We’d do anything to boost our mood right now, which is why many of us are embracing bright colours and bold prints. And the science shows that it might just make us happier
Every single day during lockdown, when many of us were still steadfastly refusing to wear anything but leggings, Niamh Webb O’Rourke applied a full face of makeup and got dressed up. And the brighter her clothes were, the louder the print, the better.
‘I always wore colour, but my love for it just grew. I wasn’t afraid any more and didn’t care what people thought,” she says. “Even if I was popping out to my local Supervalu, I’d dress up. Sometimes, one of the girls working there would say they liked my outfit, which pushed me on. I embraced my unique personal style.”
For Niamh, a 26-year-old fashion marketer from Limerick, the year gone by has been an opportunity to experiment with colour and prints like never before. And she believes that her fashion choices not only increased her confidence in her style but upped her mood too.
“The more I wore what I wanted, the more I realised it’s colour and prints that I love,” she explains. “Wearing what you want and experimenting is such an instant mood lifter.”
This tendency to use what we wear to make us feel better at a difficult time is well established. ‘Dopamine dressing’ has the power to lift the mood on even the darkest days, something we all need right now.
And there’s even a little science behind it. In 2012, in research conducted by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, some participants were asked to wear what was described as a doctor’s coat, while others were asked to wear a painter’s coat (the coats were actually identical).
The researchers found that the people wearing what they thought was a doctor’s coat performed better in tasks than those in the painter’s coats, leading the researchers to conclude that what we wear can in some way influence how we behave.
That might explain why, though last year has been the toughest many of us can remember, when it came to fashion, vibrancy and vitality remained. Take one look at people out and about in the park or supermarket, and you will see colour and pattern shine through.
More and more of us are turning towards bright hues and intricate motifs in our sartorial choices, despite the restrictions.
When life is hard, we will do anything to cultivate joy. Trivial daily rituals become sources of happiness, and something as simple and necessary as getting dressed grows into a haven of hope. Plus, for many, pre-pandemic work-life was restrictive in fashion terms. Corporate workwear came with constraints and didn’t allow for personal style to emerge.
Even the high fashion circuit took note of the dopamine hit, with colour and print taking centre stage at the spring/summer 2021 shows. It was a ‘go big or go home’ affair, from mood-boosting stripes at Versace and Gucci to bright pink at Molly Goddard and Roksanda.
And as always, the high street was quick to follow suit. Zara’s ‘new in’ section is a homage to technicolour, with pops of bright blue, pink, and green dotted throughout.
British fashion brand Kitri has devoted its newest collection to patterns, with mini-and midi-dresses in leopard print and floral splashes.
The pandemic also stripped away the need to conform when it comes to style. Before 2020, trends were more important than individuality. If one person wore muted tones and flip-flops, so did everyone else. Dressing for yourself wasn’t as much of a priority.
Someone else who enjoys dopamine dressing is part-time accountant and fashion designer Ade Oluokun from Co Meath. Ade is a firm believer in its mood-enhancing qualities. “Wearing prints and colour makes me feel alive. I like to stand out. I’m not into the greys and darker tones. I get inspiration from everywhere, whether it be nature or the traditional African fabric prints I use in my designs and trying combinations that haven’t been done before.”
However, this wasn’t always the way for the 30-year-old. “Growing up, I wore a lot of black on black, and in a way, it was me trying to hide,” she explains.
“When I first joined my parents here from Nigeria 13 years ago, my mum would say to me, ‘why are you always wearing dark colours?’ In Africa, we love wearing prints and she was very stunned that I had come from there dressing in black. She said dark colours don’t suit my complexion and she was right. That was a turning point for me and from there I just ran with it.”
Ade wears many of her own designs from her brand Airboney and is even making her wedding dress for her upcoming nuptials. She says restrictions encouraged her to experiment even more.
“All last year, I would make clothes and go out and take pictures of them,” she says. “Everyone asked where I got the energy, but I just love the colours, and I love dressing up. It makes me smile and motivates me.”
With colour and prints taking over the high street, it’s easy to explore the trends. But how do you do it if you have given up buying fast fashion?
Radio presenter Fionnuala Moran from Dublin stopped buying fast fashion in 2019 but says being out of a corporate environment, buying from vintage stores, and using her existing wardrobe allowed her to embrace mood dressing fully.
“Nowadays, I don’t buy as much, but when I do, I choose quality over quantity, and I have taken full advantage of my wardrobe and mood dressing since the pandemic started,” she says. “Because I’m working from home, walking the dog is sometimes my only form of socialising. On those walks, I’ve found myself in yellow tracksuits or brightly coloured dresses, and I’ve noticed that my outfits are getting smiles from other people and boosting my mood. It has just been fab.”
However, jumping into colour and prints can be daunting. Although we are pretty open to pushing the boat in terms of hues in Ireland, many still revert to muted tones. All three women’s advice is to start small, whether it be earrings, a scarf or shoes. Most of all, they say not to fear brighter shades or avant-garde designs — embrace the rainbow style of life.
Niamh says to take it slow and enjoy the process. “For example, buy an emerald green knit with your black jeans to see how you feel and begin to add more piece by piece. Don’t buy too much and regret your decision,” she advises. “Find what suits you but always remember life is short. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.”