My friend Liz recently sent me an article she thought I would be interested in reading. All about something called “dopamine dressing.” Have you heard that term? I read about it a while ago, but I thought it was just a fun term made up by the writer whose article I was reading at the time. I remember thinking with a chuckle: “Yep. My clothes are pure dopamine for me.” In fact, I think I have a dopamine closet. The pieces in my wardrobe were chosen not only to flatter me, hopefully, but also to make me feel good. Like the best Sue I can be.

Dressing for my happiness

According to Harvard Health and WebMD, dopamine, often called “the happiness boosting hormone,” is part of our brain’s “reward system” and “plays a role in how we feel pleasure.” After reading the article Liz sent me, I now realize that wearing clothes I love makes me feel so darned good because wearing them gives me a boost of dopamine.

The article “Dopamine Dressing: How to Dress for Your Happiness in 2022” by Lo Styx in the on-line journal Very Well Mind, defines dopamine dressing as “dressing in a way that brings you joy and boosts your mood.” We are affected by the colour, style, and texture of our clothes, and the “psychological associations” they conjure.

Styx says researchers, including Karen Pine who wrote the book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, call the practice of wearing what makes us feel good “enclothed cognition.” Apparently, feeling good in our clothes is not only about wearing what makes us look good. Researchers say that “what we wear affects how we feel so much that it can distort and determine our thoughts and judgments” and even affect our performance. That’s because dopamine is also connected to “our ability to think and plan” and “helps us to strive, focus, and find things interesting.”

Let’s unpack that a little, shall we?

“Dopamine dressing” is purported to be about wearing what makes us happiest. For me that means the style and fit of my clothes have to be just right. I like to look current, but not at the expense of wearing something that doesn’t suit my body. I gravitate toward certain styles because I know they look good on me and thus they make me feel good. That’s often why I hang onto quality pieces that still fit and which I still love. I know that I can haul them out of my closet even years later, restyle them in a modern way, and feel great.

Blazers have been big in my closet since I was a teenager. In fact I remember my first ever blazer, bought when I was fifteen. It was black corduroy and looked amazing with my faded jeans. I wore it with those jeans and a baby-blue turtleneck on my first date with my friend Debbie’s older brother on whom I had long had a huge crush. Sigh.

Blazers have always made me feel good. Spring, summer, or fall, blazers make me feel pulled together and chic, even when worn with distressed jeans. The Max Mara blazer below is part of a spring pant suit I bought at Holt Renfrew in 2002. When sharp-shoulders and full-legged pants went out of style, I packed the suit away and bided my time. No way was I going to get rid of that gem.

This is how I’ve been wearing my old suit since I hauled it out of storage and restyled it for a new decade, and my sixty-something-year-old body. I tossed the belt… I don’t do belted blazers anymore… tucked a sleeveless linen muscle-tank underneath the jacket, had the pants altered to accommodate my increased girth, and wore it with sneakers instead of dressy pumps. This outfit has been my go-to spring, sort-of-dressy look for a few years now.

This old suit actually makes me happier now than it did when I first bought it. The original wide fabric belt looked good, but wasn’t very comfortable and needed constant adjustment. I’m glad I tossed it. I much prefer the more casual look of an open jacket. And wearing the pants with sneakers instead of pumps was a revelation for me. So much more comfortable. My feet have never been as happy as they have been since sneakers became cool with just about everything.

So that’s another thing. To give me that dopamine boost, my clothes have to be comfortable and not require constant adjustment. I have to feel at home in them, as if they belong on me. I think we’ve all worn clothes that fit and look good, but don’t make us feel good. As if we’re playing dress-up in someone else’s closet. I still chuckle when I remember an afternoon in Liz’s dressing room at Nordstrom. We looked at the lovely blouse I was wearing and both said, “Nope.” The old Sue would have worn that, but not the new Sue. Not the retired, more relaxed, less serious Sue.

My dopamine closet has long been culled of my former business wear. Work dresses that are easily identified as work dresses. Pants that can’t be worn with sneakers. But not blazers. Because, as I said, blazers make me happy. And they can be worn with just about anything.

A wardrobe hero since 2002.

Lately I’ve been playing around with wearing some of my other navy and white pieces with my navy Max Mara pants. Navy and white for spring has always made me happy, ever since I longed for a navy and white spring coat back in grade school. When my mum finally bought one for me, I thought I was the best-dressed girl on the playground. Navy and white is so fresh looking. And it triggers fond memories. Plus navy looks good with my cool colouring and, these days, with my white hair.

