Yasmin looks to the left as she stands in profile to the camera wearing a vivid pink dress and holding a beaded bag.

What is dopamine dressing and is it legit?

The late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld once reportedly said “trendy is the last stage before tacky”.

I might have tried to internalise this as an impressionable fashion-obsessed teenager, but I never quite managed to do so.

At the age of 27, I am still beholden to the trends.

And that is why my wardrobe has transitioned from all my black, black and more black clothes, to essentially nothing but brightly colored garments over the past decade or so.

As Miranda Priestly stated in her searing and cerulean jumper-prompted Devil Wears Prada monologue, it’s practically impossible to make fashion choices that aren’t informed by the fashion industry.


While I didn’t realise I was unconsciously buying into the dopamine dressing trend before I saw it described as that on social media, in hindsight I’d completely fallen for it.

Attention-seeking, vivid colors and loud clashing prints are supreme on shoppable platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where fashion labels and their influencers are using the idea that our moods are boosted by the simple act of wearing brights to sell clothes.

One branded post that popped up on my feed recently urged followers: “Dress with the intention of boosting your mood, always! Tap into extra joy with our new and fabulous [bright item of clothing]. It’s sure to have you buzzing all week long.”

TL;DR, vibrant colors are in and the idea they’re good for us has tricked down to the masses. (I am part of the masses).


But brighter colors don’t necessarily = more happiness

The idea that vivid colors will make us all feel happier is a bit too simplistic according to James Collett, a lecturer in psychology at RMIT University’s School of Health and Biomedical Sciences.

“While there are important cross-cultural differences, there are many universalities in color perception and the connection of color to emotion,” he explains.

“Thinking broadly, it’s true bright colors are generally going to be associated with happiness and positivity.

“[But] Research looking at the connection between fashion and our mental, emotional, and motivational states suggests that the effect of bright clothing isn’t something so automatic that we can simply put on a brighter shade than normal and immediately feel better about our day though.”

Dr Collett says this is because there are other important considerations we need to think about here — the way we perceive colors still vary at an individual level, and we need more from clothes than aesthetics.

Ailsa Weaver, an academic and doctoral researcher at the UTS School of Design, agrees.

Bright colors are generally associated with happiness and positivity … but that doesn’t mean they necessarily make us happier.(ABC Everyday: Yasmin Jeffery)

Ms Weaver says we need to feel comfortable and confident in the clothes we wear, as well as good about the way they look.

This is why the question of what “dopamine dressing” is will look different for each of us — and why she suggests thinking about the trend differently to the way it’s presented on social media.

“‘Dopamine dressing’ is a buzz term coined in popular discussion around the turn of the 2010s, but it’s really just about feel-good dressing,” she explains.

“To me, it fits into the phenomenological concept of fashion — so, how fashion makes us feel as individuals.”

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