Was the dress black and blue or gold and white?
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. To many an eye, the dress transforms in one photograph into gold and white. Optometry experts are calling the photo a one-in-a-million shot. It captures how people's brains perceive color. And how we 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. He is the clinical adviser to Britain's College of Optometrists. "So many people look at the same photo and see two sets of such dramatically different colors."
The photo was taken in February before a wedding. It was shot on the remote Scottish island of Colonsay. It 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.
One such wedding guest was musician and singer Caitlin McNeill. She posted the photo to her Tumblr account.
"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 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.
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.
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. The brain can "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."
The photo produced a deluge of media calls to the Tumblr reporter, 21-year-old McNeill. She 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 the mother of the bride, never wanted the publicity.
There's one clear winner in the debate. English dress retailer Roman Originals, which 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. She is 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., They, too, 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 seller. The chain's website headlined its product as "#TheDress now back in stock debate now."
"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?