How to Dress for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Woman wearing a fur-lined pink coat and pink sunglasses during NYFW in Feb. 2022.

Jeremy Moeller / Getty Images

Winter is officially upon us, everyone. And with the new season brings on seasonal changes: Shorter days, longer nights, and colder weather. And while some people are excited for sweater weather and the holiday season, others find that the change in weather can bring out certain emotional changes, including moodiness, lack of interest in going out and socializing, loneliness, and just general anxiety. If the fall and winter seasons aren’t the most wonderful time of the year for you, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly abbreviated to SAD. If the winter blues are getting you down, you may find some relief in your wardrobe.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression caused by the changing of the season, usually starting around the same time every year. This is different from other forms of depression as it’s related to the changing of the season, and symptoms usually subside once the season change again. However, someone who has clinical depression can also have SAD with symptoms worsening at certain times of the year.

While many people can get a little blue when the seasons change, SAD is a serious disorder. Symptoms including oversleeping, social withdrawal or “hibernating”, low energy, listlessness, difficulty concentrating, and feeling of hopelessness that could interfere with daily life. While SAD often occurs during the fall and winter, some may experience SAD in the summer where insomnia, anxiety, and irritability are common symptoms.

SAD is often treated with light therapy, talk therapy, and medication, but you can also try lessening your symptoms by looking into your closet.

Mood Enhancement Dressing 

Dopamine dressing had taken TikTok and the fashion community by storm earlier this year as people were dressing to improve their mood by using bright colors and patterns to boost their mood. The term, also called mood enhancement dress, was coined by fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen, who wrote about dopamine dressing in her book Dress Your Best Life. Mood enhancement dressing is a way to boost your mood and create dopamine by wearing certain things. This is not a replacement for therapy or medicine, but it can help ease the effects of SAD.

Meet the Expert

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

“Fashion psychology is all about creating an alignment between the internal and the external. Between the attitude and the attire,” says Karen.

Karen gives Byrdie her tips on how to beat those winter blues.

Wear Your Summer Favorites 

There’s a lot of hype for sweater weather, but if you find it hard to swap out your favorite shorts and sundresses for long-sleeves and booties, Karen says you don’t need to put your summer favorites away for the season.

“Rule number one: Don't shove your summer stuff in the drawer, try to incorporate them into your winter wardrobe. Try to wear something summery at least once a week,” recommends Karen. Find ways to mix and match your summer favorites with some of the winter wardrobe: A sundress over a long-sleeve bodysuit, your favorite shorts with a sweater, and tights. Adding a little summer sunshine to your look can remind you that warmer days will be here before you know it.

Color Is Your Friend 

With the gloomier days and the long nights, most of us shift to darker colors during the fall and winter months. While black is a classic color, it may not boost your mood unless you're Wednesday Addams. Color has often been linked to our moods as certain colors make us feel certain emotion. Karen suggests using color to boost our moods as we head into winter.

“Incorporate more colors, bright colors," she says. "Don't wait until the sunlight comes to bring sunshine into your life with your clothes.”

Karen suggests wearing colors like yellow and white, as yellow is associated with hope, joy, and happiness, while white is associated with clarity, hope, and openness. However, if you aren't a big fan of bright whites or yellows, Karen suggests starting small with things like white boots or a yellow handbag. She also encourages wearing red (passion, excitement) or green (nature, freshness) to boost your mood.

However, Karen stresses the importance of finding the color that makes you feel happy. “Before winter comes determine your go-to color because that’s your happy color."

Get Playful and Experiment 

Sometimes what you need to get out of winter funk is to get a little playful and try something new. One of the depressing parts about winter is the feeling of sameness. However, you can mix things up and play with your outfits, and pair things you normally wouldn’t put together. If you don’t like it, you can always cover it up with a coat.

“I'm giving you permission, as your fashion psychologist, to wear prints, to wear textures, to wear bright colors in the winter," says Karen. "Do what you have to do to uplift your emotions to activate that dopamine."

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Seasonal affective disorder. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

  2. Melrose S. Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depress Res Treat. 2015;2015:178564.

  3. Elliot AJ. Color and psychological functioning: a review of theoretical and empirical work. Front Psychol. 2015;6:368.

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