The Miss America pageant is known for beautiful women, amazing talents, and stunning gowns. Since beginning in 1921, the competition has evolved, along with the wardrobe choices of the beauty queens.
From flapper-inspired ensembles to dazzling form-fitting gowns, here are some of the most gorgeous and stunning evening gowns throughout Miss America history.
The Miss America Pageant
Originating in 1921, the Miss America pageant has not only evolved from being a competition based on beauty but on brains as well.
Even so, viewers can’t help but marvel at some of the stunning gowns worn by contestants throughout the years, such as Lee Meriwether’s regal-looking gown from 1955.
Norma Smallwood – 1926
At the age of 16, Norma Smallwood won the title of Miss Tulsa in her home state of Oklahoma. she went on to compete in the Miss America pageant in 1926, where she won first place in both the evening gown competition and the bather’s review.
She wound up winning the crown that year and wore this flapper-inspired dress.
Colleen Hutchins – 1952
Colleen Hutchins won the title of Brigham Young University’s homecoming queen before taking the crown at the Miss United States pageant in 1952.
She became the first Miss Utah contestant to earn the title. During her crowning ceremony, Hutchins looked like a dream in this beautiful white gown with subtle detailing on the bodice.
Lee Meriwether – 1955
Actress Lee Meriwether won the crown at the 1955 Miss American pageant. While that is a massive feat in and of itself, Meriwether is arguably better known for her acting credits.
In the 1970s crime drama Barnaby Jones, she played the role of Betty Jones, and in 1966 she played the iconic role of Catwoman in Batman.
Lynda Mead – 1960
In 1959, Lynda Mead won the title of Miss Mississippi before going on the take the crown at the Miss America pageant in 1960. Along with this strapless gown, Mead also wore elbow-length white gloves, giving her a very regal flair.
After her time as Miss America, Mead became the president of Shea Design & French Country Imports.
Debra Barnes – 1968
After taking the crown at the Miss Kansas pageant, Debra Barnes went on to win Miss America in 1968, wearing this beautiful pleated dress.
A talented pianist, Barnes played the song “Born Free” as her talent. She even became an associate professor at Missouri Southern State University, teaching elementary piano and piano studies, and was a staff accompanist.
Pamela Eldred – 1970
Pamela Eldred has a few titles under her belt, winning both Miss Detroit and Miss Michigan in 1969 before going on to win the Miss America crown in 1970.
For her talent, Eldred danced ballet to music from the famous play Romeo and Juliet. She wore this detailed gown for her crowning ceremony.
Laurie Lea Schaefer – 1972
Before winning the Miss America crown in 1972, Laurie Lea Schaefer also earned the titles of Miss Bexley and Miss Ohio. Before taking the crown in 1972, Schaefer graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
For her crowning ceremony, Schaefer wore this stunning light blue gown with gem detailing on the bodice.
Terry Meeuwsen – 1973
In 1973, Terry Meeuwsen became the first Miss Wisconsin contestant to win the title of Miss America. Before winning the crown, she also took the title of Miss Appleton.
During the Miss America pageant, Meeuwsen earned first place in both the talent and swimsuit competitions. She is now known for co-hosting CBN’s 700 Club.
Vanessa Williams – 1984
Taking the titles of Miss Syracuse and Miss New York in 1983, Vanessa Williams took home the Miss America crown in 1984.
She also wore one of the most memorable gowns on stage, a form-fitting purple dress with floral detailing, one puffy tulle shoulder, and a tulle train to bring it all together.
Sharlene Wells – 1985
While Sharlene Wells won Miss America 1985, it isn’t the most impressive thing on her resume. Wells was a reporter for ESPN and, in 2015, was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Armed Forces.
During Miss America, though, Wells wore this gorgeous gown, complete with beaded detailing in lieu of sleeves.
Susan Akin – 1986
In 1986, Susan Akin took home the Miss America crown, wearing this gorgeous white dress with lace detailing and fuzzy straps. It was very memorable and one of the most unique dresses worn by a contestant.
During her pageant years, Akin competed in 110 pageants, being named Miss University and Miss Mississippi in 1985.
Kimberly Aiken – 1994
Kimberly Aiken won the title of Miss America in 1994. Amazingly, she earned the crown even though she did not win any of the preliminary competitions. Even so, she was selected into the top ten finalists and had amazing showings in the evening gown, interview, and swimsuit competitions.
When she won the crown, Aiken wore this gorgeous and sleek black gown.
Shawntel Smith – 1996
After winning the title of Miss Oklahoma in 1995, Shawntel Smith went on to snag the title of Miss America the following year. She also picked the perfect gown for the evening, selecting a form-fitting white halter neck dress with beautiful detailing on the bodice.
She looked every bit the pageant queen!
Nicole Johnson – 1999
Right before the turn of the century, Nicole Johnson was crowned Miss America in 1999. A gorgeous lady, she stunned in a little black dress that would have made Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly very proud.
