Was the dress black and blue or gold and white? The two-tone dress, left, alongside an ivory and black version. In a different photo posted online, half of people saw the blue and black dress as white and gold (AP photo / Tumblr)
Was the dress black and blue or gold and white?
Lexile

It's the dress that's beating the Internet black and blue, or should that be gold and white?

Friends and co-workers worldwide are debating the true hues of a royal blue dress with black lace that, to many an eye, transforms in one photograph into gold and white. Optometry experts are calling the photo a one-in-a-million shot that perfectly captures how people's brains perceive color and process contrast in dramatically different ways.

"This photo provides the best test I've ever seen for how the process of color correction works in the brain,'" said Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, the clinical adviser to Britain's College of Optometrists. "I've never seen a photo like this before where so many people look at the same photo and see two sets of such dramatically different colors."

The photo, taken in February before a wedding on the remote Scottish island of Colonsay, also illustrates the dynamics of a perfect social-media storm. Guests at the wedding could not understand why, in one photo of the dress being worn by the mother of the bride, the clearly blue and black-striped garment transformed into gold and white. But only in that single photo, and only for around half of the viewers.

The debate spread from the wedding to the Internet, initially from friend to perplexed friend on Facebook.

One such wedding guest, musician and singer Caitlin McNeill, posted the photo to her Tumblr account with the question: "Guys please help me. Is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can't agree."

She's consistently seen gold.

One of her friends, Alana MacInnes, saw gold and white for the first hour, then black and blue.

The website Buzzfeed sensed clickbait heaven and, amid its own newsroom argument, was among the first to call McNeill. It posted more than a half-dozen stories on the image and the tsunami of reaction.

On Twitter, #TheDress and variants surged to the top of trending lists globally within hours.

The entertainment elite then chimed in, and Taylor Swift saw the dress was "obviously" blue and black.

"What's the matter with u guys, it's white and gold," countered Julianne Moore, while Kim Kardashian, never one to miss a trending topic, reported she was seeing gold but to husband Kanye West, it was solidly black and blue.

"Who is color blind?" Kardashian asked the twitterati.

The answer, says Hardiman-McCartney, is that every viewer seeing either set of colors is right.

He says the exceptional bar-code style of the dress, combined with the strongly yellow-toned backlighting in the one photo, provides the brain a rare chance to "choose" which of the dress' two primary colors should be seen in detail.

Those who subconsciously seek detail in the many horizontal black lines convert them to a golden hue, so the blue disappears into a blown-out white, he said.

Others whose brains focus on the blue part of the dress see the photo as the black-and-blue reality.

"There's no correct way to perceive this photograph. It sits right on the cusp, or balance, of how we perceive the color of a subject versus the surrounding area," he said. "And this color consistency illusion that we're experiencing doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your eyes. It just shows how your brain chooses to see the image, to process this luminescence confusion."

The photo produced a deluge of media calls to the Tumblr reporter, 21-year-old McNeill, who calls the seemingly endless phone calls "more than I've received in the entirety of the rest of my life combined." She says the photographer, who is also the mother of the bride, never wanted the publicity.

There's one clear winner, and that is the English dress retailer Roman Originals, which has reported a million hits on its sales site in the first 18 hours following the photo's worldwide distribution.

"I can officially say that this dress is royal blue with black lace trimming," said Michele Bastock, design director at Roman Originals.

She said staff members had no idea that the dress, when shot in that singularly peculiar light, might be perceived in a totally different color scheme. Not until they arrived to work to field hundreds of emails, calls and social media posts, which were split almost 50-50 on the photo's true colors.

All agreed, however, the dress for the Birmingham, England-based retailer was likely to become their greatest-ever seller. The chain's website headlined its product as "#TheDress now back in stock debate now."

"Straightaway we went to the computers and had a look. And some members of the team saw ivory and gold. I see a royal blue all the time," she said. "It's an enigma ... but we are grateful."

Critical thinking challenge: Why did this dress cause a sensation on social media?

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COMMENTS (180)
  • brandonj-Koc
    3/06/2015 - 10:07 a.m.

    This shows how much social media can influence our lives Have changed when it comes to news like the dress and what color it should be it doesn't matter what social media says.

  • MaxC-Ver
    3/06/2015 - 10:10 a.m.

    I see blue and black and I don't understand why this is such a internet sensation it is literally a dress. I wonder if other people see other colors.

  • AshleyAd-Ver
    3/06/2015 - 10:13 a.m.

    Personally, I see a perrywinkle blue and a army green color, though I know that is it blue and black. I think this dress is an example of how fast the internet can make this popular and how advanced social media is to make a simple picture so popular. The dress was so popular, that it appeard on the show Ellen and they brought the people to talk about what color the dress actually is. Apparently, the dress is sold online in blue and black and in gold and white.

  • JaydonC-Ver
    3/06/2015 - 10:13 a.m.

    I know that people try to put a whole scientific thing behind it, But No. It's Blue and Black! WHERE DO YOU SEE WHITE ANYWHERE ON THE DRESS!! Even if you put the image in Photoshop and use the eye dropper tool and click on the dresses parts. ITS BLUE AND BLACK.

  • JasonTru-Ver
    3/06/2015 - 10:15 a.m.

    I'Be noticed that the dress is blue but in the middle of the dress it's white and gold and I don't know why people argue because the brain is visualizing that it's black and blue but it's not in the middle.

  • TayaH-Ver
    3/06/2015 - 10:15 a.m.

    I think that this dress was such a big debate because so many people see the colors differently, and no one knows if it's truly blue and black or white and gold.

  • TreverH-Ver
    3/06/2015 - 10:16 a.m.

    This article has a couple points taking how people see the dress differently then others. I have also found out why this is. And how people have different perspective.

  • JamisonT-Ver
    3/06/2015 - 10:16 a.m.

    The dress is clearly black and blue,even the designer said it was. So I thinks it's time we just completely forget about is because, it's pointless to argue over a dress's color.

  • JU00baseball
    3/06/2015 - 10:21 a.m.

    In my opinion the dress was blue and black. They even said it on the news that it was blue and black so i beleive that. It was really weird though because on my phone i saw it change colors so i thought i was going crazy. But in the end it was black and blue.

  • Tywayne
    3/06/2015 - 10:22 a.m.

    The dress is clearly black and blue,even the designer said it was. So I thinks it's time we just completely forget about is because, it's pointless to argue over a dress's color. everybody mad it a big thing. Celebrities carried it on also.

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