Expect to see lots of buns in Atlantic City this year.
During the swimsuit competition and especially during the evening wear competition.
Lots of buns. No, not "those" buns. Hair in buns. French twists and curly swirls on top of heads and, yes, even fake buns. After all, this is the Miss America Pageant, and padding is allowed.
In case you haven't been keeping up on the breaking news of the all-new Miss America Pageant, let us remind you that this year's contest is monumental. A historic moment. For this is the year the Miss America Organization has vowed to crown a Modern Miss, the epitome of a self-reliant beauty queen of the '90s. A woman who does her own hair. Or one who at least can buy some hair already done that she, all by herself, with no professional assistance, can attach to her head.
"I have five hairpieces in what I call my hair wardrobe," says Kalyn Chapman, Miss Alabama, whose natural hair just brushes her chin. That's what she says, anyway. She hasn't had her hair down yet.
"I have two ponytails, one wavy one and one with curls, and a bun and a long braid," she says. That's four.
Her fifth, and most elaborate, was arriving on a plane from Alabama yesterday. It's for the Boardwalk show-your-shoes parade on Friday. "It's a huge bow made of human hair. Like a bow and a fan of hair, like an Elizabethan collar," says Ms. Chapman, holding her hands a few inches from her ears. "With rhinestones glued onto it."
Her sponsors went all the way to Las Vegas, the mecca of big headpieces, to have it specially made.
Expect to see Miss Alabama, the first black woman ever to represent the heart of Dixie, in a bun during the swimsuit segment. And she'll attach that long "I-Dream-of-Jeannie" braid to her head for her talent segment, modern dance.
Hair is a big topic of conversation and concern this year.
In past years, contestants who could afford it were allowed to hire professional hair and makeup artists to whip up the perfect pageant hair and apply just the right amount of eye shadow.
But this year the Modern Misses are on their own.
"Oh, we'll still have a person backstage to help out in case anybody gets in real trouble. We don't want any disasters," says one of the show's assistant producers. She frowned after she spoke, realizing she had given up some pretty heavy Modern Miss information. She wouldn't give her name.
During rehearsals, the 50 contestants have had their hair in very simple dos.
Now, don't get the wrong idea. It's not as if most of the contestants' hair moves, or would flutter in a sea breeze. It's sprayed stiff. Think of anchorwoman hair and you have the picture. There are, of course, a few naturally swinging ponytails. But it's just rehearsal time. Wait until the preliminary contests. Those tails will come down and be coated in extra-hold spritz.
Most of the Modern Miss contestants playfully roll their eyes or groan when the pesky reporters ask them about the hair issue.
They've come up with the appropriately perky, politically correct, answer. All of them.
"If you can't do your own hair and makeup by the time you're 20 years old, something's wrong," says Miss Nevada, Mitzie Darlene Cox, a brunette with shoulder-length hair and curled bangs.
That's the Modern Miss answer. We've been doing our own hair for (fill in the age) years.
Nobody has said she wants professional hairstylists back. Nobody has said the ruling was wrong. They are all 100 percent behind the Modern Miss movement.
"I never had pageant hair anyway," says Miss Pennsylvania, Diane Marie Fabiano. "I ought to get the hair award; I've worked really hard at learning how to do it right."
Ms. Fabiano, 24, says her hair is very curly. But she's trained hard to learn how to tame it.
"I've been through hair therapy," she quips. And then she admitted that she got it straightened. Chemically. And she got it cut so she could just blow-dry it and drag a round brush through it to keep it in a soft shoulder-length bob. "It's not big. I can get in cars," she jokes.
"They wanted natural, they're getting natural," she says. "If you see any hats on stage Saturday night, you'll know that girl is having a bad hair day."
Even the reigning Miss America, Leanza Cornett, has dumped the beehive style she wore during the contest last year. This year, her hair is in a modest just-dry-it-and-go cut. She said the rules are very strict this year. The contestants are not allowed even to go out to a local beauty salon to get professional help.
That's why Miss Kentucky, Tonya Dee Virgin (Yes, that's her name. Yes, she's been teased about it all her life. "It's only embarrassing when they call out your name in restaurants"), says she's lucky to have worked in a hair salon this last year.
"We spent a few evenings making sure that I knew how to do it myself," she says. Previous Miss Kentuckys have had hair people at the pageant. Ms. Virgin says she's on her own, but "I have a good cut." It's shoulder-length, with sweeping bangs that swoosh to the right.
And makeup? Kentucky has that under control, too.
"I used to free-lance at Elizabeth Arden cosmetics," she says with a wry smile.