Out of all the pageants, Miss USA is the most fashion-forward. The young women, ages 18 to 26, who participate in the event have grown up in a time where the image of the girl-next-door is more likely to be a Louis Vuitton-toting Jessica Simpson, not Gidget.

So when these women plan for the pre-competition events, they don't pack light. They bring out all their best rags and designer duds, plus some that belong to stylish friends.

"I feel sorry for the people who helped us in the hotel," says Jana Murrell, Miss Nebraska USA. "Those poor bellhops."

"You have to be prepared for every little thing," says Chelsea Cooley, Miss North Carolina USA. "You have two to three outfit changes a day. So it's better to bring more than you need, and borrow some from friends if needed."

The women sometimes spend more than $1,000 of their own money on apparel and products. To cut costs, some accept loans of clothes from stores in their hometowns. Other items are donated by store owners with the hope that having a beauty queen seen in their apparel will translate into free advertising.

"The smartest girls are the ones who use their capital and their title to encourage businesses to donate things," says Marina Harrison, Miss Maryland USA. "And we have extremely generous parents."

Many of the contestants still were having boxes shipped from home well into Week 3 of the competition.

"There are a ton of events. And there's so many things that you forget," says Brenda Brabham, Miss Pennsylvania USA, who brought a suitcase just for hair-care products. "I thought I had too much stuff, but it turns out, I didn't have enough. So I had my mom send me an additional two boxes, and I have another one on the way."

Cooley - a self-described "shoe freak" - brought 34 pairs of shoes, stuffed into one suitcase. She packed that bag, along with five others, a collapsible hanging-garment rack and several shoe racks into her Honda and drove eight hours to Baltimore, peering through the cracks between luggage to see out her rear-view mirror.

Lucky Cooley was close enough to drive, says Rachel Saunders, Miss Kansas USA. Coming from Tonganoxie, 1,500 miles away, she flew to Baltimore and shipped three of her boxes to the hotel two weeks ahead of time. And wouldn't you know it? The box with her shoes was missing for a day.

"I was a little frantic," says Saunders, 21.

Happily for her, the box turned up. And lucky for her roommate, Miss Nebraska, Saunders packed a relatively few pairs of shoes - 15 to 20 - instead of the average 30 or so.

When Saunders checked into her hotel room, Miss Nebraska (Murrell) had already used nearly every bit of space for her shoes and clothes - hanging her high heels on the doors of the TV cabinet and all along the valance rod at the hotel window. She only had to make a relatively little bit of room for Saunders' footwear.

"There's three drawers and one closet for two girls who are here for 2 1/2 weeks and trying to look their best every day," says Murrell, 23, who packed 19 workout outfits alone. "We have to maximize our space."

Amazingly, contestants in earlier years brought even more stuff, says Rosalie Monte, the show's contestant manager.

"The girls used to need more hair products, because there was more rolling and hair drying, bigger hair," Monte says.

Designer Tadashi Shoji, who created the contestants' flirty red opening-number dresses, had to take the ladies' stylishness into account when he sat down to make contemporary dresses for 51 different beauties.

"All of the delegates are in tune with fashion and looking their best on and off stage," Shoji says. "Gone are the days of stereotypical `pageant dresses.' "

"We're all stylish girls," says Murrell, whose evening gown is sexy in turquoise, with a sheer bodice. "But we have to be more so while we're here. You don't want any bad pictures of you out there. You don't want that camera to snap that one day you say `Oh, it doesn't matter.'"

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