Not sure that the outfits below trigger a dopamine boost, though. I much prefer that striped top from COS with my white jeans and my Birkenstock-style sandals. An outfit I wore to my book club brunch last Sunday and which made me feel like a million bucks. And I have lots of other ways to wear my white Theory blazer that make my heart sing. In fact, last year, when I tried to restyle an old white Lida Baday jacket, I found that each outfit looked way better with the newer white jacket. So I donated the old one. If the Lida Baday jacket wasn’t going to make me as happy as this Theory one, no point in keeping it.

Maybe, maybe not.

In the shot below, I’m wearing the blue and white striped, oversized shirt I bought recently at Nordstrom. For an easy, throw-on, running-errands outfit I love the shirt worn loose out over my white Frame jeans. White jeans in various forms have been my good friends since the seventies. We have history.

White jeans are a summer staple for me.

White jeans have psychological associations for me. If my dopamine closet is to be filled with pieces that make me happy then it must include a pair of white jeans. My body has changed (d’uh) and so have the styles, but crisp white jeans mean summer to me.

Jeans in general are part of my style DNA. Maybe that’s because I was a teenager in the seventies when blue jeans were de rigueur. But I feel my best, and most like my true self, in a well fitting pair of jeans. Actually I think jeans and a blazer is kind of my signature look. Not always the same style of jeans, or the same colour, and not always the same kind of jacket. Sometimes worn with boots and a scarf. Sometimes with a tee shirt and sandals. Or an oversized shirt like I’m trying here. The loosely, half-tucked shirt is a new-ish thing for me. I love the way it looks. And the blousy half-tuck helps to disguise my burgeoning middle.

Jeans + jacket + sandals= dopamine boost

Sometimes I think that old Wonder Bra advertisement from the seventies was written for me: “When I look good, I feel good.” And “good” for me means that my clothes fit me properly, are comfortable, and feel modern, even if they’re not new. And they make me feel like me. Even if the “me” I am today is not the same “me” as I was twenty years ago. Lots of pieces have come and gone from my closet in the past twenty years. But jeans are a constant. Nothing makes me feel as good as a great fitting pair of jeans.

This new red chore jacket makes me happy.

In her article on dopamine dressing, Lo Styx quotes psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo who says that in order to master the art of dopamine dressing we need to understand how our clothes make us feel. To do that she suggests keeping a clothing diary. Kind of like a food diary. We should keep track of outfits we wear and how they make us feel. That way we can identify what specific aspects of our clothing make us feel good. Which pieces in our closet make us feel like our best selves, and which ones don’t.

I think a clothing diary is a great idea. But what does one do with that diary? It’s just a record of what we wore, and how we felt. How will it help us turn a closet mish mash into a cohesive “dopamine closet?”

Well, if your closet is a mish mash, here’s what I’d do.

First, look for patterns. What are the elements you see time and again in the outfits which make you feel good? What style of jacket, what length of pants, what colours? Take photos. You can record how you feel in writing, but if fit and style are responsible for your emotional response, photos will help you analyze specific elements. These are the elements you need to keep in mind when you are shopping.

Then do a closet edit a la Allison Bornstein. Separate what Allison calls your “closet regulars,” the pieces you wear a lot and which make you feel happy, from those that don’t.

If a piece doesn’t feel good because it doesn’t fit, or it isn’t comfortable, or doesn’t suit your body or your lifestyle anymore, it will never bring happiness. Give it away or sell it. But if you’re not wearing something because you don’t quite know how to wear it, what Bornstein calls a “maybe” piece, try styling it with your happy pieces.

If you can style it differently and feel good in the outfit, keep it. If you never for whatever reason feel comfortable in a piece then jettison it. Give it away or sell it, but pass it on to someone who might feel great in it. I did this a couple of years ago and it helped me weed out the final few pieces in my closet that were giving me grief.

I’ve always edited my closet. And I’ve always shopped carefully with a list of what I own, and what I want or need. But I credit Allison with showing me the final step to achieve wardrobe cohesion. And as you know, because I talk about it ad nauseam, my cohesive closet makes me happy.

My “Trixie Belden” look.

