My Big Fat Barbie 21st

Me at the New York Debutante Ball 2011 (image courtesy of

Me at the New York Debutante Ball 2011
(image courtesy of

My dad and me dancing at my 21st birthday party

My dad and me dancing at my 21st birthday party

In a previous post I told you about the first tailor I found during my year abroad in Nanjing. The second tailor I found in Nanjing was given the very important task of making the skirt for my 21st birthday party. Again, I stumbled across this unassuming tailor on one of my claustrophobia-avoiding trips from my dorm. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the tailor and I never discovered the name of the street he was on but to this day I could physically guide you.

Like many girls I have dreamt of dressing like a princess and wanted to wear a proper ball gown with a “puffy skirt” as I used to tell my parents. Thinking of something special to wear for my 21st birthday party I thought ‘If I can’t be a princess now, then when?’

I already owned a corset which I bought in Cape Town, South Africa, and thought it would be amazing to get a big full-on black Barbie-style taffeta skirt made to go with it. This way, in the future, I could inter-change the top and bottom. Having trawled through Google images of what I wanted and looked up the required vocabulary, I excitedly, and somewhat apprehensively, went to tailor number two. Taking my measurements the tailor rolled his one non-lazy eye and sucked his teeth, saying the amount of material was going to be expensive, perhaps RMB300 (£30). I giggled inwardly and mimicked casual satisfaction, the equivalent price back in the UK would have soared above this estimate. Tailor two told me to return in five days. It was hard containing my apprehension for even that short time, I had an exact idea in my head of what I wanted the skirt to look like. If the result was not the same I was going to be heart broken. If the skirt was not right what the hell was I going to wear to my party? There was no time to buy something when I got back to London!

Five days later, and with a pounding heart, I retraced by steps to tailor two. From the dark depths of the narrow shop, on the shelves I could make out a bulbous package. Tailor two pulled down the package and unwrapped the skirt. Holding it up, he told me to try the skirt on. In another dark corner was a piece of cloth hanging from a nail in the wall next to a mirror. Hooking the other end of the cloth on to the wall I slipped the skirt on and peered at my silhouette in half-light: the skirt was perfect. Letting the improvised curtain down I showed tailor two my grinning face and handed over the RMB300.

To the street sellers and passing students I was quite a sight peering over the huge folds of black taffeta but I was not embarrassed, actually I proudly told anyone who asked what it was. When I packed the skirt for my Christmas and birthday trip back to London my suitcase was almost entirely skirt, with the odd present stuffed around the edges.

Many people asked what I was going to wear to the party but I managed to keep it a surprise, hoping to make a more dramatic impact this way. It worked. Once again, with great pride I related the story of how the skirt was created to any guests who showed even the remotest interest. I really did feel like Cinderella.

I subsequently wore the corset and skirt to the Debutantes’ Ball in New York 2012 and was photographed by the Bloomberg social pages in it, so who was the real Belle of the ball?!

This entry was published on October 21, 2013 at 19:22. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.


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