American Woman: The Fashion Industries

Dreamer: Doris, American, 28

The first thing I remember was meeting a real life acquaintance-friend of mine Jeff---- and his wife in a very large room (I think it was the university backstage theater area I have been in). She was dark haired and very friendly with hair in a low ponytail (she was eating something sitting in a corner) and she had on a white ribbed mock-turtleneck. I thought she was very beautiful. Jeff---- and I hugged and we talked briefly (about what I can't remember) then he introduced me to his wife and one-year-old son.

I was fascinated by the boy's soft, brown straight hair. I couldn't stop stroking it because it felt so wonderful. I held him for a long while. Jeff's wife was very friendly to me and happy that her boy liked me and I sat with her for a very long time holding the little boy and stroking his hair. He had no teeth and was just smiling and smiling! He eventually fell asleep on me.

The next thing I remember is being in another room not as large as the one I had been in but still fairly dark (not pitch black, more like bar or club dark). There were tables. Another real life friend of mine Brian was there. Blonde, short hair and dressed in muted tones like brown, I think, the way he looked the last time I saw him. We talked for a while. There were other people in the room. I only remember two, a redhead woman and the other a brunette woman. The redhead was shorter than me, no freckles. And the brunette had a short bob haircut was nicely plump with a round face and tan toned skin and she appeared to be just as tall as I was. The redhead wanted to play dress-up with me and the brunette girl. She was tired of talking to the group. We followed her into the brightly lit dressing room.

(Note that the dressing room was a "real" dressing room/theater office I had been in before -- naturally it wasn't the same but filled with nothing but racks and racks of brightly colored clothes. So all three scenes were familiar to me.)

The redhead and brunette were discussing what to put me in. I get the feeling I knew their names and called them by name but I couldn't remember on waking. The redhead gave me a handmade amber butterfly. Four antennae. One antenna was damaged so she buffed it back into shape. I was watching her actually make it...she would roll the soft amber-like substance, make a cut and bend it and mold it almost like origami. It was made as a gift of a bauble and given to me by the redhead. It was very intricate and beautiful it almost looked "real." The wings were thin with delicate striations of dark amber brown. It was supposed to be worn with my golden yellow dress I had on. I think I put it in my hair. The dress she picked out for me was an elegant one. Long to the floor with a short train in the back, medium thin straps, drop waist. I think the fabric was silk. It had an overdress and an underdress (the under part yellow the over part gold). I don't remember if I was wearing shoes or not. But my hair was styled 'up' in a way that I never wear it.

I found myself in a bathroom that was still part of the familiar area I was in (which inconveniently didn't have any mirrors. I was polishing my nails a sparkly gold that turned into a pale tan. I could smell the acetone. I painted all ten of my fingers because I counted them one by one as I polished. My nails were short as they are in real life.

The song 'Super Freak' was playing on some radio somewhere, but stopped when I left the bathroom. My nail polish was drying, since I picked up my keys and my dark blue sweater-jacket without incident.

Next I met an old friend and we hugged (not anyone I know in real life). (Well this hug was after his son played with me since the "guess who?" game required them both to be behind me and the boy was on his father's shoulders) His son was playing "guess who?" with me hiding my eyes so I could guess who he was. He had a sweet little boy voice and I said "Oh it must be that pretty boy with the dark curly hair!" It was of course. He was about five years old. Lovely dark skin and the most gorgeous rich dark curly hair. We held hands for a while while his father and I talked (for some reason the father looked like Harrison Ford) His wife however (looked like a young Diana Ross) didn't like me talking to him. She was holding a baby (sex unknown). I told him that he should get back to his wife before she exploded.

I turned back to the "group" in the room and said that I didn't know why my friend's wife was so uptight; the man was over fifty for goodness sakes! A tall thin man sitting by the door made a comment as I made my way back to my seat. There was someone I can't identify sitting next to me we talked for a while (about what I don't remember). Then someone suggested leaving to go "somewhere" and we all agreed and the person next to me got up (I think it was a woman) and she had been sitting on two black low step stools.

Next, I found myself outside of the building with the brunette and redhead and there was a big transport truck with clothes in it on the right as we came out.