I find the discussion of “dopamine dressing” interesting. But I’ve always known that when I feel good in my clothes, I am much happier. And according to psychologists, if I’m happy in my clothes, I’ll be more creative and more productive.

Now THAT I did not know, although it doesn’t surprise me. I mean, who among us has not had a bad day at work because the day started off with wearing totally the wrong outfit. Here I thought it was just me being shallow, when all along it was psychology. Ha.

Of course your definition of dopamine dressing might be quite different from mine. Your dopamine closet filled with pieces that make you happy might look quite different from mine. Definitely will, in fact. We all have different bodies, different preferences, different histories. You might hate white jeans, and love linen trousers. That’s your prerogative. You should wear what you want, not what others tell you to wear. As Elizabeth Lombardo says “the freedom that comes with dressing for you, the way you really want to, is a dopamine trigger in itself.”

But let’s be clear, my friends. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that what you wear doesn’t matter. Because it most certainly does.

Now it’s your turn my fashion friends. Finally. This has been a long post. And even longer getting published what with the big storm we had on Saturday, power outages one after the other, and then twenty-four hours without internet or cell phone service. So tell us, what are a couple of elements of your dopamine closet?

Here are some links to a few of my favourite pieces shown in this post. These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a commission which helps to pay for the blog. COS oversized striped top. Theory white blazer (similar.) Vince navy V-neck cashmere sweater. Nordstrom Signature oversized striped shirt. Frame straight-leg, white jeans. Frame high-waisted, straight-leg jeans. Stan Smith sneakers. Cotton chore jacket similar to mine. Everlane cut-away tank.

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42 thoughts on “My Dopamine Closet”

  1. Sue, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now but have never before commented. Your piece today resonated on several levels. I’ve long seen others write about the need for clothes to bring joy, but this is the first time I’ve really seen it articulated in terms of brain chemistry. It makes so much sense. When I was working in the corporate world I thought of the clothes more in terms of the role I was playing on any given day and what energy they needed to get me through: giving a speech in front of scores of people = power suit; running an event = blazer over tank with cigarette pants and flats etc. Looking back now, I realise that this was probably associated with what Karen Pine terms ‘symbolic’ dressing. For me it was about my motivation and what my personal associations were with what was in my closet and the function I had to perform. Now, as a home-based freelance writer, I can’t say that I have the same connection with my creativity and the clothes I wear … it’s all about comfort these days. Thanks for giving me such a really great blog entry to mull over. Thanks also for the Trixie Belden reference; a personal favourite character of mine growing up.

    1. I used to wear power suits too, and felt wonderful in them… until I didn’t. Then I started splitting them up, pants with a sweater, jacket with jeans… then I got rid of the pants altogether when I retired. Almost like a time-lapse closet edit. 🙂

  2. Sorry to hear about your storm . I was a little concerned when you didn’t post & I’m glad you are both OK . It’s in our news reports this morning & sounds dreadful . We are on our first visit to Scotland since our major storm ‘Arwen’ last November & we are picking our way through many huge fallen trees on our walks . Do your storms have names too ?
    The Dopamine article is very interesting & I feel exactly the same as you , though I know many people feel differently . I worked with the forces at one time , surrounded by uniforms & some of my workmates said they would be happy to wear uniforms & not have to think what to wear each day . They laughed at my horror of being told to wear the same thing every day . I understand my horror more now .
    I’ve a photo of me at seventeen wearing a stone coloured combat jacket over a shortish frock . I wore that jacket to death & there’s usually been one in my wardrobe ever since . Currently there’s a light navy linen one for summer , a leaf green padded one for winter & a dark olive heavy cotton for between seasons . They dress up with a frock or floaty pleated skirt & down with denims or chinos . Chore jackets serve a similar function but I’ve always loved a good combat jacket .

    1. It was pretty bad in other areas of the city. Some people are going on for five days without power. We lost power for nine days during a big ice storm a few years ago. But apparently this one, although very brief, was more destructive. I think they name only “big events” like hurricanes etc. here. This one was nameless anyway. Re: uniforms. I remember friends who I met later in my twenties and thirties used to fall over laughing when I told them about my time in the Canadian Armed Forces. One friend imagined that when issued with my uniform I probably asked if they had it in another colour. Ha.
      P.S. I am a chore jacket convert!