The black floor-length halter neck dress was sleek and the perfect choice for the pageant winner.
Heather French Henry – 2000
Heather French Henry competed in the Miss Kentucky pageant four times before finally securing the title in 1999. The following year, she was crowned Miss America.
When it was announced Henry won the title, she was wearing this stunning blue strapless gown with blue Ombre coloring that was cinched at the waist.
Angela Perez Baraquoi – 2001
In 2000, Angela Perez Baraquo won the title of Miss Hawaii before winning the crown at the Miss America pageant in 2001. As an educator who studied elementary education with an emphasis on speech, Baraquoi ran her Miss America platform around character education.
Since 2004, she has been the co-host of the television show Living Local with the Baraquios.
Deidre Downs – 2005
Deidre Downs competed in the Miss Alabama pageant five times before winning the title and becoming eligible for a chance to win Miss America. She won the prestigious crown in 2005.
After her stint as Miss America, Downs began a new venture, attending the University of Alabama School of Medicine. She received her doctorate in medicine in 2010.
Jennifer Berry – 2006
Jennifer Berry looked like a dream during the 2006 Miss America pageant, wearing this white gown with a sheer lace bodice. That year, she won the crown, following her Miss Grand Lake and Miss Oklahoma wins.
She became the first winner to hold the Miss America title outside of the pageant’s usual Atlantic City, New Jersey, location. That year, it was held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nicole Elizabeth Rash – 2008
It took Nicole Elizabeth Rash a few runs to secure the crown at the Miss America pageant. She finally won in 2018. Even so, it’s hard to overlook the gown she wore during her 2008 run when she placed as the first-runner up.
That year, she wore this stunning fuchsia gown with beaded detailing along the bodice and straps.
Ellen Carrington – 2009
While she was a student at Union University, Ellen Carrington placed in the top seven at the Miss America pageant in 2009. This was after she secured the title of Miss Tennessee.
During the pageant, Carrington wore this show-stopping bright blue gown. With beaded detailing throughout, the real interesting part of this gown is the cinched bodice which flows down into a cape-looking train.
Katie Stam – 2009
Katie Stam began competing in the pageant circuit when she was 15 years old, winning her first title in a local competition before being crowned Kentuckiana Teen.
In 2005, she won Indiana’s Junior Miss pageant and, a few years later, went on to win the title of Miss Indiana. In 2009, Stam won Miss America and the $50,000 scholarship prize.
Caressa Cameron – 2010
After winning Miss Virginia in 2009, Caressa Cameron went on to win the Miss America crown in 2010. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. Cameron competed for the title of Miss Virginia four times before winning and allowing her to move on to the prestigious Miss America competition.
Thankfully, she did and allowed viewers to marvel at this stunning yellow and silver gown.
Kristy Cavinder – 2010
Kristy Cavinder won the title of Miss California in 2009 before heading to the Miss America 2010 stage. There, she looked like an angel in a strapless white gown with its long flowy train she held up like wings.
Even though she looked gorgeous during the evening gown competition, Cavinder did not win the crown.
Djuan Keila Trent – 2011
Originally from Georgia, Djuan Keila Trent competed for the Miss Kentucky title in 2010, winning the title that advanced her to the Miss America 2011 pageant.
Even though she did not win the pageant, she still stunned during the evening gown competition in this rhinestone one-sleeve gown. She paired the dress perfectly with dangling gem earrings that matched the embellishments on the dress.
Megan Ervin – 2013
Miss Illinois Megan Ervin didn’t win the crown at the 2013 Miss America pageant, but she exceeded her goal of making it into the top 15 contestants. She wound up making it in the top ten!
Honestly, this stunning red evening gown with its ruffled bottom might have had something to do with it.
DaNae Couch – 2013
DaNae Couch won the titles of Miss Dallas and Miss Texas before advancing on to the Miss America pageant in 2013. There, she placed in the top ten contestants.
During the evening gown portion of the pageant, Couch wore this multi-colored rhinestone dress, complete with one sheer sleeve and an accent cutout on her midsection.
Savvy Shields – 2017
Starting out in teen pageants, Savvy Shields made it all the way to Miss America 2017 after advancing from the Miss Arkansas pageant. There, she won the crown and showed off in this strapless black mermaid gown.
After her reign as Miss America, Shields went back to the University of Arkansas, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a minor in business.
Marisa Moorhouse – 2019
While Miss New Hampshire Marisa Moorhouse didn’t win the Miss America crown in 2019, she was recognized by the pageant as a STEM finalist.
She also made waves during the formal wear competition, hitting the stage in a lime green gown with a massive skirt, rhinestone embellished bodice, and a slit going up one of her legs.
Penelope Ng Pack – 2019
Penelope Ng Pack was crowned Miss Hawaii 2018 before advancing on to the national stage in the Miss America pageant. While she did not win the coveted crown that year, she was still stunning in her evening gown during the formal wear competition.
During that segment of the pageant, Ng Pack wore a bright pink gown with a rhinestone bodice and full skirt.