The psychology of fashion: Dopamine dressing, how outfits improve our mood

Many scientific studies show that the clothes we wear play a major role not only in how we feel but in how we behave. All the studies have highlighted that the colour and textures of our outfits can drive our mood.

Fortunately, the price of the outfits doesn't stand out as a key driver.

Dopamine dressing red for passion and love

The research

A study from the University of Hertfordshire found that what a woman wears depends on her emotional state. More than half of the women that took part in the study wore jeans when feeling depressed. Only a participant out of three would wear jeans when feeling happy.

The psychologists concluded that, given the strong link between clothing and mood state, we should put on clothes that we associate with happiness, even when feeling low.

The study suggests that ‘happy’ clothes, those that can make an individual feel good, have great cuts, are figure enhancing, and have bright and beautiful fabrics. Professor Pine, the researcher, pointed out that jeans often lack said qualities.

Dopamine dressing

Fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen, says we can use clothing to catalyze the dopamine spike, causing a positive effect on our mood. This is the “Dopamine dressing” effect.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter hormone, a chemical messenger that our body produces to allow the nervous system to send messages between nerve cells.

Dopamine gives you a sense of pleasure. It plays a role in how we feel and react to pleasure. Dopamine motivates us when we feel pleasure and influences how we think and plan as human beings. It affects how we behave and function.

The idea behind dopamine dressing is that what we wear can help release a rush of the hormone, stimulating our brain’s pleasure and reward centre. In short, it can make us feel happier and more satisfied.

What triggers the Dopamine effect?

As per the Hertfordshire study, most people’s “happy colours” are bright and saturated rather than neutral or cool-toned, many people's “dopamine dressing” is about wearing flashy outfits like neon yellow or Fuchsia.

Not every woman that took part in the study associated bright colours with happiness. Few of them have even linked Jeans with positive emotions. What does this mean? What works for one person may not work for another.

Dopamind dressing: go yellow for happiness
Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst

Fashion designer dictates the big trends every season. They dictate the colours, the fabrics and the design. What they define as beautiful might not make us happy.

To drive the dopamine dressing effect, we have to identify those elements that connect with our personality. Experimenting with how our mood reacts to colours and fabrics is key.

Colours and emotions

Colour psychology, a branch of colour theory, connects emotional and psychological significances between colours and emotions. Some of these connections are determined by how the brain works, while others are driven by our culture and personality.

As an example, in western culture, red represents excitement and love. In Chinese culture, it symbolises luck, joy, and happiness. The emotions driven by this colour may be different depending on whether the person is from Italy or China.

The jersey of our favourite team can also influence how we react to its colours.

Once again, the connection between colour and emotions has strong personal and cultural elements.

The picture below, summarise the emotions the basic colours are most likely to trigger.

Colour theory

Next time you wear some of these colours, try to notice if your mood is at least partially aligned with these emotions. If in the morning you feel sad, try to wear red to create some excitement. Or maybe some yellow to lift your happiness level. Is orange a better trick?

Don’t forget the texture

While colour is key to dopamine dressing, texture also plays a key role. The tactile effects of texture can affect the way you feel. Soft fabrics like flannel can put you in a comfy mood, while silk can make you feel sensual.

Try various combinations of fabrics and colours and see what can give you a dopamine boost.

Dress to impress (yourself)

Although younger generations may disagree, formal clothes have quite an impact on our behaviour. According to a study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2015, wearing formal clothing improves your capacity to focus and your cognitive processes from a conceptual and abstract point of view.

These elements are quite important for strategic decision-making.

World leaders and politicians do not wear formal clothes just to demand respect and to project professionalism, but for better decision making too.

Final thoughts

Science has shown us that how we feel can determine what we wear. Dopamine dressing, tell us we can work the other way around: use the colours and fabrics of our clothes to improve our emotions and sense of satisfaction.

Mind you, dopamine dressing can help, but is not the only contributing factor. To ensure full happiness and satisfaction, you need to look after yourself at 360 degrees, not just your clothes.

Outfits also drive how we perceive ourselves and the way we think. Business attire is a perfect example.

Although there are well-known studies on which colour triggers which emotions, our culture and personality play an important role. To know which clothes make us happier or more energetic, we need to try different combinations of colours and fabrics.

Cover photo by Matthew Henry from Burst