  3. I share your blazer love and you made me suddenly recall the first blazer (aside from school versions, three of which I wore and rather loved) I ever bought in 1972. Huge lapels. Orange madras in big pattern. I absolutely loved it and wish I had kept it, simply to look at because it made me feel happy and was the epitome of British fashion back then. Wore it on my first ever date too, something else I hadn’t thought about for a very long time. Wearing clothes that totally fit the life you live. It is the holy grail. Jeans, sadly, cannot be part of the picture for me. Genetics, eh?

    1. Annie,
      I think I had the same blazer! Had forgotten all about it, but I loved the feel, soft almost seersucker like fabric. Thanks for the memory!

    1. Dear Sue, Dearly love this post. Your first date outfit with blazer and your Trixie Bleden outfits are absolute favorites. Understand about your storm, we got it before you in pur neck of the woods, power outages, no phone, no internet, no TV for 24 hours…back to old fashioned books. I was reading 60 year old Harlequins.

  4. Dopamine dressing article was such a great explanation about how clothing makes us feel!! Our clothing says a great deal about us when it’s really the clothing we’re comfortable in and lifts our confidence level!! Clothes have always made a difference to me!!!!

  5. What a terrific post!
    It took me nearly a lifetime to accept the importance of dopamine dressing, although I’ve never heard it called that until now. I spent my entire career wearing business suits or blazers and coordinated bottoms of some sort. I hated my clothes, I hated the way I looked, and all too often I hated my work. When I finally retired, I ditched the blazers and so-called “professional” attire, but I still didn’t have it entirely right. Finally, about five years ago, I decided to limit all future clothing purchases to various shades of blue and white. Bliss!!! Now, when I look in my closet, I love everything I see.
    The blue in my closet varies from navy to light blue, with some blue-green included. Once in a while, I let a touch of red slip in. Everything looks good together and makes me feel happy.
    In addition to blue, I love jeans and sneakers, but no blazers. They never feel right on my slightly asymmetrical body, no matter how much I spend on tailoring. Cardigans are so much better for me and I have them in all styles, from very casual to dressy. What happiness, and what a relief.
    Thank you for your insight, and for all your hard work.

  6. I was reading about the storm and had a feeling you were affected. Drought in Santa Cruz, CA – my stomping ground – storms in Ontario, weather is having her way with us. Love your insights about why personal style and happiness so often go hand in hand. It can be such a puzzle to “crack the code” of bringing them into alignment. Your fascination mirrors mine, and your musings light the path.

    1. Cracking the code is the most important step. Why does something NOT feel good. I have to be strict with myself about dressing the body and the life that I have now.

  7. I really enjoyed this post, Sue. Although I had never heard the term “Dopamine Dressing,” I was aware of the concepts. If we look good, we feel good. If we feel good, we are more productive and successful. Creativity comes into play. It makes perfect sense. I especially appreciate the way you dissected it for us – often we have an understanding of something, but when learning another’s perspective on it, a greater clarity begins to emerge. Thanks for taking the time to do this for us!

    1. It’s so obvious when we think about it. If we’re not worrying about or fussing over our clothes (something I’ve always done if I don’t like what I’m wearing) then we have so much more room in our head for other things.

  8. Margaretanne Clinton

    Sue ,
    This post is wonderful.
    I have to go on a “family type trip “ and dreaded packing.
    I Just copied 3 outfits from your ideas here with items in my closet. ! ( my mother always made us pack a funeral outfit , so copied your black suit idea. 😂)
    Your stripe button up shirt looks great on you, good choice there.
    And love the cos stripe one so much.
    Thanks for the work on this.
    Best ,
    Margaretanne

  9. I enjoyed your post. I am short and round – so a very different body type from you, but our tastes are not that different. I also love white jeans and navy and white together. I have two navy dresses – one a max mara – the other a Lafayette 148. I have had both for a few years, but they continue to look good. (I took one to Italy last fall. I wore it at a festival, and it helped me feel as well dressed as the other female speakers.
    But my true dopamine clothes are items from Johnny Was. I can’t resist the patterns of their silk blouses or their embroidered tunics. They don’t suit me the way max mara does; I don’t care. I say you can take the girl out of the sixties, but you can’t take the sixties out of the girl.

    1. I can see why Johnny Was clothing would be your dopamine clothing. Such beautiful colors and patterns! They are alive! I have a Johnny Was throw and I love it.

