Among the many important lessons Little Miss Sunshine taught us (Marcel Proust was gay! Family is important! The Air Force won't let you fly planes if you can't tell the difference between red and not-red, and your supercilious, suicidal uncle will tell you this in a condescending, oh-I'm-so-sorry-I-just-crushed-your-dreams" voice!), there's one in particular that seems especially relevant to the belt-tightening age we live in: beauty pageants can get outrageously expensive thanks to an entire pageant preparedness industry that has popped up faster than a second-tier law school.

An entire subclass of trainers and pageant consultants has inflated the cost of high-profile of pageant participation, because where there is burgeoning market, there are remora-like people ready to grab a little morsel of it for themselves. According to NPR's Brenda Salinas, the cost of preparing for a USA pageant can rise into the thousands of dollars, which, for many would-be contestants, seems prohibitively expensive. Pageantry magazine's Carl Dunn explains that, not only are there up-front pageant costs for contestants to worry about, but "then behind that, you do have the designers, makeup artists, trainers, facilitators, [and] possible sponsors."

Consider current Miss Baltimore Victory Mohamed, who says that, realistically, pageant contestants should be ready to part with "at least $500 to $2,000 on a gown for a U.S.A. Pageant, $200 for an interview outfit, including accessories, shoes that whole thing, and $50 to $300 on a great swimsuit." Moreover, coaching, fitness training, and paying someone to keep Grandpa Arkin company while he fumes about being cut out of the talent choreography can push costs pretty high, turning "entering a pageant" into an "investment for the future." Like the ever-multiplying fees for higher education, for instance. Or building that refrigerated storage shed you will use to freeze surplus Twinkies with which you can launch your black-market snack cake retirement business, you crafty capitalist, you.

Beauty Pageant Economics: The Sash Isn't Cheap [NPR]