Have you ever noticed how some outfits make you feel like you can conquer the world, or have you oozing confidence at a party? It has to do with the fashion psychology of dopamine dressing.
Mayo Clinic refers to dopamine as a “feel-good neurotransmitter” that helps us feel joyful. The chemical plays a role in several key functions, like mood, learning and attention, and it’s also connected to reinforcement behaviors.
“Dopamine is that happy hormone,” says self-described fashion psychologist Dr. Dawnn Karen, labeled “The Dress Doctor” by The New York Times. Karen holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Columbia Teachers College, has taught fashion psychology at the F.I.T.’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies, and founded the online-based Fashion Psychology Institute. She dives into the topic in her book, Dress Your Best Life.
She says the academic definition of dopamine dressing, also called mood enhancement dressing, is “a study and treatment of how color, image, style, shape and beauty affects human behavior while addressing cultural norms and cultural sensitivities.” But to put it simply, “It’s all about styling from the inside out,” she says.
Dopamine dressing comes in all shades, shapes and sizes
Karen explains that we can also use dopamine dressing to change the perception of how people perceive us. Dopamine dressing can be broken down into two facets: mood enhancement dressing and mood illustration dressing.
While people may have been mood enhancement dressing subconsciously for decades, Karen helped crystallize the terminology during the pandemic, helping patients dress with the intention of lifting their spirits.
Mood illustration dressing is dressing to perpetuate your current mood. So, if you’re in a slump and turn to athleisure outfits or pajamas, you’re dressing to illustrate the current mood, also known as serotonin dressing. She says this style of dressing acts as a mood stabilizer that can help people maintain an emotional equilibrium.
Colors, she says, have universal generalizations. You may know that yellow is happy and blue is trustworthy or calming. Red is a powerful color tied to sexuality; black can be mysterious; and white symbolizes purity. However, she says these sweeping notions also come with a disclaimer. “Psychologically, different colors may mean certain things to different persons depending on their culture, depending on their personal history, like their childhood; maybe people have an aversion to a certain color,” Karen says. So while these generalizations exist, so do individualized interpretations.
While there isn’t a true apples-to-apples study proving that certain colors affect different dopamine levels in the brain, there are numerous studies that focus on the relationship between what we wear and how we act and feel. A 2012 study published by the University of Hertfordshire Press links “how clothing and mood don’t just influence others, it reflects and influences the wearer’s mood, too.” Another study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology highlights “how clothes systematically influence wearers’ psychological processes,” such as how wearing a physician’s lab coat increases attention.
How to dopamine dress
You might have caught wind on social media of people dressing like a human rainbow using the hashtag #dopaminedressing. This is an extreme form and thankfully, not the only way to do it. (Unless, of course, that’s what makes you happiest!)
“You can dopamine dress to improve work performance,” Karen says. Since clothing is a mood-altering substance, she says it affects your mental state and could affect performance.
Mood enhancement dressing helps optimize your mood using color, style, texture, shape, etc. It really depends on your style. If you adore the color green and feel happiest when you wear it, you could find a way to wear it every day. Alternatively, you may choose to embrace utilitarian dressing—your own take on Steve Jobs’ repetitious personal uniform. Making one less decision each day can help ward off decision fatigue and boost productivity. Additionally, the monotonous style may also help you maintain your mood.
Karen suggests checking in with yourself before you get out of bed in the morning to see how you’re feeling. “Then select clothing according to how you feel or how you want to feel. In this case, if we’re dopamine dressing, it’s how you want to feel because you’re aspiring to feel a certain way and then selecting certain colors, maybe selecting a particular texture, a particular silhouette or shape, and then go about your day,” Karen says. “So you’re actually styling from the inside out. You’re starting from the internal to the external. What you’re doing is creating an alignment between your attitude and your attire.”
Tips for dopamine dressing
The good news is that you don’t need to overhaul your closet or even spend any money at all. Founder and lead stylist at The Wardrobe Consultant, Hallie Abrams, says, “The point of dopamine dressing is to elicit joy.”
Abrams says this may mean wearing an item that has an emotional connection, a bright, happy color, or even combining clothes you already own in a new way. To Abrams, infusing your wardrobe with color and dressing in a way that inspires happiness is her interpretation of dopamine dressing. This may also mean wearing something that evokes an emotional connection.
She says to first select a color you like and then decide how much of that color you’d like to wear. Next, start incorporating that color into your wardrobe, which might be with jewelry, accessories or articles of clothing. Then notice how you feel throughout the day. If you find yourself staring at your closet and feeling lost, try turning to Pinterest to conjure up some inspiration.
“As a rule of thumb, blue tends to look good on most people,” Abrams says. “If you feel great wearing a little color, next time, add a little more. You’ll be surprised how the little shots of dopamine add up.”
Seek to wear what makes you look good externally and feel good internally. Showing up with your best self will kickstart your day in the right direction.
Photo by Svitlana Sokolova/Shutterstock.com