Is It Really Possible To Dress Yourself Happy?

Adele Miner investigates



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We all have that item of clothing that makes us feel really good. Maybe it’s that spenny dress you saved up for and rarely gets an outing but seeing it hanging in your wardrobe each time you open those doors still gives you a little rush, or maybe it’s those special lacy knickers that also rarely get an outing, but when they do, well, you can put two and two together, or it could even be your lucky socks, they’ve got a hole in them that’s been sewn up more times than you can count but each time you wear them you win €2 on a scratch card so you wouldn’t dare tempt fate and bin them. 

But can one item of clothing really change our moods and even our lives? It seems far-fetched, but the fashion industry has certainly spent decades trying to convince us so. With each new season rolls around an array of outlandish outfits promising to make us happy, that will soon trickle their way down into the high street and eventually find their way onto our floordrobes (we all have one, you’re not fooling anyone).

The fashion industry has earned itself a bad rep in recent times, with it’s unethical and ecologically harmful business processes. But maybe things are finally changing, because actually, dressing for happiness doesn’t need to come in the form of whipping up the hottest piece each season, it’s as much about you and what meaning you feel your clothes carry as it is about the actual items themselves. 


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Dopamine dressing suggests that actively choosing to wear certain clothes can actually lift our mood in dark or down times, they can communicate a message you want to convey without opening your mouth, and they can make us look like the person on the outside that we feel on the inside. This is something style coach, Stasia Savasuk pointed out during her 2018 Ted Talk.

Bulldozing the age-old notion that style is frivolous and superficial, Stasia shared the story of her 11-year-old daughter, who was born with a number of physical anomalies and her relationship with the clothes that she wore. “I decided that the best way for my daughter to ‘fit in’ was to dress her in the cutest dresses and bootcut jeans you’ve ever seen, and my strategy worked perfectly, until she turned two. I would send her to her babysitter wearing the sweetest little outfits and every time she came home she was wearing that babysitter’s son’s clothes.” Explaining that her daughter had a penchant for boy’s clothing, it soon became clear to Stasia that her little girl would not be donning the pretty pink dresses that society expects of her. “We battled for years” Stasia jokes, “she wanted to wear boy’s clothes, I forced her to wear girl’s clothes”.

Eventually, the determined then 5-year-old got her way, convincing her mother to buy her a shirt and tie, “As soon as we got home my daughter raced into the living room, tried on her shirt and tie, looked into the mirror and said “look how handsome I look”, then she ran across the living room and said “look how much faster I can run”, and then she jumped high into the air and said “look how much higher I can jump”, and it hit me, she could actually run faster and jump higher when she was wearing clothes on the outside that matched who she was on the inside.” Proving that vanity is far from narcissism, Stasie raises the valid point that how you present yourself to the world is far from trite or petty, it’s actually highly complex and laced with a deep meaning.

If Stasia’s heartwarming anecdote teaches us anything, it’s that there is such a thing as healthy vanity. We’re conditioned into believing that paying attention to our appearance, particularly paying the clothes we choose to put on our bodies is a small sin, that it makes us less intelligent and unempathetic. But just hearing Stasi’s story shows that this isn’t the case. We have small tools for carving our own happiness hanging right there in our wardrobes, so why not learn how to use them. 


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Now, dopamine dressing soon took on an entirely new meaning for most of us when quarantine rolled around. While we all reveled in our tracksuit bottoms for the first week or two, as time went on we soon realised that in an already stressful time, lounging around in a hoodie stained with the remnants of a 3 in 1, wasn’t exactly doing much to help our situation. This is where positivity enthusiasts and rainbow fanatics Natalie Wall and Zeena Shah stepped in.

Creating a 9-day Instagram challenge #instarainbowchallenge, Natalie and Zeena said it was time to step away from the pajamas and open up the doors to our long-forgotten wardrobes instead. They devised a cunning plan to not only get us looking fab, but feeling fab too, which involved wearing a different colour every day for 9 days. The goal was to evoke feelings of hope, and happiness and to create a sense of community, ½ of the colourful duo, Natalie (@talliwall) told STELLAR, “We were inspired by the rainbows of hope popping up in people’s windows. So we came up with the idea of creating a rainbow across our digital windows instead—on Instagram, via colourful clothing.”

While we chat, Natalie tells me about her own relationship with fashion, admitting that true happiness often comes from inside and can’t be found on a clothes rail, she believes that choosing to dress in a way that makes you feel good is a quick fix to put a smile on your face, “Fashion should be fun, a way of expressing your most authentic self. Getting dressed every morning is about daily reinvention, for example, if I’m feeling under the weather, wearing sequins or amazing shoes is guaranteed to amp up my mood. Bright colours can definitely boost your mood.

And feeling good on the outside certainly helps to convince the inside likewise.” And it seems that many others are on the same wavelength as Natalie when it comes to using your clothes for joy, as over 3.5 thousand people got involved with the challenge, and counting. 


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So how can we use fashion to our advantage? Well, many believe that finding your style, and one that brings you joy, means finding yourself, and it’s a journey well worth embarking on. For Natalie, she recommends doing two things, beginning your adventure by taking small steps first, and ignoring your inner voice worrying about what others might think. “Instead of feeling self-conscious about what other people ‘might’ be thinking, lean into it.” Natalie says.

Starting with one small item that brings you Marie Kondo levels of joy, slowly evolve your style into bigger and better things. “I often talk about finding your happy colour (AKA the “fuck it” colour). It’s a shade you just love, that you’re always attracted to” Natalie tells us, but let’s take that one step further, and find our ‘fuck it pieces’, you know that one thing you own that’s a little bit risque but always reigns in the compliments. It could be a mad zebra print handbag you picked up in a charity shop, or a pair of killer denim flares that have all eyes on you whenever you wear them.

Be aware of how your ‘fuck it item’ makes you feel emotionally whenever you don it, and if it makes you feel good then cherish it, build on it, and before you know it you’ll have an entire wardrobe of fuck it clothes to match your fuck it attitude.


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