I spent the ages between five and 18 living on the Jersey Shore, which means I'm not at all unfamiliar with Miss America and the world of glitzy, often misogynistic pageantry. Held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Miss America 2016 pageant, however, has promised to be a little bit different than the taffeta-trotting events of yesteryear — a difference that has transpired to all of the Miss America 2016 gowns. From Vanessa Williams' return to the stage to Zendaya joining the judging panel to Miss Alabama Meg McGuffin's "Healthy is the New Skinny" initiative, it seemed likely that the 2016 event would be the most feminist, body positive, and perhaps even fashionable one yet.
The question of whether or not beauty pageants are sexist is one that still tears friends, lovers, co-workers, and feminists apart. But one thing no one can deny when it comes to those stages is the fierceness of the evening-wear. Whether your sartorial tendencies sway towards the kitsch and tastefully tacky, vintage-inspired silhouettes, or prom circa early 2000s, Miss America is one of those rare events that puts all of the aforementioned fashion genres into one single room.
Personally, if you put sequins and glitter on something, I'm probably going to love it. In that respect, the Miss America 2016 pageant has catered to every single one of my needs. Here's a look at some of the most remarkable, memorable, and once in a while wonderfully confusing gowns that hit the boardwalk, from both contestants and attendees.
If I could design my dream gown, I'm pretty sure this would be it. It's sparkly but classic, simple but memorable. And it's basically the perfect dress for every occasion, be it getting married, going to a ball, or, you know, judging the Miss America pageant.
Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015
This photo of 2015 crown-holder Kira Kazantsev with Nate Ferrell (Florida's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Champion) is giving me all the feels for many, many reasons. The stunning mermaid-approved aqua gown is only one of them.
Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995
In 1995, Heather Whitestone became the first deaf woman to win the Miss America pageant. According to ABC, she has since received a cochlear implant. Tonight, Whitestone is reminding us of her sartorial prowess and looking simply epic whilst doing it.
Lauren Giraldo, YouTuber & Vine Star
Lauren Giraldo is known for creating videos "that make people laugh." Tonight she's bringing the Old Hollywood meets Lydia Deetz vibes and it's just so good.
Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989
The 1989 crown-holder is bringing it tonight. Pastels are totally in right now, and this baby blue is basically everything. She's clearly still a queen.
Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014
In 2014, Nina Davulur became the first Indian American woman to be crowned Miss America. She was also the first contestant to ever perform a Bollywood dance on stage. In sum, she's incredibly impressive, and her shimmering nude gown is only one example of that.
Scarlett Leithold, Model
Model Scarlett Leithold made headlines when she appeared on Justin Bieber's Instagram. Tonight, her gown is the perfect combination of boho vibes and traditional evening-wear.
Griffin Arnlund, YouTuber
YouTube sensation Griffin Arnlund is wearing a chic co-ord set that reminds me partially of Peggy Olsen after a couple of seasons of Mad Men, and partially of my Office Barbie (in the best of ways, of course).
Amy Purdy, Actress/Model/Motivational Speaker
Amy Purdy's resume is pretty something. From actress to model to motivation speaker to 2014 Paralympic bronze medalist, she's nothing short of a role model. I'm loving her embellished and cutout gown tonight — so Miss America, in a totally classic way.
Danica McKellar, Actress & Mathematician
Some of y'all might know her as Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, but Danica McKellar is also a mathematician and education advocate. Tonight, she's on the judges' panel for Miss America, but this gown kind of makes me wish she was a contestant.
Vanessa Williams, Judge & Miss America 1984
We all knew Vanessa Williams' return to the Miss America stage was going to be insane. Even I couldn't have imagined the host's incredibly structured, asymmetrical, wondrous gown, though. She kicked off the show with a musical number on stage, but it's that gown that will live in my sartorial heart for decades.
Kelley Johnson, Miss Colorado
Kelley Johnson proves that you can't go wrong with a crimson red gown. Classic yet sexy. Mysterious yet totally familiar.
Betty Cantrell, Miss Georgia
OK, I'm usually not a fan of white gowns, but Miss Georgia's peekaboo piece is stealing my heart. It's no wonder she took home the crown, to be honest. I love anything that brings attention to the tummy (because it's a marginalized part of the body and all), and this gown does just that in a Hollywood glam kind of way.
Daja Dial, Miss South Carolina
If you don't know who Daja Dial is, I suggest you find out soon. There's no doubt in my mind that she's going to take the sartorial world by storm. This gown is totally something I could picture Blair Waldorf wearing to a ball or to her renewal of vows with Chuck. The detailing is impeccable.
April Nelson, Miss Louisiana
April Nelson is bringing out all the princess stops tonight, and I'm definitely not complaining.
Hannah Roberts, Miss Mississippi
Miss Mississippi's dress was not totally unlike April Nelson's in the princess-like quality. But it looked a little more like Hanna Marin's Pretty Little Liars prom gown — so that's an automatic ticket to any best dressed list, IMO.
Shannon Sanderford, Miss Texas
Bringing out all the regal vibes tonight was Shannon Sanderford, aka Miss Texas. The delicate embellished neckline here is enough to make the Audrey Hepburn-loving girl in me sing songs of cheer.
Meg McGuffin, Miss Alabama
Fourth runner up Meg McGuffin was giving off a total Marilyn Monroe ora with this off-the-shoulder white gown. It's clearly a style that has become a "classic" for a reason, and here's hoping it stays in our lives for all time.
Georgia Frazier, Miss Oklahoma
Not everyone on the Internet loved Miss Oklahoma's performance gown, but the pattern-mixing, color-blocking, and grandma chic vibes were right up my alley. It was a definite sartorial risk — and that's something the pageant world certainly needs more of.
Hannah Robison, Miss Tennessee
As Seventeen Magazine pointed out, Miss Tennessee was essentially the real-life Belle of the ball. Her Beauty and the Beast vibes gave this evening true life.
As is often the case, all of the contestants and attendees at Miss America were dressed to the nines. These are just a few women who stood out — be it for their love of sparkle or their penchant for dressing like Disney princesses.