Three women were walking in front of us three. There were dressed in a rainbow of colors and sequins and sashes. Tight clothes but not elegant. They were sneering at us whispering to themselves making fun. One crawled up on the top of the truck and was naked except for a metal, jeweled type belt and was calling me and taunting me telling me that she would show me how to be. She had very, very long dark hair and cocoa skin. I told the two women I was with that some people had no dignity and I ignored her as we walked across the parking lot. We got into the brunette's car and I shut the door.

I was in the backseat of the car and my dress changed from the color it had been into to maroon and gray. The redhead was in the front passenger seat (I was in the backseat behind her). I asked the brunette about who she lived with and she said she lived with nine people in a studio apartment. I said I didn't know how she could stand it, but she said it was no problem.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: American Woman: The Fashion Industries

"I remember the day the Germans marched in. The Germans wore grey, you wore blue." --Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Berman in the film Casablanca

Your dream is essentially similar to many middle class women living in Western society. Fashion is a classification system and metaphor for social identity and collective memory. Fashion produces and organizes the language of popular consumer culture. From a popular music culture perspective American Woman by the Guess Who, is a song also found in the film American Beauty which seems to fit the background of your dream. As a symbol, fashion is "overdetermined"; simply put there are many perspectives - some competing - from which to view the meaning of our collective fashion consciousness and our fashion dreams. I have provided eight perspectives.

1. Adam and Eve's Nightmare or Paradise Lost

"And the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." --Genesis 3:7

The Bible reports that Man was fashioned in God's image. Modern sensibility has been viewed as archetypically schizoid. This situation can be traced back to the biblical figures of Adam and Eve. The biblical parable tells us that the consequence of disobedience (eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree) was the realization of nudity, after which shame enveloped them and the loss of paradise followed.

This story is the mythopoetic insight into the fall from grace and transformation from unawareness to self-consciousness. The fig leaves represent the beginnings of self-consciousness and eventually led the way to the fashion system. The primal Biblical conflict of nudity versus clothes, display versus modesty has shaped our historical awareness. The International Institute for Dream Research has posted other dream interpretations, such as The Female Nude that speaks of nudity from an artistic perspective.

2. Life Style Perspective: The Art of Advertising the American Dream

Fashion provides the currency for the embodiment of the marketplace of the American Dream. The circulation of taste and fashionable thoughts helps the individual and the community to present coherent social identities and life-styles. The fashion industries are deeply implicated in the manufacture of character, persona and image. Success in public life has depended on the successful management of appearances. Fashioning the body becomes a means to fashion one's self image.

The everyday behaviour of wearing and displaying clothes, hairstyles, nails and make-up (cosmetics) are all part of producing daydreams that are represented in fashion magazines such as "Harper's Bazaar," "Glamour," "Vogue," "GQ" and "Esquire." The fashion industries write on the surface of the body which in turn configure the collective lifestyle dreams. Of course the film The Devil Wears Prada (see video trailer) set in the fashion world provides insight into how this world operates.

Fashion has become marked by a seasonal rhythm of group imitation, innovation and change. Fashion designers in London, Paris, Rome and New York, among other places, produce designer labels such as Gucci, Armani and Dior that are all meant to appeal to self expression and beautification. The fashion/clothing industry attempts to create the mystique of the ensemble, the beauty and cosmetics industry the right face and scent. This "conspicuous consumption" of the images of popular culture has led to the "triumph of the superficial."

Advertising the American Dream reinforces the collective creation of fashion daydreams/desires paraded before the public's eyes. Advertising, as a producer of visual aestetic images, becomes a contributor to the shared daydreams projected on the American and Western communal dreamscreen.

3. Pedagogical/Didactic Perspective: Fashioning Children's Dreams

Children learn to use language to stimulate and motivate the Self which in turn upholds their social reality. Internal dialogue is the means by which the individual directs its actions. In your dream your inner dialogue shapes your perceptions, narratives and action. Others act as a source of social information (i.e. act as mirrors/feedback) about one's appearance and performance.

Children learn that fashion is a language that encodes a narrative ideology. When we fail to play by the fashion rules the mind registers this. The failure to perform can proceed by wearing the wrong necktie, cheap perfume or exhibiting unfashionable attitudes. Individuals learn to conform or to deviate from the social norms of appearance.

4. Feminist Perspective: Representing Women's Dreams

Fashion magazines and photography non-verbally produce a language of gaze or ways of looking and appearing, which act as codes for the regulation of the representation of desire. Feminist views may state that the collective dream patterns of women are being shaped by male domination.

