Fashion has always been a form of self-expression.
But it took on a whole new meaning when many of us traded our everyday styles for loungewear (ahem, the same trusty pair of gray sweats).
Fashion psychologist Dr. Dawnn Karen, dubbed “The Dress Doctor” by The New York Times, coined the term in her book, “Dress Your Best Life.” So, what is it exactly? Like the name suggests, dopamine dressing (also called “mood enhancement dressing”) releases a rush of the feel-good neurotransmitter, aka “happy hormones.”
The connection between clothing and emotional well-being isn’t anything new. A 2012 study published by University of Hertfordshire Press found a strong link between clothing and mood, suggesting that people should wear certain clothes — brightly-colored accessories or pieces with heartwarming backstories, for example — to lift their mood.
The pandemic put everything into question and as a result, Karen found herself asking clients if they actually dress for themselves or the world around them. “Typically, we’re dressing for external factors — the weather, other people, special events. During the pandemic, there was a shift that occurred. Since no one was around to tell you what to wear, you gave yourself permission to find styles that make you happy,” Karen told TODAY.
The result: People are now dressing loud and proud. “This isn’t medicine by any means, but I’ve seen people who are normally very shy put on a colorful outfit and become fierce, fabulous and free.” The same goes for people who never felt comfortable to fully express themselves at home or work, for one reason or another. “Their whole mood shifts when they wear clothes that represent who they really are.”
Dopamine dressing isn’t one-size-fits-all, though. Although Karen leans toward purples, leopard prints and bold monochromatics, she makes it clear that colors, patterns and textures elicit different emotions for different people.
Her suggestion for embarking on your own experiment with dopamine dressing: “Think back to your childhood.” Once you can picture a moment when you felt happiest, search your closet for a similar outfit to mimic the feeling.
Some colors appear to be more universal, as reflected in Pinterest’s findings. Searches for “vibrant outfits” are up 16X in 2022 compared to 2021, and more people are eyeing fuchsia, electric blue and rainbow fashions than year’s past.
According to Marta Topran, Creator Management Lead of Fashion & Beauty at Pinterest, this trend of “feel-good fits with an electric kick” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “In summer, searches for colorful outfits and bright colors continue to increase,” Topran told TODAY.
If you’re afraid of going all out with varying colors, patterns and textures, take a cue from Pinterest creator Caroline Vazzana and start with statement accessories. “Add a bold shoe or bag to start, then venture into clothing,” she told TODAY.
No matter how bold and bright you decide to go, Vazzana and Karen agree that your outfit should always make you look and feel good — literally. And if it doesn't, head back to your closet and try again.