It's Official: Dressing Up Really Does Make Us Feel Happier

The simple act of putting on fancy clothes can boost the mundane day-to-day. Here, psychologists explain why.
cokada via Getty Images

“Went for the most dramatic corner shop run,” wrote the playwright Travis Alabanza, “to feel something.”

Many people – ranging from the famous, to your next-door-neighbour – have taken to social media to talk about dressing up to ‘feel something’ under the pandemic. Because our usual methods of joy – meeting with groups of friends, going to dinner or the theatre – have sashayed out of existence.

So, does wearing a fancy new outfit really make you happier? And is it possible to don new clothes and get a fresh perspective? “I 100% would say yes,” says Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society. “What I love about people saying, ‘You know what, I’m choosing to dress up just to feel good,’ is that that’s a little win, and that’s brilliant.”

Dr Tang says when we dress up, we walk taller – and that change in our posture has a massive effect psychologically on our brains. The message is simple: never undervalue the simple things.

“Even just sitting up standing up straight, standing tall and putting on something that you love that makes you feel good – that’s going to have an effect on our brains,” confirms Tang. The trick is simply offering our brains something novel – that way, “the brain gets quite excited”.

It’s no wonder some people have donned their finest fashions to ring in the big moment of getting vaccinated, adds Dr Sandra Wheatley, a psychologist.

“Getting a vaccine against a potentially life-threatening illness may not be a reason to have a party, but it’s certainly a reason to feel a little bit glad, and people are out there seeking positive reinforcement,” she says.

“People haven’t got that much in the way of going out and celebrating, but they have the frocks, they still want to be seen to be looking nice, if they don’t go out very often, this is a way of helping them return to a little bit of normality.”

There are plenty of ways we can give our daily lives small uplifts; another might be to smile at passers-by, as smiles are proven to enhance our moods.

“Research has shown if you put your finger horizontally between your teeth and you smile, your brain doesn’t know the difference between whether you’re smiling properly or whether it’s because you have your finger between your teeth,” says Dr Tang, speaking about how we can trick our brains into triggering emotions. “That, in itself, changes how you feel.”

Dressing up may not be for you, so whatever your escape method, the way to achieve that endorphin rush may simply be finding time and energy to incorporate a little change in your day. “We don’t have to depend on outside stimuli for our happiness in order to feel good,” adds Tang. “If you know you can make yourself feel good, then you’ve won.”