GREAT BEAUTY arouses admiration, not envy. Any little girl, however, who witnessed the entrance of the 65th Miss Universe contestants in the Governor’s Ball held last week at the SMX Convention center could be forgiven for the venial sin of at least having a pinch of jealousy at the gowns the women wore. Few opportunities are given to us to dress up these days, and at the ball, the women gave a show of sequins and fabric that could perhaps only be rivaled by next week’s coronation night.

BusinessWorld was held back at the velvet ropes, and what seemed like bad luck at the time proved to be good fortune in disguise, for we were held back to let the pageant queens through, thus, allowing us to observe the dresses up close. Miss Chile started the conga line of beauty queens with a gold sequinned dress with white appliques, followed by Ms. Vietnam in magenta, also with floral appliques. As the goal of any pageant is to celebrate femininity at its finest, perhaps the floral appliques, seen on a lot of the dresses, were placed there to capture a sense of blossoming womanhood.

As mentioned above, since beauty pageants do seem to highlight femininity, a leaning towards the masculine can really make a girl stand out (the results of which, whether good or bad, should be awaited come coronation night). For example, while most of the women wore, of course, long gowns, an exception was Ms. Uruguay, who wore an orange catsuit with legs following the line of palazzo pajamas. Ms. Sierra Leone, meanwhile, held her shaved head high (as opposed to the many up-dos and the bombshell curls many of the girls sported), with a glamorous, sequinned midnight blue dress.

Blue — the color that incumbent Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach was wearing when she was crowned — made many appearances on the red carpet and on the runway. Perhaps, it’s beauty pageant superstition, and more than Ms. Wurtzbach’s win, it’s also an allusion, perhaps, to the blue stones seen on the jagged edge Miss Universe tiara. Examples of women who donned the color (specifically, a vibrant blue ranging from ultramarine to royal blue) were Ms. Norway, Ms. British Virgin Islands, Ms. Turkey, and Ms. Bulgaria. Allusions to their home countries were also popular: Ms. Ecuador and Ms. Dominican Republic, whose countries are known for their vast imports of roses, wore dresses printed with roses. Ms. Belize, meanwhile, with her home by the Carribean, wore bright separates, a corset top and an asymmetrical skirt, that reminded one of the color and the relaxed feeling of the sea.

With 86 of this year’s most beautiful women sharing a stage, the goal for a girl is to stand out. Thus, few women dared to wear classic black. A shade seen many times was red, the color of sexual passion, as seen in the stretchy, red, sequin-encrusted dress of Ms. USA. Ms. Philippines, our very own, was greeted by cheers (she’s playing on home turf, after all) when she appeared on the runway, wearing a reddish tangerine dress with a jagged line of crystals running from bust to hem, appearing like a fabulous, glittering wound.

The dresses weren’t necessarily trendy: many of the women wore classic silhouettes like big ballgown skirts, perhaps to create a sense of fantasy, but as we’ve noticed, many of the gowns were designed to cling to, and show off, the body, while thigh-high slits, with the same aim, reigned supreme, taken to the extreme, for example, by Ms. Georgia, wearing a navy dress with one panel of the skirt missing to show off a whole leg, with a crystal bird appliqued at the waist.

Meanwhile, reigning Miss Universe Ms. Wurtzbach practiced some restraint with a black halter dress showered with crystals, with the muted extravagance of a pearl, save for the large, flamboyant tiara on her head. “We have 86 of the most beautiful, from all around the world, and I know these girls, I can actually feel them looking at me, looking at the crown — gusto nilang kunin ito (they want the crown),” she said in a speech, punctuating this with low laughter.

“I’m really proud that it’s actually happening here. I can’t think of a better way to end my reign as Miss Universe. I was already so grateful that I got to compete at Miss Universe, let alone win the crown. And having to pass on my crown here in my home country, I couldn’t be more grateful.”

It’s not all gowns and frippery: as said by Miss Universe herself (and who are you to challenge that?). “Behind that sash is a girl with a story, of inspiration, of empowerment, and that’s what Miss Universe is all about. It’s not just a pretty girl onstage who’s wearing a beautiful designer gown; it’s about a woman with a story, a woman who’s ready to be a spokesperson, a woman who’s ready to take on the job. And I hope that woman is ready.” — Joseph L. Garcia

Maxine Medina — Joseph L. Garcia

Rebecca Rath — Joseph L. Garcia

Hawa Kamara — Joseph L. Garcia

Christina Waage — Joseph L. Garcia

Catalina Caceres — Joseph L. Garcia

Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach — Department of Tourism