We 100% wish this 1983 photograph was in color. The Miss America finalists in this snapshot are all wearing such elaborate, over-the-top gowns that we know for a fact the colors were vivid to the max. Oh well. At least we can use our imaginations. Every woman’s dress is so 80s that this photo seems more like a caricature of an 80s fashion show than a real-life line-up.
It is, in fact, a real picture, though. Debra Maffett sits in the center with her Miss America crown, poofy sleeves and all. Surrounding her are the finalists, who are all killing it in their evening gown outfits. We love how Miss America evening gowns slowly transitioned from all-white apparel to this fun explosion of color, sequins, and individuality.
Sharlene Wells, Crystal Queen of 1985
Sharlene Wells won the Miss America crown in 1985 in a truly glorious gown. Her mint-green, floor-length gown glistened under the stage lights as her name was announced as that year’s winner. The delicate dress featured expert crystal beading along the neckline and down the front, creating a foliage-type pattern.
The sleeves of the gown were the true stars of the show because they featured matching crystal strands that were draped in an elegant way that looked almost royal. Pretty fitting for the next Miss America queen, if you ask us. Former Miss America 1984, Suzette Charles, also looks stunning in the background with a fully-sequined gown and fairytale-princess sleeves.
Vanessa Williams Makes History
The Miss America pageant has always had a contentious relationship with race, excluding women of color from competing well into the 1970s. The first Black contestant didn’t compete in a Miss America pageant until 1970 when Cheryl Browne entered as Miss Iowa. So, when Vanessa Williams won the crown in 1984, she knew all eyes were on her.
For her crowning moment and first walk down the runway, Vanessa wore a lavender mermaid-style gown with a tulle skirt and halter neckline. Her winning moment was like a breath of fresh air, both for the Miss America contest and its fashion history. Vanessa looks every inch the queen in that iconic gown, making it one of the most significant dresses in Miss America history.
Elizabeth Ward, Miss America 1982
When Elizabeth Ward competed in Miss America in 1982, she was an accounting student at Arkansas Tech University. Little did Elizabeth know that winning Miss America would change the trajectory of her life forever. With the pageant’s scholarship money, Elizabeth decided to pursue the art of acting in New York City and Hollywood.
Before all of that happened, Elizabeth was just another hopeful contestant in a beautiful evening gown. She wore this dress for the evening wear portion of the competition, which is supposedly worth a third of a contestant’s total score. Elizabeth pulled off her look without a hitch. She wore a dress that somehow provided full coverage while looking very slinky and sultry. That leg slit, though!
I Love the 80s: Miss America Edition
Ah, the 80s. Depending on when you were born, you find this decade’s fashion to be totally rad or completely over-the-top. Cheryl Prewitt was all aboard the maximalist train when she won Miss America in 1980. She looks great in this heavily embellished, intricately designed evening gown. It looks like every inch of this gown is covered in beading, including the straps.
Cheryl Prewitt won Miss America against all odds and looked great while doing it. As a child, Cheryl was in a serious car accident that left a sizable scar on her face, as well as a disability. She was no stranger to a challenge by the time she reached the Miss America stage. Not only is Cheryl a true fashion icon, she’s an inspiring woman, too.