Dopamine Dressing – How the right colours can lift your mood (not necessarily bright colours)

A spectrum of bright dopamine inducing colours

Dopamine dressing is not a new concept, but it has come to greater prominence during the pandemic when, let’s face it we have all been grappling for anything to cheer us up. It’s a fashion trend that looks set to continue into 2022. So what is dopamine dressing and why has it become so popular?

What is dopamine and how do bright colours affect us?

Let’s start at the very beginning, what actually is dopamine and how does wearing, or surrounding ourself with, bright colours affect us? And do we indeed need to wear bright colours for a dopamine hit?

What is dopamine?

a woman sits looking towards the sunset, with a red dress fanned out around her
Many people associate red with power and happiness

The simplest explanation of dopamine is that it is “a chemical released in the brain that makes you feel good”. Having the right amount of dopamine is important both for your body and your brain. Dopamine helps nerve cells to send messages to each other. It’s produced by a group of nerve cells in the middle of the brain and sends out messages to other parts of the brain. Source: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dopamine#

There are many sources of dopamine, some of which we can overdose on in an unhealthy way; alcohol, food and gambling being some triggers. But dopamine is incredibly important so why not use the healthy option of dopamine dressing – wearing vibrant colours.

Why is dopamine important? If we have too little dopamine it can lead to depression and lack of pleasure in life. On the other hand too much dopamine is linked to ADHD and addictions. Interestingly in Parkinson’s disease the nerve cells that produce dopamine gradually die leading to muscle stiffness and difficulties with movement. There is no doubt dopamine is important to our mental and physical health.

how do bright colours affect us; DOPAMINE DRESSING 101

a woman leans forward wearing a yellow shsirt and blue jeans
Yellow is a joyful colour and there is a hue for everyone

Wearing bright colours can definitely positively impact our mood by providing a dopamine boost. Dopamine dressing is not new but during the pandemic many of us have sought whatever dopamine sources we could as an antidote to the energy sapping fear and uncertainty we have been living with. As we entered 2022 with new year hopes for greater freedoms and less health concerns, a dose of dopamine induced confidence is still being sought by many.

There is a lot of science behind the positivity of wearing bright colours, perhaps the major body of work being that by psychologist Karen Pine, which she writes about in her book “MInd what you wear; the psychology of fashion“.

Before I go on, let me clarify that I am not talking about ‘having your colours done’. I had my colours done years ago and whilst it was fun at the time it is no longer something I subscribe to. I’m also not talking about dressing from head to toe in red or orange or hot pink. If you love it wear it, but for many of us the move to dopamine dressing can be more subtle and just as effective. There’s a caveat here from me, are bright colours the right colours for you or is it the colours that you feel good in? What will create dopamine for you?

So what colours to choose? My totally non scientific answer is to wear what makes me feel good; the colours that give me a lift. And of course colours come in tints, tones and shades. We may have been taught that blue is a calming colour and great for our bedroom walls. That is of course true, but there are also bright blues which make a definitive statement and are definite mood lifters, both for the wearer and those around them. Similarly with greens which can range from a soft leaf green to an acid green, the latter providing a definite mood lift.

Reds, pinks and oranges are all considered mood lifters too. But what if you don’t want to be overly dramatic? And I am definitely not suggesting anyone throw out all their clothes and start again. Following are my tips for adding more colour to your wardrobe.

Getting started with dopamine dressing

Find out what works for you

a woman stands against a white wall, near a rack of clothing, wearing bright colours
Pops of red are guaranteed to deliver a dopamine hit

If dopamine is the feel good chemical then it makes sense to wear what makes you feel good – and that applies to more than colour. Surprising as it may seem, for some women wearing black makes them feel good – and why not black often looks chic. I for one love to wear black but these days you will often find me teaming it with colourful, rather than neutral, accessories, and with a red lip.

  • Have a look in your wardrobe – what colours do you find there and how do they make you feel? When I did this exercise I found an overwhelming number of blue pieces; conservative and rather boring. Don’t get me wrong I love a blue garment but I definitely wanted to bring more variety to my wardrobe. This is a work in progress for me – I am still drawn to blue garments whenever I walk into a store, it’s safe and dependable. But these days I choose to look at what other colours are in store and I try them on. A look in the mirror will instantly tell me whether or not a colour lights up my face, or not. It will do the same for you.
  • Enlist the help of a trusted friend, one who will gently take you out of your comfort zone but not to the point of pain. One of the things I love about modelling for clothing brands is that I often get to wear clothes that I wouldn’t necessariy choose in store. This has caused me to broaden my choices and try new colours. Note too that as we age, and particularly if we go grey, we can wear different colours, give them a try.
  • Don’t dismiss a colour out of hand – remember that colours come in different tones and shades. For example I don’t tend to wear mustard near my face, but I will happily wear it in pants whereas I will readily choose a clear yellow to wear on top. Similarly I am not drawn to brown, but bronze looks good on me.
  • Choose accessories that will add a pop to your outfit and allow you to play with colours in a way that seems safe if you are feeling your way into this.
  • Take the time to play in your wardrobe. The change of season is a great opportunity to do a wardrobe audit. In early spring and early autumn you will find me taking items out of my wardrobe, trying them on and checking in with myself to see how they look and how they make me feel. I do this slowly, it may take me a few weeks, and at the end of the period I am sure to have a few pieces that no longer make me feel great and are put aside to head to a new owner, usually via a local charity.

I hope these tips help you to refine your wardrobe to one that makes you feel good every day. For some more on dopamine dressing

More on why you should step out looking your best ; Don’t be invisible

a rack of bright clothing and shoes
I plan my week’s outfits and make sure to include plenty of colour

Retiring not Shy!