What Happened When I Tried Dopamine Dressing For a Week

I love fashion, but I’m not one for following trends. While I’m still uncovering my signature style, I’m conscious of how my ideas about clothes have changed – especially since working from home full-time.

The time I used to spend putting together the perfect outfit for the office is now spent throwing on the same yoga pants and oversized jumper I wore yesterday.

I’ve recently seen my wardrobe of coveted clothing and lament the fact I never really get ‘dressed’ anymore. 

There have been plenty of reasons to feel lethargic in the past two years, but I wondered whether the loss of this part of my identity – the part that used to love getting dressed in the morning – was partly connected to my ongoing low moods.

Seeking to understand this further, I began researching the concept of fashion and identity and came across some interesting results. Not least, the idea of dopamine dressing.

What is dopamine dressing?

Dopamine dressing isn’t a new concept. It’s been talked about for a few years now, but it’s still worth revisiting.

The basis is simple: when we wear clothing that makes us feel happy or joyful, it automatically boosts our mood – our dopamine – and we genuinely feel more positive. 

But this doesn’t just mean wearing yellow or orange or some other bold, bright color. If those colors don’t bring you joy, they will have the opposite effect on your mood!

Dopamine dressing is about finding clothing that speaks to your innate sense of happiness. Color is a part of this, but only if color makes you happy. If you equally find joy in an exquisitely cut black silk shirt, a dream vintage dress, or a pair of high-waisted jeans that accentuate what your mama gave you – that counts too.

The idea of dopamine dressing hit home for me when I discovered Lucy Litman on Instagram. Litman has an enviable wardrobe of fun, iconic pieces that she regularly plays with and showcases on her feed. One of my favorite series she does is using household items – like wine bottles or cheese – to base her outfit ideas on. It’s a little bit eccentric and outrageously fun! 

Seeing how much delight Litman gets from her fashion escapades is a fresh dopamine hit!

Is there any science behind it?

Dopamine dressing might sound a little pseudo-psychology, but there’s real merit to using the way we dress to boost and influence our mood.

Color therapy dates back to ancient Egypt and has already been implemented across other design sectors such as interior and environmental design. Color theory is huge within the art world and implemented in various creative outputs, including film and theatre, to create a certain mood or audience reaction.

Dopamine is one of the so-called ‘happy hormones,’ and research has shown that we feel down when we have low dopamine levels. When we do things that boost our dopamine levels, we feel more confident, empowered, happy, and productive.

Professor Karen Pine, a UK-based developmental psychologist who has focused some of her research on fashion psychology, investigated dopamine dressing in a 2012 study. She found that their perceived confidence increased when participants wore clothes of symbolic value to them. 

She also found that when participants are experiencing a low mood, they tend to reach for clothes that match this mood (jeans and baggy tops being quite typical amongst women. 

Pine suggests that knowing how we dress and our mood are interconnected can help us to ‘hack’ our way to feeling more empowered through consciously choosing our clothes.

Five things I learned from trying dopamine dressing

With all this information stored safely in my brain, I decided to trial dopamine dressing for myself. 

It was a little more challenging than I initially expected, having not thought about how I dress for months!

After seven days, I began to notice some benefits:

1. Even tiny accessories can have a significant impact.

At first, I saw dopamine dressing as ‘the full outfit,’ but I realized it didn’t have to be. When my partner and I traveled before the pandemic, I tended to collect silk scarves from the various cities we visited. They’re in beautiful, bright prints, and I used them to tie my hair back. 

So, I started doing the same thing again while at home. 

Adding this simple piece to my outfits elevated my mood and took me back to all the little stalls and side-street stores where I found the scarves.

2. Comfort and dopamine can go hand-in-hand.

I’m unashamed to admit I’ve gained a few so-called COVID kilos, but while it hasn’t bothered me too much, it has limited some of my wardrobe options. Working from home all day also means I need to feel comfortable, and my yoga pants offer this. 

But instead of the same baggy t-shirts of woolly jumpers I’ve been living in, I’ve been reaching for a tailored shirt or a more fitted t-shirt with one of my (many) funky, tailored blazers. 

I’ve felt comfortable and confident – a double win!

3. It’s an excellent exercise for a wardrobe clearout.

Working through my wardrobe to find the pieces that offered the hit of dopamine I was coveting helped me to see my clothes in a new light. 

There were more than a few pieces I’ve been holding onto despite them not fitting or suiting me. Some of these pieces were simply reminders of a past version of me, one I no longer need to hold onto.

Having a fresh wardrobe clearout gave me a fresh wave of dopamine.

4. People definitely notice.

Feeling more confident meant I was content to have my camera on more during my daily Zoom meetings. 

I’ve received more compliments on some of my outfit choices, which has also helped to boost my mood. Not that we should dress for other people or secure compliments, but it’s not a bad thing!

5. Dopamine dressing doesn’t have to be limited to ourselves.

Taking the ethos that dopamine dressing is about dressing in ways that make you happy, I’ve found other ways to incorporate this into my day.

My dachshund pup is my trusty sidekick, and cheesy as it may sound, we have matching jumpers and a matching coat. I’ve received many eye-rolls about this, but you know what? It makes me happy, so I’ve been leaning into it more.

I’ve also been sneaking in a little bit of color matching; whether it’s my sneakers or scarf, whatever color harness he’s wearing, you can be sure that we’re finding ways to match.

How to dopamine dress for yourself

The great thing about dopamine dressing is there are no hard and fast rules – it’s all about what makes you happy.

My best advice is to find the intersection of comfort and joy – these are the pieces that you’ll feel great in. 

When you feel great, others pick up on your vibe, and it becomes a lovely self-perpetuating loop to keep those dopamine levels high.