Growing up in western Nebraska as one of seven children, Teresa Scanlan didn’t always have access to the finest in fashion. “I loved creating my own looks from hand-me-downs by cutting, sewing, tying or gluing articles of clothing to create a different piece,” she tells PEOPLE. “For several years in high school I was also building clothes out of colored duct tape.”
But now, as the reigning Miss America, Scanlan’s sense of style has definitely evolved. “As I traveled this past year, I did my own hair and makeup and chose my own outfits; I actually preferred it that way because there was so much freedom,” she says. “I was able to use my own personal style and get creative.”
Calling Miss America “current and trendy, yet sophisticated, elegant and appropriate,” Scanlan says she always thinks about the impression she might make on others when getting dressed in the morning, and “how my look might be communicating a certain message to them.” In other words, “Less skin is more,” she stresses. “Don’t think that to look stunning you have to show a stunning amount of skin; know your body and find clothing that fits and flatters so you can feel sexy and confident.”
In her final official act as the reigning Miss America, Scanlan will appear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday wearing a knee-length ivory ruffled coat by Joseph Ribkoff, a designer who works closely with the Miss America organization. “They have supplied me with outfits for events from the Kentucky Derby to the Indy 500, and I have to say that I absolutely love the line,” Scanlan says. “I want to have a look any woman can emulate in day-to-day life and feel confident about.”
Granted, “any woman” doesn’t have a glimmering crown atop her head every time she walks out the door, but Scanlan says wearing her headpiece has taught her not to overdo it on the accessories. “The crown becomes a main focal point, so I don’t have to go crazy on the jewelry,” she jokes.
She’ll miss that crown once she hands it over to the new Miss America in Las Vegas in January, but Scanlan admits she’s also looking forward to relaxing her look a little. “I’ll be starting college next year at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, so I will definitely be focused on different things,” she shares, adding, “all the more reason to go all-out this year!”