As lockdown starts to ease and we emerge from a very difficult year, a new sartorial trend is taking over: dopamine dressing. Dopamine dressing is the trend of dressing in bright colours to optimise your current mood.
It seems perfectly natural that many of us have embraced more colour into our wardrobes as we emerge out of lockdown and this is certainly what we have seen designers embrace on the catwalks, think – Versace, Valentino and Molly Goddard SS21…
Pak Chiu, Psychology Specialist working in fashion and Founder of the first fashion psychology magazine, Hajinksy, describes the fashion trend as “taking a trip down your own memory lane, figuring out the particular clothes — be it the shapes, styles, functions, stories, and dare I say colours — that make you feel good. And now bring this back and do more of it!”
To understand the concept of dopamine dressing, it is first important to grasp the basics of dopamine. Dopamine is one of the “happy hormones”, an important chemical made in the brain, with many functions: it is involved in reward, motivation, memory, and attention. When dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward which motivates us to repeat a specific behaviour.
So, how are our fashion choices and dopamine linked? In theory, the rich sensory input (colour, shape, texture) of clothes makes your brain zing and boosts dopamine, much like other things that make you feel good. This specific behaviour could include the feelings we have when we buy or wear new clothes.
“To an extent, dopamine dressing is a self-fulfilling prophecy,’’ explains Joanna Karamanis, Fashion Psychologist and Founder of The Fashion Psychology. “Dopamine dressing is, without doubt, a fact since clothing’s mood-enhancing power stems from the wearer rather than the colour or the clothing itself.”
Still sceptical? There’s research to back up this fashion theory.
A 2012 paper by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, discovered that when experiment participants were asked to wear clothing imbued with symbolic meaning, i.e. a doctor’s coat, their perceived confidence levels and ability to complete tasks could increase.
The study determined that clothing could have a direct impact on their psychological process. When we wear specific clothes, their associations have the power to change the way we feel and even change the way we act.
However, “there is no one rule that fits all,” says Joanna Karamanis when it comes to the dopamine dressing trend. “Individuals should focus on the colours that make them feel good through past associations to get a dopamine boost,” she suggests instead.
Image courtesy of Janka Polliani
Norwegian Fashion Influencer and Stylist, Janka Polliani, has embraced the dopamine dressing trend agreeing that “colours definitely boost your confidence”.
Polliani, along with other international Influencers including; Giada and Enrica Albani, Nina Sandbech, Emili Sindlev and Aureta, have wholeheartedly embraced the trend, showing off their bright outfits on Instagram and gaining millions of likes per post. Model best friends Hailey Beiber and Kendall Jenner have also been seen sporting Dopamine dressing inspired outfits.
“I was recently told about the dopamine dressing – I didn’t know it was a phrase – but I totally get why it’s called that. I get in such a better mood when I dress in colours, all black simply doesn’t work for me,” she says.
Polliani, who describes her style as “playful and colourful with a feminine touch”, loves to dress colourfully because “you stand out in every crowd and I always get a lot of compliments for daring to stand out. I’m thinking why not!”
Positive responses are the main reason dopamine dressing works. Fashion psychologist, Karamanis clarifies: “Colour matters insofar as the meaning we attribute to it and to the degree in which we believe in its powers but also the degree to which we’ve received positive responses which have made us feel good.”
But, no one colour can influence everybody’s mood, confidence or happiness. Our confidence is linked more so to the symbolism of the clothes we are wearing rather than the colours.
“Extensive research has shown that red and black are associated with higher levels of attraction. However, interestingly the relationship between clothing colour and attractiveness was also found in studies when colour was removed from participants rating others on attractiveness”
“Such studies show that if someone believes that the colour red makes them more attractive, and they actually feel more attractive they will be perceived as more attractive by others,” says the Fashion Psychologist.
Image courtesy of Aureta / Kendal Jenner pictured leaving Brit Awards after party 2020
The best way to think about dopamine dressing is in relation to personal, rather than universal, associations. Some interpretations of colours that are universal include; cold colours like blue induce feelings of calmness and creativity, while warm colours like red can cause feelings of excitement and arousal.
“There are also metaphors, and general rules we commonly use in language which associate colours with specific behaviours,” explains Joanna Karamanis. “For example; “seeing red”, “green with envy”, “feeling blue” which can often form a basis for triggering a specific behavioural response.”
“Since I was young, I’ve been a bit of an outsider,” explains Psychology specialist, Chiu. “Navigating between different western cities and cultures (UK, London, and now Amsterdam), I noticed the way I see colours in clothes was different to many people around me. I liked wearing yellow, but that would have made me stood out in the crowds of a post-industrial Sheffield where I lived; the common ‘uniform’ there being navy, black and greys”
“Equally, my roots in Hong Kong have taught me that yellow was a lucky colour; a strange and bizarre concept to most western thinking, let alone the yen for wearing something lucky. And now comes my point, a certain colour may boost a moment of happiness but it’s down to the personal meaning and the socio-cultural symbols that are attached to it.”
The link between colour and emotions is tricky because cultural interpretations of colour impact the emotions that arise when wearing them. The extent to which a particular colour can do so for a particular person is a consequence of context, culture and circumstances; that is of each individual’s environment and experiences.
“Oh, how I hate to be a buzzkill… I also wish the problems we faced last year could be solved simply by wearing colours. But, colour is such a unique experience that wearing one speific colour would not mean a rush of happiness – as the popular idea of dopamine dressing entails,” says Pak Chiu.
Instead, to gain confidence through your wardrobe, Chiu suggests: “Go through your stories, wardrobes, your posts and images and see what elements of clothes or fashion have made you feel good. When you find them, it’s time to do more of it.”
Following a year of lockdown, it is not surprising that consumers are interested in all things that bring sensory pleasure. Ultimately, dopamine dressing is whatever makes you feel good. The most important thing is to have fun with it.
Cover image courtesy of Nina Sandbech