Filipino pageant fans take the national costume competition of the Miss Universe pageant seriously. No, scratch that—we take it very seriously. More seriously than the pageant’s preliminary competition, in fact, even though that’s the event that actually determines who among the contestants get in the semi-finals.
But this is a given: the national costume competition is the one part of Miss Universe that encapsulates what Filipinos love about beauty contests in the first place: its glamor, its pageantry, its celebration of beauty, its camp and excessiveness. Perhaps, Filipinos also see it as a chance for our beauty queens to showcase Filipino culture on a global stage.
Yet, despite our obsession with this particular Miss Universe event—and even with the country’s stellar showing in the pageant since 2010—we’ve only won the Best National Costume award twice, with Charlene Gonzalez’s tribal finery attire in 1994 and Gazini Ganados’ metallic agila costume in 2019. While Rabiya Mateo’s Philippine flag-inspired Victoria’s Secret Angel-like costume got mixed reactions from viewers this year, the 24-year-old’s national costume got nowhere near the flak her predecessors received back in the day.
Miss Universe 2013 third runner-up Ariella Arida said it best in an Instagram post reacting to the comments about Rabiya’s outfit: “Jusko gusto nyo ba bumalik sa era ng NatCos namin?”
This got us thinking: how do our Miss Universe national costumes compare against one another?
Here’s our ranking of the Philippines’ Miss Universe national costumes, from worst to best, from 2010 to 2019:
12. Mary Jean Lastimosa, Miss Universe Philippines 2014
The pops of color in MJ Lastimosa's white Flores de Mayo-inspired garment were welcome touches, but the overall look screamed Estrel's. Created by Colombian designer Alfredo Barraza, this outfit was criticized when it came out on the Miss Universe stage in January 2015; Filipina Miss Universe representatives have since gotten local designers to create their national costumes after MJ's much-maligned gown.
11. Ariella Arida, Miss Universe Philippines 2013
The Filipiniana got a playful update with Ariella Arida's elegant terno with its electric pleated skirt and feathered headpiece. Another Alfredo Barazza design, the costume seemed like it's a marvel to look at in person. But it was too simple and stood no chance against the other candidates' extravagant costumes, most of which were so big, they looked like they had to be airlifted to Moscow.
10. Rabiya Mateo, Miss Universe Philipines 2020
Rabiya Mateo's Philippine flag-themed, Victoria's Secret angel-inspired costume looks fun, a clear step away from the ternos of candidates past. But it is very obvious that the costume is missing something. The costume was supposed to be paired with a Manny Halasan-headdress. And maybe that would have made the costume shine a bit more on stage. That said, Mateo sold the heck out of this costume on stage; we almost forgot about the missing, much-hyped headpiece.
9. Maria Venus Raj, Miss Universe Philippines 2010
Yet another Alfredo Barazza creation. Venus Raj's supposedly Manton de Manila-inspired dress was fun. It gets points for not being another update on the terno. But, at this point, Miss Universe Philippines were still to figure out that the national costume competition celebrates wacky and elaborate, not straight-out interpretations of actual national costumes.
8. Janine Tugonon, Miss Universe Philippines 2012
Janine Tugonon's Maranao princess-inspired national costume looked royal. Yet, its lack of the embellishments one is accustomed to in Miss Universe national costume competitions made it a little lackluster.
7. Shamcey Supsup, Miss Universe Philippines 2011
Shamcey Supsup’s Santacruzan-inspired costume was fine and intricate. And she looks pretty in it, no doubt. But it also lacked sophistication or novelty. After Shamcey's Miss Universe run, fans started wondering why our beauty queens weren’t wearing creations done by Filipino designers.
6. Maxine Medina, Miss Universe Philippines 2016
Designed by Rhett Eala, Maxine Medina’s national costume was inspired by the vinta, a traditional boat from Mindanao. The headpiece was meant to look like a large piece of coral. And the whole outfit worked, although it's not exactly the kind of look that wins best in national costume awards. Still, it’s also a welcome departure from the terno her predecessors have worn for the national costume competition.
5. Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Universe 2015
Yes, Pia Wurtzbach's national costume was yet another modern spin on the terno, but the capiz shell embellishments and pearl-encrusted headpiece gave the whole thing a sea-themed flourish.
4. Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2018
Catriona Gray shone in the Miss Universe competition with the highly conceptual garments she brought with her. Her national costume was no different: an elaborate bodysuit that echoed the pintados of the Visayas and adorned with custom accessories from the T'boli tribe of Mindanao. The colorful parol she carried along behind her pays tribute to the craftsmanship in Luzon. Daring and ambitious, it is a national costume that pageant fans will not soon forget.
3. Rachel Peters, Miss Universe Philippines 2017
Don't stop relying on that body! Rachel Peters' golden Sarimanok costume achieved what many past national costumes never could: it brought our local folklore to the modern age. You could argue that Rachel's national costume looks a bit simple. But you also have to admit that her outfit was styled to perfection, from the knee-high golden boots to the train that transforms into wings. Plus, Rachel sold the costume well on the runway. Her outfit accentuated her assets really well, too. It looked like she was having a lot of fun.
2. Beatrice Luigi Gomez, Miss Universe Philippines 2021
Beatrice Luigi Gomez’s national costume is definitely a head-turner, a perfect example of how to mix Philippine mythology and Miss Universe camp as inspiration. What makes it even more remarkable is how it is an “evolution” of her Miss Universe Philippines national costume, with the golden lunar dragon on her shoulders (signifying the Bakunawa in its final form) being its piece de resistance. It is a pageant spectacle done right.
1. Gazini Ganados Miss Universe Philippines 2019
Gazini Ganados' amazing national costume was exactly the kind of outfit Filipino fans expect from the competition: extremely detailed, elegant, and oozing with Filipino-ness. It's not as flamboyant as past winners of the national costume award, and it worked exactly because it amped the excessiveness without sacrificing the fashion. Created by Cary Santiago, Gazini’s agila inspired costume is so rich in detail, from the Philippine eagle wings-themed headpiece to the eagles on her sleeves, that you just can't help but look and marvel.
Banner photo from Miss Universe Organization/Patrick Prather