OLDER AND BOLDER: The mood-boosting benefits of wearing bright clothes

— by Nilgin Yusuf

Lisou founder & creative director, Rene Macdonald. Photo via Instagram


“A yellow T-shirt?” I remember the surprise in a colleague’s voice when he asked me what I’d bought in the charity shop. He was used to seeing me in navy blue, black and grey and had never seen me in yellow. And to be fair, nor had I. Not for around thirty years anyway (as a fashion student, I owned a pair of brazen yellow trousers).

That seemingly random purchase on a dull afternoon in Shepherd’s Bush close to my 50th birthday, heralded a new relationship with colour. I still wear the yellow T-shirt and over the years, more bright clothes have arrived: a marshmallow pink riding coat, pillar box red trousers, a fuchsia pink shirt, a capsule collection of peppermint green.

Previously, I would only permit myself a flourish: a multi-coloured scarf here, some ‘accent’ gloves there, but I find myself increasingly gravitating towards the brighter end of the spectrum. While practical neutrals remain dominant (I’ve been accumulating them for decades) the colour component grows. But why should older mean bolder?


Emmanuelle Morgan The Designerist



There are some theories that with age, we enter a second childhood. I’m not talking about the dribbling, drooling bit, but the playful, free element that permits us to explore life in an unhampered way.  In the nineties, Middle Youth became a marketing term, a more appealing label to consumers than middle age. It referred to baby boomers and beyond who refused to adopt ‘older’ ways but retained a youthful sensibility throughout life.  Our wardrobes and colour can be seen as one example of this deferred play.



There’s no escaping the long, dark winter ahead when self-care will become especially important. The phrase Dopamine Dressing has gained traction in the last few years. Clothing not only covers our backs and keeps us warm but can bring joy to daily lives. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter used by our nervous system to send messages between nerve cells is involved in feelings of reward, motivation, memory, and attention. When released, it causes feelings of pleasure. The phrase “en-clothed cognition” means if we associate bright, cheerful clothes with happiness, then we embody that feeling.



It takes a certain confidence to be seen. Bright colours mean no discrete blending into the crowd. Arguably age brings the confidence to wear what we choose and less concern about pleasing others. Perhaps this offsets societal expectations that older women should quietly fade away. Anna Wintour and Nicola Sturgeon are two women who have become bolder with years. Late Queen Elizabeth II wore memorably vivid outfits for her walkabouts so she could be seen from a distance and in large crowds. While wearing bright colour can’t fix societal discrimination, it does ensure women make some sartorial noise and are seen.



Ditching an institutional uniform becomes possible as circumstances change and women move into retirement, part-time work, self-employment or running their own businesses. Working in corporate institutions may have included specific types of professional ‘uniform’ actual or expected. Toeing the line, being one of a team and effectively, a human extension of ‘the brand’ is all part of the working contract. But, the joy of being able to shrug off the vice like grip of corporate dress and wear whatever we wish is liberating and another reason colourful dress might make an appearance.



As we grow older, we change. Our skin, hair and bodies all change. Dark colours can become draining as we lose colour from our hair and skin while brighter tones or vivid hues can create a highlight, lifting our skin tone and hair. Going grey was the style catalyst for Alyson to start experimenting more with colour. “Grey hair acts as a neutral backdrop, creating a dramatic contrast, so why not use the opportunity to experiment with a host of colours?”



“Colour can raise the dead” wrote Iris Apfel, now 101 years old. This unforgettable style icon clashes her clothes like an artist and clearly derives great joy from her kaleidoscopic adventures that she gaily shares with her social media following. It’s only when closer to death than birth, we can appreciate every day of physical health and sound mind is a special occasion. To wear colour is a celebration in itself, a proclamation of life, positivity and optimism.


Nilgin Yusuf is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter @Nilgin and Instagram @nilgin_yusuf. And, subscribers don’t miss our interview with Emmanuelle Morgan The Designerist (pictured above), HERE.


Are you feeling older and bolder?


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  “A yellow T-shirt?” I remember the surprise in a colleague’s voice when he asked me what I’d bought in the charity shop.