HERE I AM. I’m in an Ibis hotel room in Manchester, England, and I am heading off to a ball. It is July 2016, and the event in question is the annual “Sparkle Ball,” part of a transgender festival called Sparkle Weekend, where trans people gather to celebrate our transness. I’d say it was a staple of my calendar, but I’m not anywhere nearly organized enough to use a calendar. I’ve thought about coming here before, but never actually made it thus far. I’ve been out in more feminine attire a few times here and there, mostly with friends on drag nights, but never for a whole weekend.
So here I am. I’m in this mid-priced hotel room where the décor is shooting for young and a bit edgy, but veers a bit too close to a Children’s TV show vibe for my tastes. It’s probably the green carpet; it reminds me of the Teletubbies. Not ideal if you’re going for sophistication and elegance, but it is clean, comfortable, and has somewhere to hang my dress. Most importantly, the lighting in the bathroom is excellent—this is really important if you’re doing a lot of contouring. If, like me, you’re trying to hide features such as a chunky jaw or generous nose, it’s a key part of your makeup routine. If half of your face is in shadow when you attempt to apply it, there’s a risk that as soon as you step away from this light source, your face may go a bit Picasso. Maybe the star system used to rate hotels should be weighted more in favor of useful things like bathroom lighting and croissant quality and less for facilities like the business center, where the printer will almost certainly be out of magenta ink.
So here I am. I’m by myself today. Originally, I was supposed to be going with a friend. We went out last night to meet a bunch of my friends down in Canal Street and had a great time. We went to a few bars, and then onto G-A-Y for dancing. I felt proud of myself for lasting a whole night in heels. The interesting thing about gay clubs at this moment in time is that they have started barring non-LGBT+ folk, particularly bachelorette parties.
I thought my friend had a half-decent night, but this morning they bailed, saying that they thought going out in feminine attire this evening would be a bit much. I can sympathize, though. Being fluid means there is a balance to be had between my male and female self, and sometimes I can’t force it. If I’ve had a lot of girl mode, I might need some boy time to rebalance, which seems to be the case with my friend. But they’ve still left me to go by myself, to somewhere I’d never been before, where I didn’t really know what to expect.
So here I am a day later, about to get ready for the ball. I’ve had a shower, a good close shave and moisturizing. On weekend jaunts like this, where I have to shave frequently, moisturizing is pretty important; otherwise my skin turns pink and angry and doesn’t like having makeup applied to it. I’m pretty pleased with my makeup—the aforementioned good lighting really helped. I’ve gone for a neutral eye and red lips. I want to keep the makeup classic and polished and let the dress do the talking.
So here I am. My makeup and hair are on, so it’s time for my dress. I’ve kept it hanging up all day so there would be no creases from travel. I used to imagine being able to wear something like this—to inhabit that glamorous space that seems forbidden. The dress itself is a long, elegant ball gown, in a royal blue taffeta. There’s a plunging neckline, which distracts from my broad shoulders. It leads down into a mermaid skirt with a long train at the back. I’ve had the dress taken in so that it hugs my body like a glove. It is lined in blue satin, and it feels fantastic. Walking in this is going to be slightly difficult, but there’s a time and a place for dressing for comfort, and this most certainly is not it. I look at myself in the mirror and I’m pleased with my reflection. Looking back at me is the distillation of everything I’ve had to keep locked away for so long, all the desire to express myself in an environment where what you’re wearing is at a premium.
So here I am. Walking down to the road to the venue in the evening light. You know I said my dress had a train? If we’re talking trains—it’s less like a four-carriage branch line than like one of those American freight trains. It is long. I have to pick it up and carry it draped over my arm. I cross the road, passing a young girl with her parents. “A princess!” she whispers to her mum. That feels pretty good. I reach the venue and head up to the floor on which the suite hosting the ball is located. I step out of the lift and let the train of my dress fall behind me as I step onto the red carpet and walk forward.
I am here.
Isabella de Carrington is an interior designer from England. They provide style advice on various social media platforms and are married to a wonderful, understanding, wife. To learn more about Isabella, visit: isabelladecarrington.com