  10. There are certainly clothes that make me feel good to put on, or even just to look at in the closet and to get to more of that feeling, I have been weeding out more items that are just not ‘me’ anymore and feel much lighter in the process. I am on the hunt for a perfect blazer for my style and will be more particular in the process. I recently had my colours done for the final time with an excellent system, and am really pleased with the way everything actually harmonizes with all the others in the closet when I got rid of all the”what was I thinking” items.
    I thoroughly enjoy all of your closet and clothes musings. Oh, and yes another Trixie Beldon reader of years past.

    1. Getting rid of clothes that are hanging in our closet and making us feel guilty because we’re not wearing them is a “lightening” process. Good word.

  11. I know at so many levels I am affected by what I wear…by the feel, the colour, the texture, and the look of the things I wear. It’s also an ever changing feast, particularly since retirement. I love your looks. Thanks x
    PS I hope everything is ok after hearing about your storms.

  12. Living on the east coast of the U.S. I can sympathize and relate to storms, hurricanes and tornadoes. The Dopamine Closet, what a profound concept, but so true. Earlier in the year I was attempting to add color into my wardrobe because, well, others said I should. I really felt conspicuous wearing color-except for blue. I love and wear most shades of it. So, I’ve gone back to cool neutrals and feel so much more like myself. My home is the same way I like cool calm colors and to go against this, no matter the trend, feels off. Lastly, I love a blazer, too. An outfit consisting of jeans a shirt/sweater and a blazer is my security blanket of clothes. Unfortunately our summers are too hot and humid for them but as soon as cooler weather comes around I greet them like an old friend.

  13. I’ve always felt clothes are important as well as how we present ourselves to the world. I have always admired well-dressed women and in high school one of my teachers, in her late forties, would come back after Christmas break with a new suit. She looked so well-put together. Even now I enjoy seeing other women who dress well and I analyze what makes them look good. It’s usually simplicity and well made clothes, good shoes and bag and a sense of ease and confidence. They wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear them. I haven’t worn blazers in years, I found them too constricting and stiff and I preferred cardigans. But I bought a knit glen plaid blazer a few years ago that is very comfortable and smart. I love to wear it with a colorful scarf and even my sons compliment me on it.

  14. I’ve been seeing references to dopamine dressing a lot lately. Thanks for creating a post about it. I love your red chore jacket and it lights up your face!
    White jeans are a dopamine clothing for me too. I love summer and white jeans say summer to me.
    Linen is a dopamine fabric for me. It can look so wrinkled and I sometimes wonder if it is frumpy, but it feels so good to wear. Last year I purchased a few pair of inexpensive linen pants in wonderfully rich colors and I loved wearing them. I just picked up a bright pink linen dress, a floral linen skirt and a pair of very wide leg navy linen pants to add to my summer collection. I’m excited to wear them, wrinkles and all. It helps that I don’t plan to wear them for work. They will be casual summer attire.
    I’m your age and jeans are part of my DNA too. I wear them all the time and like them in different styles. I also like jean jackets. I like the idea of wearing them with dresses (and sneakers), something I wouldn’t have thought of when I was younger.
    I have a very disorganized closet and approaching it with the idea of dopamine dressing might help make progress with sorting.

    1. I think my overzealous neatness makes me uncomfortable in linen wrinkles. I can handle a slightly rumpled jacket… but that’s it. More than that and I’m just not comfortable.

  15. Beautiful MM suit(I have a couple of old linen MM summer suits with pencil skirts,wear only jackets now),eternal piece! Love all of your combinations,they reflect my color combinations too!
    Right now I’m in love with my short sleeve Cos striped cotton sweater with navy Cos wide silk trousers or cropped Massimo Dutti navy light wool ones. Dopamin colourful dressing has to wait….next week I’ll go for black/white polka dot tee with black linen or silk trousers . When I find a perfect combination,it makes me dopamin happy and I want to wear it all the time
    My summer dresses have to wait for a different mood and for warmer mornings
    Dottoressa

    1. I have been eyeing short sleeve sweaters. And short sleeve linen blouses. But I have to restrain myself. Or I will blow my slow fashion reputation out of the water. 🙂

  16. I absolutely agree that how one dresses affects one’s mood. I like to think I’m stylish but comfortable. Since retiring, I’ve gotten into quilted vests–I’ve often worn a 3-piece outfit, but now the 3rd piece is often a vest. I have them in a variety of colors. When I pop one on over a coordinating top, I feel my outfit is put together, but practical for my lifestyle.

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