Most segments of the Miss Universe pageant are arguably uniform, with each candidate exhibiting poise, glamour, and substance– really proving the mettle of her intensive pageant training and preparation. In contrast, the National Costume or NatCos competition is full of variety and surprise. It's a festival of personality and extravagant cultural portraits, and serves as a moment for the contestants to break away from the gloss if they chose to do so, allowing for camp, kitsch, and wildness. Here, the priority is not necessarily glamour or polishedness, but identity and spectacle.
As pageant-watching is famously a beloved Philippine cultural pastime, you can ascertain that every Filipino bet is met with rapturous fanfare when she emerges in her costume. To see our representative proudly presenting our culture on a global stage brings a special excitement and sense of triumph. Miss Universe Philippines titleholders throughout the years have worn costumes incorporating different integral parts of Filipino culture, ranging from the pineapple-inspired gown worn by Carla Balingit to the gigantic parol worn by Catriona Gray.
1. Charlene Gonzales, 1994
In 1994, Charlene Gonzales bagged the Best National Costume award for her T’boli-inspired ensemble created by the legendary Pitoy Moreno, who is held in high regard as the "Fashion Czar of Asia." Her fan-shaped headdress and intricately beaded two-piece gown would be right at home in a museum. Hers was truly a regal costume to behold!
2. Aileen Damiles, 1996
Aileen Damiles' costume proved that staying true to the source material can be a statement in itself. She wore instantly recognizable Igorot outfit, and balanced an enormous clay pot or palayok on her head, inspired by the Kalinga banga dance. Her costume was so rich and substantial because she incorporated two art forms in her look: the distinctive Igorot textile, and a traditional Filipino dance.
3. Abbygale Arenas, 1997
In 1997, Abbygale Arenas brought the traditional farmer's hat or salakot to the Miss Universe stage. Her iteration was embellished with a curtain of seashells, merging both maritime and farming motifs in her look. She also wore a pina blouse and a classic checkered skirt.
4. Miriam Quiambao, 1999
Continuing in the tradition of the sun ray-shaped, goddess-like headdress, Miriam Quiambao's costume was a rather deconstructed take on Filipino festivewear. She wore butterfly sleeves that were sculptural in execution, made of bejewelled wires. Additionally, her skirt featured voluminous ostrich feathers, and she carried what seems like a large golden palaspas, or a palm bouquet.
5. Zorayda Andam, 2001
This stunning costume placed Zorayda Andam in second place for Best National Costume in the 2001 Miss Universe pageant. She wore a near-perfect Maria Clara gown with tasteful floral decorations on the skirt. Enhanced by the parasol and pearl accessories, her look was an immaculate portrait of a classical Filipina lady.
6. Maricar Balagtas 2004
Maricar Balagtas' intricate costume was inspired by the "pintados," which was the term Spanish colonizers used to describe the heavily tattooed natives who originally inhabited several Philippine islands. The return to precolonial aesthetics made this costume a memorable one, and she certainly wore it with confidence.
7. Shamcey Supsup, 2011
Shamcey Supsup wore a Maria Clara dress emblazoned with glitter-infused gold butterflies. Simple yet queenlike, this costume by Columbian designer Alfredo Barraza stayed true to the quintessential ball gown vision.
8. Maxine Medina, 2016
This grand creation by designer Rhett Eala was inspired by the Muslim vinta, (a colorful sailboat), coral reefs, and the rich pearls to be found in the South Sea of Mindanao. According to Maxine Medina, the otherworldly dandelion headdress she wore is valued at a whopping 1 million pesos.
9. Catriona Gray, 2018
Catriona Gray kicked it up a notch with this fiberglass parol on wheels. Similar to the costume of Maricar Balagtas, Catriona wore a pintados bodysuit with a beaded headdress. The back of the parol featured elaborate paintings depicting scenes from Philippine history.
10. Gazini Ganados, 2019
For the second time, Miss Philippines won Best National Costume, thanks to this bombshell silver masterpiece worn by Gazini Ganados. Designed by Cary Santiago, the gown was inspired by the Philippine eagle, our national animal. The stunning creation is an intricate reimagining of the eagle's body itself, complete with talons, and feathers of various sizes.
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