Can you dress yourself happy? That’s what the practice of dopamine dressing suggests. As the name suggests, dopamine dressing is a way to increase the “happy hormone” — all by using clothes already in your wardrobe. It’s not exactly a new trend, per se, being featured in Grazia and The Guardian in 2017, but it’s one that’s seeing renewed prominence as we struggle with our mental health throughout the pandemic — especially those in lockdown (thinking of you, Melbourne), who are sick of their sweats.
In fact, it’s something I’ve used as an extra coping mechanism throughout my depression; I just never realised it had a name. It’s a movement that fashion psychologists stand behind, including US fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen. Talking to Vogue, she says it’s about “dressing to best optimise your mood”. We so often focus on the internal when it comes to mood — journalling, meditation, being kinder to yourself — that we ignore how the external can help influence mood.
An oft-cited paper from 2012 delved into the idea of clothes ability to affect our thoughts — “enclothed cognition”. What did it find? That the psychological influence of clothes depends on who’s wearing them, and the symbolic meaning behind them.
If you’re averse to colour, don’t worry — dopamine dressing doesn’t mean wearing the cheeriest colours you can find. Unless, like me, that’s what you naturally gravitate towards.
According to behavioural psychologist Carolyn Mair, speaking to EVOKE, “Colours only have ‘meaning’ through socio-cultural association.” For some, black is funeral attire, and for others, it’s a slinky, sexy colour. “Any colour can lift our mood depending on the association we have with it and the expectation we have of the outcome of wearing it.”
So what should you wear? Well, the best — the most sustainable — option is to shop your wardrobe first. See if there are any garments in there that spark joy, as the wise Marie Kondo would say. And it doesn’t have to be an entire outfit that sparks joy — it could be as simple as a sustainable, ethically sourced piece of jewellery.
Most importantly, make sure it’s something that you’re comfortable in — both aesthetically and physically. How are you going to be happy wearing something that cuts you in awkward places?