Let’s face it — slipping on your favourite pair of jeans makes you feel a certain way. Maybe they fit just right, or the stiff fibres have softened from wear and wash. Regardless, you have some pep in your step when wearing them.
Dopamine is the ‘feel good’ brain chemical — a neurotransmitter produced in the brain, serving as a messenger between the nervous system and nerve cells. Dopamine dictates how we experience pleasure, influences human thinking and allows us to concentrate on things we enjoy or find interesting.
In recent years, fashion experts have begun harnessing the effects of dopamine through clothing styles. They’ve since dubbed it ‘dopamine dressing’ — wearing mood-enhancing garments rather than selecting outfits based only on appearance.
If dressing for pleasure and happiness sounds exciting, keep reading to learn more about dopamine dressing and how to curate a happier wardrobe.
What is dopamine dressing?
Dressing for joy isn’t a new concept.
For instance, a 2012 study by Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire found a correlation between clothing and mood. Based on the results — featured in the book she co-authored titled Flex: Do Something Different — 62 per cent of women wear their favourite dress when happy, while 57 per cent opt for a baggy top when depressed.
The true definition of dopamine dressing is subjective. However, Pine’s take suggests ‘happy’ clothes are flattering, well-fitted, bright and colourful, and crafted from exquisite fabrics. Of course, it also pertains to self-expression and being intentional about what we purchase and wear.
There are various reasons dopamine dressing has taken off. The collective experiences of pandemic lockdowns and Zoom meetings in pyjama bottoms have breathed new life and purpose into fashion.
Work-from-home culture has bid farewell to utilitarian styles as people seek the opposite of grey cotton loungewear. For those resistant to trading in their ‘soft pants’ for chicer garments, striking a balance between looking good and feeling great matters.
How does dopamine dressing boost your mood?
Unsurprisingly, you feel positive and confident when wearing flattering clothes. Yet, dopamine dressing also leans into colour psychology, often integrated into interior and environmental design.
People have come to associate specific colours with emotions — turquoise reflects tranquillity, red may pertain to passion or anger, and purple represents luxury.
Traditionally, you may have dressed according to your current psychological state. Instead, dopamine dressing means dressing in the mood you want to feel.
A yellow sundress is the perfect clothing article to pull you out of a funk, while orange could induce an air of playfulness. However, the global interpretation of colours differs — where green represents good fortune in North America and Asia, parts of central and South America associate it with mourning.
As such, it’s best to dress for joy based on your personal associations with colour. Different colours may be tied to negative emotions, but you should fill your wardrobe with them if they make you happy, regardless of how others feel about them.
While bold and colourful clothing is a cornerstone of dopamine dressing, it isn’t a hard and fast rule. How fabrics touch our physical senses and personal values is equally important. You may have an affinity for silk or feel best in ethically and sustainably made clothes — or maybe prefer minimalistic looks with subdued textures and patterns over coral, sapphire blue or neon green.
Practical tips for embracing dopamine dressing
Lauren Di Bartolo, founder of the Australian Style Institute, recommends selecting clothing and accessories based on who you want to be in the next phase of your life.
As she describes it, our brain’s reticular activating system encourages us to stick to the style we already know, but our clothes should evolve as our lives do.
If you want to try dopamine dressing for greater happiness, the following tips will help you get started:
- Determine what you like and dislike about your current style. Do any articles of clothing make you feel good about yourself? Is it the colour, shape or fit?
- Think about your favourite colours, or the colours that suit your complexion, and the mood or feeling they spark when you see them.
- Consider the mindset you want to create for yourself and the colours you associate with it.
- Get dressed for work, even if you telecommute. While a suit and tie aren’t necessary for your home office — unless you like it — a pop of colour could boost your confidence and encourage positive thinking.
- Experiment with patterns, colours and cuts you usually wouldn’t have tried before.
Awareness is ultimately the first step of dopamine dressing. Your clothes should lift you out of a bad mood, help you perform better and give off a particular type of energy.
Leave your comfort zone and embrace individuality
Dopamine dressing is personal — the freedom of dressing how you want in what you like can trigger a dopamine rush.
Whether your clothes make you feel happy or relaxed, be that in colourful or neutral tones, is more important than how others see you.
Experiment with styles that help elevate your mood and boost your energy, whether that’s through an item’s texture, colour, design or process of construction, and incorporate them into your wardrobe and make them part of your signature style.