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At 7:45 A.M., I woke with this significant dream:

I’m invited to attend the reunion of my high school class from Villa Duchesne. It will be held on a garden patio. It is balmy moonless evening, pitch-dark when I arrive. Animated voices surround me as I find a place and sit down. I notice the cloth-covered tables are small, round, only accommodating three guests. Across from me, I hear JoAnne share a funny story. Then, waiters set narrow platters of delectable foods among us from which we eat.

I ask my Dreamer’s help in working with this dream story, its pitch-dark setting filled with connotations of death: my deceased classmates, the moonless night bereft of orientation and relatedness.

A solitary, I had little in common with my peers when growing up, other than sitting in the same classrooms, occasionally attending reunions hosted by the school. Later, however, I learned to honor our differences and esteem them for the women they had become. That awareness launched occasional potlucks in my home, filled with animation similar to that in the dream. In subsequent years, however, deaths thinned our meetings until they stopped altogether.

Again, in the dream I hear the laughter of my classmates as if cramped in my living room, their bracelets jangling on their wrists while emphasizing a point. I’m perplexed that I do not see them, but I remember JoAnne’s facial expression,still among us, as she regales her listeners. In Jungian terms, she suggests my extraverted shadow, with its discipline of deepening communication with my caregivers as my symptoms change.

This dream, one of a kind, mirrors the shaping up of my end time, tinged with joy. I’ve only to participate, one day at a time, letting HP do for me what I cannot do for myself. (From the Promises in AA’s Big Book)

Does the little black dress evoke instant memories of allure, of cocktail parties, loud music, dating, drinking? Perhaps a coming of age outfit adorned with pearls, black pumps? Such was my experience in the 1950s.

 

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So I found myself among generations of women, all abuzz, leaning into the slight incline toward the  entrance of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. Word had drawn us to the exhibit, Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night. Over sixty glass-enclosed mannequins exhibited this global phenomenon that seized the imaginations and dressmakers of upper class women from the mid-nineteenth century to the 200s.

To the widowed Queen Victoria, in 1861, do we attribute the protocol of mourning attire for women. For the next forty years she wore black, with dressmakers modifying her voluminous gowns, in keeping with the prevailing styles. Her example influenced generations of widows in many parts of the world, to their great expense.

In 1926, however, a reversal occurred with the French Coco Chanel’s design of the little black dress in jersey (then, the fabric used in men’s underwear), loose fitting and calf-length; it publication in Vogue catapulted it into the cocktail world and other soirees. Subsequent designers on both continents continued to tweak this phenomenon as depicted on the blank-faced mannequins in this exhibit.

However before I left the final gallery, the patriarchy with its control roiled through me. Big money, then and now, sets fashion trends for women, compelling many to buy seasonal wardrobes that afford them identity, status, and a place in man’s society. It’s as if couturiers, of whatever gender, have an unconscious imperative to distract women from their true power lest they usurp the status quo.

Never have I found the true-woman spirit in the pages of  Vogue or Elle. She needs no adornment.

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