Let’s admit it, we watch the Miss Universe pageant for two things: to find out who the winner will be (hoping a Filipino will take home the crown) and to marvel at the extravagant, glamorous, and occasionally ridiculous outfits. And the 71st Miss Universe did not disappoint with its national costume show held on Jan. 12, with the pageant’s 84 contestants offering something looks that were meant to represent their country’s cultures and traditions.
Philippine representative Celesti Cortesi gagged Pinoy fans by strutting on the national costume show stage as Pinay superhero Darna by designer Oliver Tolentino (with the metalwork accessories made by designer Jerome Navarro). Cortesi’s look is a first as no previous Filipino Miss Universe contestant, at least in recent memory, has referenced local pop culture in their national costumes.
It’s a sign that our delegates now understand what the national costume competition is all about—it’s about representing the Philippines, but also an opportunity to show the viewers their personality and what they are about. National costumes in the Miss Universe work best when they combine fashion with extravagance and camp, with a side of personality in both the costume’s idea and how it is presented onstage.
In short: it’s not supposed to be just fashion; it’s meant to be fun!
Here is a list of our favorite looks from the 71st Miss Universe national costume show, in no particular order:
Amelia Tu, Canada
Amelia Tu’s national costume is a tribute to Canada’s art scene, a salute to its most successful artistic figures from Celine Dion to the National Ballet of Canada. While technically just a sparkly ballet costume, Canada’s outfit contains enough elements reminiscent of her homeland to pass muster: the maple leaf details in Canadian Mountie red really does scream “Oh, Canada!” But it is her clever use of a life skill (she danced on pointe in her presentation) that really sets her apart from her equally sparkly peers.
Ona Moody, Netherlands
Don’t you just want to dunk the waffle from Ona Moody’s look and dunk it in some hot choolate? No? Just us? Okay.
Barbara Cabrera, Argentina
Size does matter—in life and on the Miss Universe stage. Barbara Cabrera wears a white and blue body suit, a national costume staple, but mounted on her back is a massive cascade of boa feathers representing the Iguaza Falls, one of the biggest and most spectacular waterfalls in the world. Costumes so big you have to wonder if they had to be airlifted to the Miss Universe venue are always a crowd favorite, and Argentina’s variation on this staple is a standout this year.
Korina Emmanouilidoi, Greece
You know how articles about the Miss Universe say the delegates are glowing because of how good they look? Well, Greece was LITERALLY glowing. She perfectly depicted Hera, the queen of the Greek Gods, in all her imperious glory. And did we mention that she was literally glowing??? From within??? Mamma mia!
Alejandra Guajardo, El Salvador
If I had a coin every time there are two coin-inspired national costumes at Miss Universe, well, I’d have one coin and two coin-inspired national costumes at Miss Universe this year. Malta’s Maxine Formosa wore a coin-inspired costume meant to represent the Maltese Lira, the country’s currency before it was replaced by the Euro. But El Salvadpr’s Alejandra Guajardo wins the coin-off. She wore a gold body suit, with a huge gold coin representing the cryptocurrency attached to her back.
Ivana Batchelor, Guatemala
Ivana Batchelor’s national costume showcased her country’s cultural richness—from the pyramids to the Mayan calendar, and the jaguar that’s supposed to be the symbol of Mayan culture. It was a lot to take in with all the details and references it wanted to show—the whole look was so massive it needed wheels. It's both an explosion of cultural celebration and a feat of small-scale engineering. Thus, making it the perfect national costume outfit.
Alia Guindi, Switzerland
It's chocolate. You gotta give it to her.
Soraya Kohlmann, Germany
There is something very brazen about strutting onstage at the Miss Universe national costume show in a middle-of-the-week drag-bar-costume depiction of legendary fashion savant Karl Lagerdeld and completely selling the whole thing, down to a stuffed version of his beloved cat Chpupette. We just know that Kaiser Karl would approve.
Tya Jane Ramey, Trinidad and Tobago
You know you’ve done something right at the Miss Universe national costume show when your look becomes a meme. (“Yung hindi mo alam kung sino ang kasali sa Miss Universe,” the meme says). And it’s inevitable—after all, at first glance, you likely be taken by the costume’s size. But Tya Jane Ramey costume, which may remind Filipinos of the Higantes festival, represents an important piece of their history.
In the 18th century, when Trnidad and Tobago was still a French colony, African slaves were shunned out of the masquerades, so they celebrated in secret. This continued even after they achieved independence, the reason why the country’s festivals are known to be grandiose and exuberant as it is a reminder of what is at stake if they lose their freedom.
Zar Li Moe, Myanmar
Many Miss Universe delegates at this year’s national costume show tried to do “reveals”—basically, a two-in-costume where the removal of one piece of clothing would transform it into another look—to, sadly, underwhelming effect. Luckily, Myanmar’s Zar Li Moe’s two-in-one queen of the lotus national costume redeemed their failures. A plus: one of her costume “transforms” into a lotus when placed on the ground! Now that’s how you do a reveal!
Victoria Apanasenko, Ukraine
Ukraine’s Viktoria Apanasenko looked every bit the fierce warrior angel—featuring a pair of mechanical wings—in this stirring tribute to the bravery and tenacity that we've all seen her people exhibit over the past year.
Chau Nguyen, Vietnam
Vietnam’s national costume is inspired by their mat-weaving village made mostly of sedge mats. It’s simple, highlights Vietnamese culture, and provides the Miss Universe-required eleganza and opulence (the outfit reportedly weighs more than 33 pounds). It’s also made from raw and environmentally-friendly materials, which is a plus. It's a meticulous creation that is both undeniably rooted in Vietnamese culture and as structurally superb as any Yohji Yamamoto couture look.