It’s been a tough week, in Ukraine and elsewhere. The responsible, grown-up thing would have been to write about a serious topical word like tranche or SWIFT or drought. But I couldn’t work up the will.
Instead, I went looking for a mood boost. I found one, sort of, in the fashion pages.
“The Science—and Styles—Behind Dopamine Dressing in 2022.” – Town & Country, February 2022.
This particular mood boost is called dopamine dressing, which sounds scientific but may just be science-ish. (And alliterative.) Some fashion writers are calling it the Big Trend of 2022, although I found similar claims from 2021 (The Cut: “After a summer of ‘dopamine dressing,’ some locals are rethinking their uniform”), 2020 (Guardian: “How do we factor in the psychology of ‘dopamine dressing’ at a time when we need to be uplifted within our more confined spaces?”), 2019 (The Glitter Guide: “We already know that what we wear can shift our moods—the fashion industry has dubbed this ‘dopamine dressing’”), and 2017 (Guardian: “Dopamine dressing: Can you dress yourself happy?”). According to the international fashion magazine Grazia, “fashion psychologists have been researching the topic since 2012,” sometimes by other names, such as “enclothed cognition” (love that!) or “chromotherapy.”
I can only imagine the desperation of the editor at Parade who came up with “Look Dope In 2022 and Try ‘Dopamine Dressing’” (January 15, 2022). “Dopamine dressing,” we’re told, “is all about dressing loud with vibrant and colorful pieces, whether it’s a pop of color or a bold outfit.”
Or maybe dopamine dressing is something else: more come-hither purr than shocking-color shout. “It’s time to tighten up,” writes Alessandra Codinha in the February 2022 issue of Town & Country. “After our long hibernation and our staggered reemergence, the time feels right to celebrate what brought us through: our bodies.”
Here’s what dopamine dressing is not: It is not athleisure.
Dopamine, as you probably already know, is a neurotransmitter that’s sometimes called the “happy hormone” because of the role it plays in reward-motivated behavior. It was first synthesized in 1910, and, according to a 2006 paper published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, in the mid-1950s it “began to emerge as a substance of importance in its own right rather than just an intermediary in the formation of noradrenaline.” (The word dopamine is a contraction of 3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine.)
Dopamine’s association with mood has naturally inspired attempts to cash in. Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet (2020) is subtitled “My Low-Carb, Stay-Happy Way to Lose Weight”; the diet includes chocolate, of course. The author is neither a doctor nor a scientist but rather “an English Michelin-starred chef.”
But beware the chronic quest for a dopamine high. A 2018 post in the Harvard blog Science in the News the role of dopamine-mediated feedback signals in addictive behavior—including addiction to social media:
[I]f we perceive a reward to be delivered at random, and if checking for the reward comes at little cost, we end up checking habitually (e.g. gambling addiction). If you pay attention, you might find yourself checking your phone at the slightest feeling of boredom, purely out of habit. Programmers work very hard behind the screens to keep you doing exactly that.
Dr. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist and chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnostic Clinic, wrote a whole book on this subject: Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, which was published in August 2021.
From the publisher’s description:
We’re living in a time of unprecedented access to high-reward, high-dopamine stimuli: drugs, food, news, gambling, shopping, gaming, texting, sexting, Facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, tweeting... The increased numbers, variety, and potency is [sic] staggering. The smartphone is the modern-day hypodermic needle, delivering digital dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation. As such we’ve all become vulnerable to compulsive overconsumption.
Sheesh, what a downer! Just the sort of thing I was trying to escape. Here, look at something colorful.
I usually dress in what my former hair stylist called “swamp colors.” My two-year-old bright-yellow Mephisto sneakers are an exception. They hardly qualify as glamorous, but they do give me a lift, and not just from the wedge sole.
How’s your mood? Boosted? Hope so. If you’re still feeling a little sub-optimal, feast your eyes on the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, worn as a cape by a woman who’d taken part in a pro-Ukraine rally Sunday in San Francisco’s Civic Center.