Dopamine Dressing: 5 Dope Ways to Boost Your Mood With Your Wardrobe
How many times have you bought new clothes according to the latest trends only to instantly regret it when you look in the mirror and see a half-baked potato in low-rise pink velour track pants staring back at you?
If the answer is once or more, then you might be interested in learning how to dress in order to optimize your mood, rather than crush it with the underside of a potato masher.
Dopamine dressing was first conceptualised by fashion psychologist, Dawnn Karen, who said a mood boost could be achieved by “...wearing something crazy – whimsical stuff that doesn’t match, polka dot or leopard print, tutus, or bright colours.” Since then, additional research has been conducted into the impact different types of clothes have on our brain’s reward system.
For the most fundamental example of dopamine dressing, you need only look at fashion week street style. This is a time when even the most lauded fashion icons seize the excuse to wear something outlandish and experimental on the streets of New York, London, Paris, Milan, Sydney or Melbourne.
But you don’t have to lurch around the city in puffer pants if that’s going to make you uncomfortable (albeit toasty).
Wearing clothes that you identify with can stimulate the release of dopamine - a feel-good hormone that releases into the brain’s reward system and results in feelings of joy, satisfaction, and positivity. The trick lies in finding out exactly what these pieces are for you, so that you can hack your way to a happy wardrobe that feels unequivocally you.
Dopamine dressing is about feeling good in your style and deriving pleasure from what you’re wearing. But of course, retail therapy isn’t real therapy, and if you are struggling with mental health it’s best to consult your health care provider, before you accidentally breed a new maladaptive coping mechanism.
Another desirable effect of dopamine dressing is that it can open the door to more mindful engagement with the clothes you wear. Rather than giving in to trends that make you feel temporarily cool but eventually insecure, buy fashion that makes you feel good and stop stockpiling clothes that go unworn and unloved as the seasons pass. Associate Professor of Psychology at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Daniel Benkendorf, suggests keeping note of how your different outfits make you feel in a notebook, as a way of figuring out which clothes can boost your dopamine levels.
One of the keys to dopamine dressing is wearing clothes that carry a strong emotional association for you. This means ignoring the trends and working out which kind of clothes you gravitate towards naturally. Use what you already own as the blueprint for what you most enjoy wearing and build around that. It could be as simple as adding an accessory or trying on a new colour.
Dressing in line with emotions can be as simple as embracing a new look along with a change in your lifestyle. Coming out of the first lockdowns, dressing for practicality – cosy tracksuits and loungewear – were cast aside in favour of dressing for fun. Going-out clothes such as dresses and tailored pants with shirts or cut-out tops were embraced. By representing the freedom of coming out of lockdown through clothing made for clubs, parties and festivals, people were representing their emotional states en masse.
Embrace Different Colours
Seasonal Affective Disorder which you probably know better as "Seasonal Depression" has lent credence to the idea that colour can affect mood. For example, this year’s Pantone colour of the year, Veri Peri - a soft and rich purple tone bordering on blue - is said to produce “personal inventiveness and creativity”.
While most studies in dopamine dressing focus on the effects of colour on the brain, the reality is that most people are not so attached to colours when shopping, and there are a range of other elements that can affect how you feel in an outfit, such as texture and fit.
The release of dopamine has little to do with dressing according to trends, or what is considered socially favourable. Instead, people derive the most happiness from outfits that feel like an outer representation of their inner selves. This could be dressing in a graphic t-shirt that depicts your favourite movie character or wearing a pair of jeans that have been through thick and thin with you. Sometimes it can be putting together an outfit that feels unique to you, mixing up the usual t-shirt and jeans combo and trying something different.
Embrace the Decades
While Gen Z has the benefit of both hindsight and the internet, they have nevertheless embraced the glam of 2000s nostalgia. Millennials were left bitter and confused: why would teenagers who had the good fortune of skipping embarrassing beauty trends thanks to YouTube buy into the low-rider days of flip phone fashion? The answer could lie in the chemical effects of dopamine dressing. The garish is being embraced not so much because it’s perceived as “cool”, but because it is fun and expressive, and is novel enough for it to cause a spike in the dopamine of those brave enough to risk baring their butt crack to the world.
Here are 5 ideas to encourage your neurotransmitters to do their thing and release dopamine.
1. Are there any decades that really speak to you? And I don’t mean does John Lennon creep into your dreams and whisper the surrealistic yawp of 1967’s "I Am The Walrus" to you. But if he does, maybe try out some hippie fashion, psychedelic prints and A-line skirts. Or maybe you love the grunge flannels and anti-establishment attitude of the 90s? Perhaps you prefer the extra-ness of the 80s, the retro sneakers and the obnoxious hairstyles set to a soundtrack of synth. Lean towards these looks and incorporate them into your existing wardrobe. Stop waiting for an excuse!
2. Accessories are often left out of outfits because we are in too much of a rush to give them due consideration. But adding a hat,necklace, funky pair of socks or a strategically placed bandana (try tying it on the sleeve of a jacket or tucking it into the back pocket of your jeans) can make all the difference.
3. Go matchy matchy and don a bold set.
4. Reject all the “rules” and wear clashing colours and prints. We are on a spinning rock held up only by the force of gravity after all, it doesn’t really matter.
5. And yes ok, colour. Do you love bright colours? Maybe black makes you feel safe and contented, and also badass. Maybe the colours in your wardrobe make you feel almost nothing. Try experimenting with some off-kilter colours that you haven’t worn before.