06/15/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
Would Queen Elizabeth show up in a mere chapeau for the opening of Parliament? Of course not. And America's reigning royalty—whether beauty queens, drag queens or domestic goddesses—need their crowns too. Unlike Liz, they can't simply fetch a tasteful trifle from the Tower of London—but they can call on Holly Hardwick.
Hardwick, 54, has become a queen of sorts in her own right by designing crowns, tiaras and scepters, mostly for pageant winners. Her eye-popping rhinestone confections, costing from $50 to $900, have graced the distinguished brows of everyone from Little Miss Hawaiian Tropic to Miss Gay America. "Holly's pieces make you feel like when you were a child and could be anything you wanted to," says Lynne Michael, 28, a former Miss Rhode Island USA who ordered three crowns for her May 23 wedding (one for the ceremony, one for the reception and one for the getaway). "They make you feel very, very special."
Feeling pageant-perfect seems like second nature to Hardwick, who wears a new set of false eyelashes every day and never goes anywhere—even, she says, to bed—without four-inch heels. Thrice married—and divorced—she got into crowns five years ago when she owned a glitzy Manhattan jewelry showroom. Hardwick lives now in bucolic Easton, Conn., where she designs, and sometimes hand-makes, her baubles. Rhinestones, she feels, go with anything—even feminism. "If all women wore crowns," says Hardwick, "they'd be more powerful."