Then vs Now: The progressive evolution of Miss Universe over the years

06 Jan 2024 | Priya Bhardwaj

Miss Universe, one of the most esteemed competitions of the pageantry, has evolved quite drastically over the seven decades since its inception. While it is one of the four major beauty pageants, Miss Universe still remains the most loved and most watched pageant under the scrutiny of millions of viewers who rejoice at the sight of delegates parading in their outfits, giving interviews and preparing for the finale night over the span of two weeks for which the competition is held.



Miss Universe has become a long-standing tradition around the world, but it was the not the same when it all began. Miss Universe has changed a lot through the years, rather evolved. The Miss Universe beauty pageant is 69 years old, soon to be 70, and it can tell us a lot about how our perception of beauty has evolved over the years.

The seven-decade evolution of Miss Universe is an interesting one. The earlier days of the pageant were more conservative. Swimsuit styles, costumes and the body expectations have changed drastically over the life of Miss Universe along with many other factors. Even though the pageant began as a PR stunt after a swimsuit line was snubbed by Miss America, the pageant has grown into a colossal event, with anywhere from 80 to 94 contestants participating annually and representing different countries.

Miss Universe started in 1952 as a marketing stunt by a California clothing company, Pacific Knitting Mills, after the winner of rival pageant Miss America refused to wear one of its swimsuits. Miss America 1951, Yolanda Betbeze refused to pose in a bathing suit for Catalina Swimwear, so the company decided to make their own pageant, Miss Universe.


Armi Kuusela


Only 30 contestants competed for the crown, and the first winner was Armi Kuusela of Finland. Any country could compete in Miss Universe — all they needed to do was pay a fee to the organization for franchise rights. However, this was partially why some smaller countries did not participate. They simply couldn’t afford it.

The pageant was first televised in 1955. CBS began broadcasting the combined Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants in 1960, and as separate contests in 1965. More than 30 years later, Donald Trump bought the pageant in 1996 from ITT Corporation and struck a broadcasting arrangement with CBS until 2002.

In June 2015, NBC cancelled all business relationships with Trump and the Miss Universe Organization in response to controversial statements about illegal immigrants who crossed the border from Mexico. As part of the legal settlement, in September 2015, Trump bought out NBC's 50% stake in the company, making him the company's sole owner. Three days later, he sold the whole company to WME/IMG.

Following the change of ownership, in October 2015, Fox and Azteca became the official broadcasters of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The current president of the Miss Universe Organization is Paula Shugart, who has held this position since 1997.

John Daly was the pageant's first host. He continued hosting until 1966, which means he hosted the pageant for over a decade, when he was replaced by Bob Barker. Definitely the longest run for a Miss Universe host. The only host to be most frequent at the pageant after John has been Steve Harvey. Since its transfer to Fox in 2015, Miss Universe has been hosted annually by Steve, except for this year; the 69th Miss Universe will be hosted by Mario Lopez and Olivia Culpo.



It was rare to see women from the southern and eastern continents taking part in the competition during the initial years of the pageant, moreover them being at the top of the ranking was not even considered a possibility. On the other hand, cut to decades later, it is these Asian and European divas who conquer the pageant and how! In 1959, Japan's Akiko Kojima became the first Asian woman to be crowned Miss Universe.

In 1960, an interview portion was introduced to the contest, while in the modern era of these pageants the interview or the question round is one of the most valued rounds to decide the winners. Similarly the National Costume rounds were only introduced in 1960. It later became a pageant staple. The National Costume portion of the competition has become a viewer-favourite over the years.

Nowadays the pageants usually take the contestants to compete for a course of two weeks at most, be it any pageant. From the '70s through the '90s, the pageant was over a month long, including rehearsals and preliminary contests. Since the 90s the contest has been streamlined down to a week or two.



The 2018 edition marked the first time that the Miss Universe pageant included the live opening statements after the semi-finalists have been announced, to be included in the overall results in determining the winner of the competition. The 2019 edition marked the first time ever in Miss Universe pageant's history that the remaining top three contestants are required to deliver their live closing statements, to be included in the overall results, right before the announcement of the winner of the competition.

Miss Universe announced that it would allow transgender contestants in 2012 after a lawsuit, but it wasn't until 2018 that it saw its first contestant. It was one of the most major changes ever witnessed when the first transgender contestant in Miss Universe history made her debut. Even though she failed to make it to the Top 20, Angela Ponce, Miss Universe Spain 2018, was favoured to win the entire competition.



Miss Universe, the competition and the winner have drastically evolved over the past decades in various ways, what remains same since the past decade is the purpose it serves to the society, making it one of the ‘Big Four’ pageants, a competition that the world awaits, every year.



Miss Universe 2019 saw the crowning of a black South African woman as Miss Universe. The pageant also saw the debut of the new Mouawad crown. In 2022, Miss Universe was held for the first time, under the leasership of JKN Global Group. In 2023, Nicaragua won the first ever Miss Universe crown where married women and mothers were allowed to participation. The organization is also going to remove the upper age limit from the 2024 edition allowing more inclusion to the pageant. Miss Universe, through the beginning seven decades ago, has surely come a long way.