Three key items define Miss America: a gown, a swimsuit and the iconic winner’s crown. While the first Miss America donned a crest similar to the Statue of Liberty’s headgear in 1921, the four-pointed model has been a Miss America staple since the 1950s. Physically, Miss America’s crown is a hodgepodge of silver-plated metal and plenty of rhinestones, but symbolically, it’s a whole lot more — the four points symbolize style, scholarship, service and success.
The Winner’s Style
While style may seem like the most obvious symbolic point on the crown, the Miss America pageant’s focus on combining both looks and character makes it a little more complex. More than just a chic look, the competition encourages its contestants to adopt a style that serves as a personal signature, something distinct to the individual and easily recognizable, such as Miss America 1998 Katherine Shindle’s bold geometric jewelry or Miss Kansas 2013 Theresa Vail’s daring tattoo. In addition to distinction and memorability, the pageant considers confidence an essential element of any contestant’s style.
Scholarship has been part of Miss America since 1944, when pageant director Lenora Slaughter introduced scholarships in place of rewards such as furs or movie contracts. Bess Myerson sported progressive high-hemmed dresses when she was crowned Miss America in 1945, and she was just as progressive in education as the organization’s first scholarship recipient. In addition to representing the Miss America Organization’s dedication to scholarship, this point on the crown symbolizes the value of individual education, intelligence and the pursuit of personal goals.
The Symbol of Service
In 2011, Miss New York Claire Buffie competed for the crown decked out in floor-length gown of stunning black velvet and sequins — not to mention her equally memorable black two-piece bikini — but she truly left her mark as the first contestant to campaign for gay rights, using the spotlight as a platform for promoting equality. In 1989, the Miss America Organization began to put special emphasize on this symbolic element of the crown by implementing the service platform, which requires every contestant to choose and address a relevant social issue.
For Miss America contestants, the final point — success — acts as a cumulative symbol. The notion of success begins with the focus on successful scholarship, but the pageant also encourages contestants to hone life skills during the competition process, win or lose. Being crowned Miss America crystallizes this success, which ideally flourishes long after the pageant. Former Miss America winners have gone on to pursuits ranging from public service and education to film and theater.
References and ResourcesPBS: Timeline: Miss America
Press of Atlantic City: Trophy Shop Has Long History of Working on Crown for Miss America
Four Points: Four Points of the Crown and Four Winning Tips
Forbes: In Pictures: Miss America's Famous Alumni
Time: Miss Kansas Bares Tattoos and Six Other Memorable Miss America Moments
Today: Miss America Winners: Where Are They Now?
ResourcesMiss America: Key Facts and Figures
Fox News: M: 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Miss America Pageant