Patriarchy is occulo-centric in that it promotes dominant male visual perception, voyeurism and exhibitionism as the primary ways to value the appearance of social reality. In 1975, Laura Mulvey ("Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema") introduced her theory of the "male gaze" stating that women are stereotyped by men and in typically male ways of looking. Women are often provided social roles of being seen and not heard.

In pornography, female bodies are icons, displayed for the gaze of the men who experience both pleasure and anxiety in their roles as actors, audience and producers of pornographic psychodramas. Sexism translated into the visual dimension is known as "lookism." Lookism is one way that compensation and/or deception is played out as a consequence of cultural indoctrination emphasizing rivalry and power. It is a societal bias to evaluate individuals based upon their appearance (colour of skin, beauty, fashion sense, etc.).

5. Black Perspective: Black vs. White Representation

In your dream a woman with cocoa skin taunts you. bell hooks "Black Looks: Race and Representation" views the "oppositional gaze" as a tool for confrontation and resistance towards the dominant representations (i.e. white mythology) of blacks. The site of this resistance is found where black and white representations meet. Hooks argument updates Frantz Fanon's views that blacks have been marginalized and oppressed, which has prevented them from participating in the (white) American Dream. Fanon found that the racial neurosis (caused by oppressive representations) of blacks translated into their dream lives.

6. Dramaturgical Perspective - Theatre of Dreams

"And she'll wait for me at backstage with her girlfriends"
-- Rick James, "Super Freak" (music video clip)


One of the places in which your dream unfolds is at the backstage of a university theatre. The dramatic analysis of dreams sees the dream narrative as a play meant to be performed. Humans take up roles in their own life-story productions, which are then criticized in predominantly visual terms, such as dress, decor, colour and lighting.

Popular cultural pressures, frequently expressed in mass media dramas, shape individual and collective productions in relation to the cultural milieu of a performance. Individuals are motivated to maintain positive self-images of themselves. The metaphor of theatrical staging or mise-en-scene provides the foundation for the fashioning of everyday life. Fashion is a way to present yourself and maintain positive self images and self esteem. Look and gaze manufacture the appearance of the cohesion of everyday perception, identity and reality.

8. Postmodern Perspective: Virtual Dreamscapes

Your dream as I mentioned earlier is characteristic of the post-modern "American Woman." The fashion, theatre and music found in your dream are products of American popular culture. The "guess who" game in your dream might allude to another song "American Woman" by the Guess Who a song found in the film American Beauty (see video clip).

Daniel Boorstin's "The Image or What happened to the American Dream," published in 1961, signalled the dangers of the ever-growing onslaught of information technologies and their management of "pseudo-reality." In the era of Post Modernism, art and fashion are primarily concerned with consumerism and the explosion of communications technologies. Think of Warhol's repeated images of Campbell's Soup cans, and the iconography of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor.

Tradition, history, and faith in deeply held values have given way to conspicuous consumption, hedonism revolving round the ostentatious display of goods, and superficial visual stimuli.

I have included some literature of interest:

  • Alexander Kira, "The Bathroom"
  • Paul Schilder, "The Image and the Appearance of the Human Body"
  • Daniel Boorstin, "The Image or What Happened to the American Dream"
  • Edmund Bergler, "Fashion and the Unconscious"
  • Roland Barthes, "The Fashion System"
  • Stuart Ewen, "All Consuming Images"
  • Franz Fanon, "Black Skin, White Masks"
  • Joanne Finkelstein, "Fashion: An Introduction"
  • John Flugel, "Psychology of Clothes"
  • Erving Goffman, "Presentation of Self in Everyday Life"
  • Stuart H. Holbrook, "Dreamers of the American Dream"
  • George Lipsitz, "Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture"
  • Alison Lurie, "The Language of Clothes"
  • Anne Hollunder, "Seeing through Clothes"
  • Frazer Kennedy, "The Fashionable Mind"
  • David Kunzle, "Fashion and Fetishism"
  • Roland Marchand, "Advertising the American Dream"
  • David Madden, "American Dreams, American Nightmares"
  • Vance Packard, "The Hidden Persuaders"
  • Valerie Steele, "Fashion and Eroticism"
  • C.R. Snyder, "Excuses: Masquerades in Search of Grace

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.