Wearing all black can be dopamine dressing, too

6 mins
03 Apr 2023
Wearing all black can be dopamine dressing, too

You might associate the trend with brighter colours, but wearing darker colours has its benefits

image Wednesday / Netflix

words Sophie Lou Wilson

Off-duty models, Wednesday Addams, your friend who moved to Berlin and made it their whole personality: most people who wear all black tend to feel pretty strongly about it. It’s a shorthand for elegance, sophistication and simplicity, they say. But it can also be misread as dull, depressing or pretentious. While colourful clothes are lauded for their mood boosting qualities, black sometimes gets a bad rap. Yet when so many people swear by wearing head-to-toe black every day, surely there must be something about it that makes us feel good?

First of all, the term ‘dopamine dressing’ refers to anything you wear that makes you feel good so it can really involve any colour, including black. Yellow typically connotes happiness, but most people probably wouldn’t feel that happy if they were forced to wear yellow every single day. Dressing to boost happy chemicals in your brain isn’t only about wearing your favourite colours, but also about the materials, quality and fit of your clothes. Therefore, if you love black, it makes sense that wearing all black can be a form of dopamine dressing to you.

Stylist and influencer Valeria Dedova, 20, likes wearing all black because of the characteristics she associates with it. To her, black is the colour of “confidence, sophistication, elegance. That's the vibe I want to give off.” Black clothes contain multitudes. On one hand, they evoke classic images of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Coco Chanel’s little black dress while on the other, there’s the Rick Owens-clad art students and dressed-down tech bros. In contemporary pop culture, too, all-black proliferates for various symbolic reasons. Jenna Ortega revealed she now has a predominantly black wardrobe IRL after playing OG goth girl Wednesday Addams. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow’s austere head-to-toe black Prada look was a highlight of her stealth wealth courtroom garb at the recent ski trial. On the AW23 runway, too, designers like Rodarte and Chet Lo ditched their usual bright colours palettes for all-black. A popular quote by Yohji Yamamoto perhaps sums it up best: “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy — but mysterious. But above all black says this: I don’t bother you - don’t bother me.”

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Fashion psychologist Dr Dion Terrelonge explains that cultural representations of black clothing inform how the colour makes us feel. “For centuries, black clothing has been associated with elegance, formality and sophistication,” she notes. “We see it being worn in aspirational situations on TV and in magazines so we associate black clothing with those positive characteristics. If we believe that wearing black is a symbol of elegance and simplistic glamour, then when we wear it, we ourselves might feel like we embody that and it might make you feel more confident.”

At the end of the day, comfort and confidence are key when it comes to clothes that will make you feel good on a day-to-day basis. If you’ve ever left the house in uncomfortable shoes or ill-fitting jeans you’ll know that the wrong clothes can ruin your day. It’s no surprise then that many of us rely on wearing all black when we want to look and feel good without necessarily having to put the time and effort into pairing different colours and patterns together.

If you’re not a morning person then choosing what to wear each day can feel like yet another step that makes your morning routine more difficult. Having a few go-to all black outfits in rotation might therefore help reduce decision fatigue. “If you find the mornings really arduous or anxiety inducing, having an all black wardrobe can reduce the decision overload,” says Dr Terrelonge.

While the relationship between dark clothes and depression is often overstated, wearing all black can be comforting when you’re not feeling great. It’s easy and familiar which may help ease anxiety by letting you blend in when you’re feeling insecure. Knitwear designer Paul Aaron, 27, says that wearing all black makes him feel “less self-conscious.” He wears it everyday because “bright colours just don't suit me. I don't feel like myself [in them.] I don't dress to please other people, or to catch their eye. I like to blend in.”

Black is less stimulating than bright colours so wearing it can be a relaxing experience. “It gives off very little stimulation so it can be quite comforting to wear all black,” says Dr Terrelonge. “You don’t get that sensory feedback that you get from colourful or patterned clothing which can be quite jarring. When it comes to reducing anxiety, it can provide a sense of security because it allows you to blend in when you might be feeling a bit fragile and you don’t want to stand out because you need to focus on whatever’s going on emotionally or internally for you.” The relationship between all black clothes and our emotions is deeply entrenched. In western societies, it has traditionally represented mourning. Most funerals still have all black dress codes. This visual acknowledgement of someone’s passing can create a sense of togetherness which can help us feel less alone in our grief.

Yet just because black clothes are associated with mourning, it doesn’t mean they can’t bring you joy too. It all comes back to personal style. Having a clear sense of your personal style is the key to shopping and dressing more intentionally, something that’s better for the planet and your wardrobe space. If you are intentional about your purchases and know your personal style then your wardrobe won’t be overflowing with clothes you don‘t wear which could help reduce feelings of stress and decision fatigue.

However, if you prefer bright colours, it makes sense that an all black wardrobe will only feel limiting. The main reason why people who wear all black feel so strongly about it is because they love it. And wearing what you love makes you feel good about yourself. “There’s just something good about the colour black, isn’t there?” concludes Dr Terrelonge. “When people speak about it, they often say it’s flattering. You can throw on all black. It can be protective armour or it can be a hug.” So, the next time someone asks you why you were all black all the time, you can tell them it’s good for you, actually.

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