Retiring: Pageant Glamour for Those Who Have Reached the Age of Elegance


Make that dresses, plural. Ms. Hofman did her dance routine, which mixes the Charleston with Latin and Anaconda moves, in a black and gold beaded mini. “I’m known for the moves I can do with my backside,” she said, noting that she “go-go danced through college, back when go-go dancers wore clothes.”

“I had no idea that these pageants existed,” she said later, now beaming in a one-shoulder matte jersey red gown, which was lent to her by Runway Couture in Long Island, N.Y. (retail price: $2,400).

Ms. Hofman always loved flouncy skirts and fancy coiffures, but she said she was also the first woman to drive a forklift and unload trucks at Kennedy Airport, where she is now program manager of the Queens Air Services Development Office.

There is no swimsuit competition. Contestants are judged on talent, a private interview with the judges, an evening gown component and a segment in which they must summarize their philosophy of life in 35 seconds.

Politics is not mentioned. Neither — overtly — is feminism. But it gurgles beneath the surface.

Last year’s champion, Dr. Barbara B. Mauldin, 62, is a dentist and competitive ballroom dancer from Petal, Miss. She remembers a time when women couldn’t get a loan without a man’s signature.

“I can’t tell you the most amazing transformation I’ve seen in many women from my era,” she said. “We were there in support of our husbands, our fathers. We were the women behind the men. For many candidates, this is a real step out of their comfort zones.”

On the final day of the contest, it was hard to know what was more blinding: the rhinestones glittering from ears, wrists and necks; the lights twinkling on stage; the beads and crystals sparkling from gowns; or the iPhones snapping pictures.

The women on stage swayed gently as Louis Parisi, a local entertainer, serenaded them with a song he had composed just for them, “The Little Girl Inside.” “More than crowns and sashes … pretty makeup and eyelashes … she’ll always have that little girl inside.”

Springsteen he was not.

But then, he did not have to be. This was not a tough audience.

“Every time he sang that song, I cried,” Ms. Hofman said later. “What little girl doesn’t want to have a crown on her head? This is like a fantasy come true.”

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