It was one of the most important job interviews of my life and I needed something exquisite to wear. What would be unique and daring but also appropriate for my pageant interview and not incredibly distracting? I don’t know if the judges saw all of that in this outfit, but I know two things: 1. I could not have been any happier with the outfit I wore. It was perfection, in my eyes; and 2. I won the title of Miss USA 2019.
If you’re competing and don’t have a sponsor to create a custom piece, here’s where you can look to buy an outfit. I’ve always purchased my interview outfits, but had a fantastic experience working to make something that was uniquely me. Here’s how it happened:
I trusted Gregory Ellenburg of Greenville, SC to piece together the beautiful custom creation you can see below. Greg was a sponsor for the Miss North Carolina USA Competition, so I had the option of using his services to create my pageant interview outfit at the national competition. I’d seen Greg’s gowns and outfits before on plenty a successful pageant titleholder, so I knew I would be in good hands.
I had a strategy for designing my interview outfit for the Miss USA Competition. I wanted something unique and memorable without being distracting. Something that would help me to stand out immediately but wouldn’t take away from the words coming out of my mouth. An outfit that would complement my personality, not inhibit the judges’ ability to see that I had one. I have a tendency to overthink things but I figured this was the right moment to put some time and thought into the clothes I planned to put on my back.
This meant avoiding popular trends. I wanted badly to wear a suit. It just felt like me; I’m an attorney, I live in suits. But I anticipated that wearing a suit would make it more difficult to be unique, especially since suits are experiencing a resurgence in pageant interviews that used to be dominated by Calvin Klein-esque dresses. I opted for a two-piece pants outfit.
I decided in favor of pants, looser fitting ones, because I prefer pants to dresses and I didn’t want to risk having clothes that were constantly riding up while I walked. You have to walk between two panels of judges during the pageant interview process for Miss USA, so I needed something that would be comfortable to walk in across a room. Looser, palazzo pants meant movement while I walked. A plain fabric rather than print meant you’d look at the pants as I entered and strode across the room, but not stare at them while I stood in front of each of the two panels of judges. A bright color–red–to grab your attention when I entered and convey the boldness I wanted to express when I spoke.
My giant hair is distracting enough. I didn’t want a super-tight fit or cleavage or a busy pattern taking away from the focus I wanted on my words. We opted for a subtle pattern and a little texture for the top, something that would match the bottom and add a little interest to the outfit.
I met Greg at his shop one afternoon and we talked about my ideas. I showed him a few photos of outfits I’d seen on Pinterest and Instagram and we decided on the outfit you see below. He drew it and I was never more sure of an outfit than the day he finished the sketch. It told the story I wanted. He took my measurements and we set a date for a fitting.
Three fittings and a few weeks later, I stared lovingly at the Gregory Ellenburg garment bag I hung in the backseat of my Jeep. After our first meeting, Greg flew to NYC for a planned trip to find new fabric. He sent me a few photos of potential fabric options and I picked the pattern you can see below. The top is a beautiful red brocade with a sort of crocodile pattern. It’s rich, thick, and rough to the touch. The pants are made from a red silk crepe.
My first fitting featured a nearly-finished pair of pants and the beginnings of the top, sans lining and plus some draping. By my second fitting, the pants had lining, a zipper, and simply needed to be hemmed. The top was nearly finished, including lining and boning. The third and final fitting only involved me trying on the garments to ensure they were tailored to perfection. They were.
This two-piece pants and top set feels like a $4,000 garment. The top is fantastically made and easy to wear. Each drape and fold is expertly placed and it fits like a glove. I keep it hanging in my apartment in New York City just so I can admire it when I walk into my closet and try it on from time to time.
I can’t say enough how much I appreciate Greg’s work and sponsorship for this pageant interview outfit. I’m looking forward to wearing another Gregory Ellenburg masterpiece for the Miss Universe Competition.
Until then, enjoy.