The Fashion World is Leaning Into Dopamine Dressing… But What Is It?

A digital illustration of three women in colorful outfits

When scrolling through designer and artist Courn Ahn’s Instagram page (@candy.courn), not only will users see the bright pink interior of Ahn’s Portland residence, but they’ll also notice Ahn’s hot pink hair, colorful makeup, and playful outfits.

Influencers and runways alike have long traded minimalism and restrictive dress codes for more experimental designs — but the term “dopamine dressing” has introduced those seriously unserious fashion principles in the mainstream. 

What is Dopamine Dressing?

Fashion magazines and hashtags seem to consider “dopamine dressing,” the use of bright colors, textures, or patterns to dress for joy and expression. 

But individual creators usually have their own perspective on the movement. 

“As a designer, and particularly an autistic one, inputting both joy and functionality into all my work has always been a priority, if not a requirement,” Ahn said. “Seeing how we can do that in all aspects of our life, our clothes, our homes, our art, is the type of movement I’d love to see more of.”

“What I don’t want to be lost in this conversation is that dopamine dressing looks different to each person.” 

Rachael Renae (@rachaelrenae) is also a style-centric creator on Instagram, a self-titled “internet hype gal,” who helps people dress in ways that are authentic to them. 

Her platform grew out of her independent style challenges, hoping to instill an element of creativity in her life as she navigated depression.

“When I started to experiment with my style many years ago, I found myself excluding a lot of things because I felt like I had to have a really cohesive look,” Renae said. “But dopamine dressing allows that authentic expression to come out by giving it a label that doesn’t actually mean much of anything.”

a white woman with light blonde hair wears a green floral maxi dress, green clogs, and a pink ribbon in her hair.
Photo courtesy of Rachael Renae

According to Renae, the trend of dopamine dressing seems to stick because it’s actually more of a rejection of trends. 

“I don’t have to say ‘I’m a motorcycle girl so I only wear leather,’ or ‘I’m a jock so I only wear jerseys,’” she continued. “Dopamine dressing is just dressing authentically and allowing all of these facets of my wardrobe, my life, and my personality to go beyond those boundaries.”

For Ahn, the definition is similar: taking a multi-faceted approach to encompass two central ideas: comfort and creativity.

Courn Ahn smiles in a selfie taken in their closet, surrounded by colorful fabric
Photo courtesy of Courn Ahn

“I see two sides of dopamine dressing,” Ahn said. “One: a focus on bright colors, textures, and unexpected clothing combinations that defy trends and ideas of form-fitting fashion. Two: a secondary focus on comfort — often led by those with sensory processing disorders and other disabilities — and the rejection of gendered norms in fashion.”

Not only is dopamine dressing about the visual expression of someone’s style — it’s also the acceptance and celebration of simply wearing what feels good. 

“We all have to wear clothes, so why not have fun with them?” 

“Interconnected in both of these is the underlying idea of just wearing things that bring you joy — whatever that is. Maybe that’s a colorful explosion of rainbow tones like me, or maybe it’s an all-black fit with goth details,” Ahn said. 

“What I don’t want to be lost in this conversation is that dopamine dressing looks different to each person.” 

Renae builds on that, explaining that dopamine dressing looks different, even for just herself, every day. She sees clothing as tools to self awareness; just like a painter might use brushes, or a woodworker might use power tools.

Prioritizing Creativity and Self-Care

Not only is dopamine dressing a creative craft, but it also becomes a form of self-care and exploration, inviting wearers of clothing (so… all human beings) to find small opportunities to feel good.

“It’s such an easy way for us to be able to tap into that creativity and practice play because the stakes are so low. It’s such a low barrier to entry,” Renae said. “We all have to wear clothes, so why not have fun with them?” 

In that invitation to play with style, both Ahn and Renae have found something deeper. For Ahn, it’s about living more peacefully, to “unmask and unwind” with visual stimuli in their home and wardrobe.

"The idea of wearing clothes just for you, to accommodate your sensory needs, to affirm your gender and sexuality, can be absolutely radical."

“Dopamine dressing has really been one of the biggest manifestations of prioritizing myself and my needs after repressing them for so many years. I've always dressed for others, highly influenced by the male gaze and the sexist idea that clothes are worn to make our bodies look thinner and thicker in the places they're ‘supposed’ to,’” Ahn said. 

“But the idea of wearing clothes just for you, to accommodate your sensory needs, to affirm your gender and sexuality, can be absolutely radical. And that's what dopamine dressing has done for me.”

A digital illustration of a person with pink hair and nails
Illustration by Johnathan Huang/Good Good Good

For Renae, it all comes back to a central human desire: to be known and loved — by other people, and by yourself. 

“By understanding myself and what I feel awesome in and how I want to present that awesome creature on the inside to the outside world, I find that style is so much more than just what we’re wearing,” she said. 

“It’s understanding yourself, being able to express that, and to find deep connection with other humans.” 

A version of this article was originally published in The 2023 Play Edition of the Goodnewspaper.

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Article Details

November 1, 2023 7:15 AM
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