Friday, August 13, 2021

Origin of Womanless Beauty Pageants

Womanless weddings, often staged by men’s civic and fraternal groups, were popular entertainment in the U.S. southern states prior to the advent of television. They consisted of a mock wedding in which males crossdressed in the roles of the entire wedding party, including the bride, mother of the bride, bridesmaids, flower girl and female guests. These events were often fundraisers, since many in the community were more than willing to pay admission to see their male neighbors in female attire. (Sources: Wikipedia and NCpedia)

Womanless weddings predated womanless beauty pageants. 

Schools, always looking for ways to raise funds and to keep the student body busy (idle hands are the devil's workshop), noticed the popularity and success of womanless weddings and were inspired to do something womanless in the educational realm. And mid-20th Century, someone came up with the idea of holding beauty pageants with boys crossdressing in the roles of female contestants. 

The earliest womanless beauty pageant that I can find was in 1947, a “Boys’ Beauty Contest” put on by Cradock High School in Portsmouth, Virginia (photo above). Evidently, the Boy’s Beauty Contest was popular and it became an annual event at Cradock High School through the early 1950s. [Note that there were earlier school events in which boys dressed like girls (e.g., Halloweens, plays, fashion shows, follies, burlesques, musicales, etc.), but as far as womanless pageants per se, the 1947 Cradock High pageant was the earliest.]

Eventually adults got into the picture and womanless beauty pageants replaced womanless weddings as surefire fundraisers. Inexplicably, just like womanless weddings, womanless beauty pageants are more popular in the U.S. southern states than anywhere else.  

My research is dependent on over 4700 womanless pageants that Femulate contributor Starla Trimm tirelessly culled from online high school yearbooks, so it is possible that there were earlier womanless pageants that are not documented online. If you know of an earlier womanless beauty pageant, please let us know what you know.

Using those 4700 pageants, I calculated the popularity of pageants between 1947 and 2019. Growth was slow in the 1950s (55 pageants) and began to pick up speed in the 1960s (310 pageants). The heyday for pageants was the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s with 1145, 1709 and 969 pageants respectively. The next century saw a dramatic drop-off in popularity with only 437 pageants in the 2000s and 44 pageants in the 2010s. 

Mine is not a precise calculation because not all high school yearbooks are accessible online and some pageants may not have been documented in any yearbooks at all. But even my imprecise calculations illustrate the rise and fall of womanless beauty pageants’ popularity.

Transphobia and homophobia (on the right) and political correctness (on the left) probably account for the drop. 

And so it goes.

Source: Stana @
Wearing Boston Proper

The 1950 installment of the Boys’ Beauty Contest at Cradock High School in Portsmouth, Virginia


  1. My first outing en femme was a six hour drive in heels to Portsmouth VA to attend a Halloween Party at a EVMS Medical Schools professor's house in 1979.
    Stopped at the Williamsburg Outlet Shops on the way. Fond memories.

    Sara Blevins

  2. Your Boston Proper pic is one of your best!

  3. Thanks for the herstory lesson, dear, and thanks to Starla for culling all those high school faux femme pics. Those interested can see my ever expanding Flickr album which you kindly list in your Friends links. Aunty

  4. How lovely and wonderful the womanless events are! I really wish I could have been part of one here in CT!

    deborah sawyer

  5. I graduated from a HS in northwest Indiana in 1975 and a womanless beauty pageant was the farthest thing from our minds

  6. Holy s**t". Just look at all those beauties! Most of the contests I've seen had maybe the number of "girls" seen in the Cradock 1950 photo. I wish I could see a larger image so I could scan it for potential non-civilians. For the 1950 photo I'm going to nominate the cutie in the front row with the long gloves. In the back row I'm leaning toward the bookend "girls", especially the smaller cutie on the right.

    I wish we had those when I was a kid. If my mom had bought in I would have looked good, as she was a wizard with her sewing machine, not to mention a perfectionist when it came to presentation. (In elementary school she sent me to school always color coordinated.) If not, I had a friend who always was a girl at home, and I'm sure her mother would have fixed me up. While her three kids -- 2 girls and one "girl' -- were smaller than me, she had access to a huge warehouse of theatrical costumes which she used to dress me from time to time.

  7. You just rock that Boston Proper dress!!

    1. Thank you! I can't wait to wear it out.

  8. Here's a little more history on the Womanless Weddings.

  9. No photos exist to confirm, but my 90-year-old father remembers that 1947 was the year he was the "flower girl" in several fund-raising Womanless Weddings.

    He's a person of small stature, and not very hairy. He played his part to the hilt, even to the extent of dropping his mother's borrowed panties to the floor as he tripped down the aisle at church (she was a person of girth, the panties were enormous). Laughs all around.

  10. This sounds like fun, I just found out about this. How can someone be part of one these womenless events? (I will check back often for updates, I can't stand anything Google) So Manual checking is the best I can do.