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The Power and Pleasure of Dopamine Dressing
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The Power and Pleasure of Dopamine Dressing

We're looking to our closets for joy, self-expression, and control.

To say that the pandemic has changed our lives would be a severe understatement. Almost every aspect of our existence has been affected, including our fashion choices. The start of the pandemic brought nap dresses, soft pants, and dressing for Zoom meetings, it’s safe to say our collective wardrobe has gone through a transformation. As we get ready for our third pandemic summer, with most people finding themselves living between the variants, folks are getting dressed to go out or stay online, and they’re looking to their closets for joy, self-expression, and control.

What Is Dopamine Dressing

Dopamine dressing is dressing to boost your mood. By wearing a certain color, texture, or style, we can activate the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical our bodies make. The term was coined by fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen, dubbed "The Dress Doctor" by The New York Times, who wrote about optimizing mood through dress in her book Dress Your Best Life. At the start of the pandemic, Karen started looking for ways to naturally boost dopamine.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Dawnn Karen is a fashion psychologist and a psychologist professor at the Fashion Insitute of Technology. She is author of the book Dress Your Best Life.

“Dopamine can be released by doing other things. What about wearing something crazy, whimsical stuff that doesn’t match, polka dot or leopard print, tutus, or bright colors?” says Karen. She then renamed “mood enhancement dress” to “dopamine dressing”, and the term quickly took off. 

Two models collaged against a cloud background.

Design by Tiana Crispino

Dressing to Boost Your Mood

Dopamine dressing quickly became popular on TikTok and Instagram, where fashion accounts and influencers quickly embraced the trend. We can already see the effects of dopamine dressing in our current fashion trends: The cheerful Veri Peri was named the It color of 2022, accessories like opera gloves and feathers are plentiful on runways and TikTok alike, and trends including miniskirts, royalcore, and 2000s nostalgia are in full force. We are no longer dressing for occasion but to achieve a desired mood. The pandemic showed us that nothing in life is certain, so you might as well wear what you want.

Whitney Keefe, a style expert at Stitch Fix, has noticed an increase in requests for clothing with sequins, bold prints, and bright saturated colors. “We’re feeling nostalgic for the days of expressing ourselves through our wardrobe, so we’re amping it way up,” says Keefe. “Dopamine dressing is all about wearing what makes you feel good. For some people, that’s a certain fit or silhouette, and for others, it’s a particular color, print, or texture. For all of us, confidence comes when we feel our best."

Two models collaged against a cloud background.

Design by Tiana Crispino

Celebrating Your Unique Style

Dopamine dressing allows people to freely embrace their unique style, like Mary Higham, a personal shopper and stylist who found the trend relatable when she first heard it on TikTok. For years, Higham has felt that her style was a little “too much,” but now that she no longer works in an office, she feels more comfortable dressing to her taste.

"It’s extremely relevant to my personal style and style philosophy,” says Higham when talking about the trend. “Fashion should be fun and joyous, and I think you should love what you’re wearing. The last few years have been so chaotic for us all, so finding joy or mood boosts in your clothing seems only natural."

With so many ways to interact with dopamine dressing, finding out what colors, textures, and outfits can feel overwhelming. How do you know when to start? After talking to our three experts, here are some tips on trying dopamine dressing.

How to Dopamine Dress

Three models collaged against a cloud backgroudn.

Design by Tiana Crispino

  • Determine How You Feel: Dopamine dressing is about dressing for the mood that you want to create, so the first step is to think about the mood you want to have. Dr. Karen suggests spending the first moments of your day thinking about how you feel and the colors, textures, and prints that make you happy. Then, wear it. “Pre-pandemic, we were on autopilot. No one really knew how they felt until they got really, really upset or really, really sad or really, really happy. With the pandemic—you’re constantly in touch with yourself,” says Karen. Plus, it’s a better way to start the day than doom-scrolling.
  • Start With Your Closet: One of the most popular aspects of dopamine dressing is that you don’t have to buy anything new. Everything you need is most likely in your closet. You don’t need to buy a whole new wardrobe to feel happy. “Look at the pieces you continually gravitate toward, ask yourself what they have in common, and then double down on those attributes,” says Keefe. So if you find yourself drawn to red dresses or heels, wear them more often.
  • Gain Inspiration From Your Feed: If you’re constantly scrolling through the fashion side of Instagram and TikTok, take note of the posts you see and the videos you watch. What aesthetics make you hit the “like” button? Even watching videos on dopamine dressing can give you a boost of inspiration. “It’s so interesting to see how social media has accelerated and defined so many fashion movements and has brought people together to collaborate and inspire,” says Higham. Creating a fashion mood board can help you discover your aesthetic. 
  • Use Color Therapy: Color therapy or chromotherapy has been used for centuries to help balance the body’s energy and even heal physical and mental health. While it has been shown that certain colors bring out certain emotions, our personal feelings toward color are highly subjective. For Higham, pink is a neutral color, while Dr. Karen loves leopard print, so it’s important to dress in colors that make you happy, regardless of trends. 
  • Experiment with Texture: While color is important to dopamine dressing, texture plays an important role, especially as multiple textures become popular in mainstream fashion. Fabrics like tulle, velvet, and crochet are becoming increasingly popular. Playing with texture, especially in a way you haven’t experimented with before, can give you a dopamine boost. Highman recommends mixing and matching pieces to create a fun style. Texture can also affect how you’re feeling, as Karen noted.
  • Take It One Piece at a Time: Like any trend, it’s best to take it one piece at a time, especially if you aren’t sure where to start. “When I’m putting together an outfit, I like to start with one piece—it might be a dress, or a pair of shoes, or even an accessory—and build the look around that,” says Highman. She suggests picking a statement accessory that you love and dressing around that. If you have a necklace you love but you feel like it’s too much of a “special occasion” piece, create the occasion.

At its core, dopamine dressing encourages us to feel good about our style. It helps us get pleasure from wearing what we truly love, as opposed to mindlessly buying something or getting likes on an Instagram post. “Let’s find joy wherever we can,” encourages Higham, “even if that’s in wearing a fun outfit."

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