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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.