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How to see the dress black and blue?

The dress that broke the internet back in 2015 has puzzled millions around the world. What color is it – white and gold or blue and black? In this guide, we’ll explore the science behind #TheDress phenomenon and provide tips on how you can train your eyes and brain to see the dress in different colors.

The Original Viral Photo

In February 2015, a washed-out photograph of a dress posted on Tumblr went viral across social media. The dress belonged to Cecilia Bleasdale, the mother of Grace Johnston – the bridesmaid who originally posted the picture online. The poor lighting in the photograph made it near impossible to discern the true colors of the dress. Some people saw it as white and gold, while others saw blue and black.

The original viral photo of the dress

The dress ignited fierce debate across the internet. Buzzfeed’s poll showed that 70% of over 1.2 million respondents saw the dress as white and gold. The remaining 30% were steadfast in their view of seeing it as blue and black. #TheDress filled up social media timelines with people arguing over the “correct” interpretation. Even celebrities weighed in, with the likes of Taylor Swift, Julianne Moore, and Kim Kardashian sharing their perspectives. Some people could even switch between seeing it as white/gold or blue/black as their brains tried to make sense of the ambiguous image!

The Real Colors Revealed

So what are the real colors of the dress? Cecilia Bleasdale settled the debate by confirming that the dress was in fact royal blue with black lace overlay. Here is a photo of the dress in better lighting:

The dress in proper lighting

Roman Originals, the company that manufactures the dress, also stated that the colors are definitively blue and black. The poor lighting and optical illusion caused by overexposure is what led to the discrepancy in people’s perception. Now that the controversy has been put to rest, let’s explore why different people can visually interpret the same image in different ways.

Individual Differences in Color Perception

Our eyes and brain work together to interpret light and color. The retina contains photoreceptor cells called rods and cones. Rods help with night vision, while cones are responsible for color vision. There are three types of cones that detect different wavelengths of light – short (blue), medium (green), and long (red). The cones send signals to the visual cortex of the brain, which pieces together the colors we perceive.

However, there are key factors that influence how we each see color:

  • Cone distribution – The ratio of short, medium and long cones varies across individuals. This affects color sensitivity.
  • Color blindness – Around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are color blind. This limits ability to distinguish certain shades.
  • Age – The lens of the eyes yellows over time, potentially changing color perception.
  • Culture – Some cultures have more descriptive color lexicons. This influences how colors are categorized.

These physiological and social differences contribute to variability in how the dress color was interpreted by different people. Those more sensitive to cool, short wavelengths were more likely to see it as white, while those perceiving warmer, longer wavelengths saw it as blue.

Optical Illusions and Color Constancy

But individual differences alone don’t fully explain the dress phenomenon. Even people with normal color vision were split between the two interpretations. The photograph itself created an optical illusion.

Our visual system tries to maintain color constancy – the ability to perceive consistent color under different lighting conditions. To achieve this, the brain uses clues such as shadows and intensity of light to infer the true color of objects. It automatically “corrects” the color as needed.

But the ambiguous shadows and overexposure in the dress photo provided conflicting cues, tricking the brain into “correcting” the colors differently. Some brains adjusted the white balance towards cool, interpreting it as a shaded blue dress. Others adjusted towards warm, seeing sun-lit gold dress against a dim background.

Interestingly, our initial interpretation tends to stick even when the facts are presented, revealing how imperfect our color constancy really is. The dress can act as a litmus test for how our eyes and brain work together to perceive color.

How to Switch Between Seeing Black/Blue vs. White/Gold

Once you are informed that the dress is objectively blue and black in color, can you train your eyes to switch perspectives? Psychology studies show that it is possible to gain conscious control over the optical illusion with enough concentration. Here are some tips to push your brain into seeing “The Dress” as either black/blue or white/gold:

To See White/Gold

  • Imagine the dress being overexposed. It is a bright, sunlit day and the dress is in shadow.
  • Stare at a bright light briefly before looking at the dress. This oversaturates your cones.
  • Adjust color settings on your monitor to a cooler, blue tone.
  • Look at the black stripes first. Your brain will correct to gold.

To See Blue/Black

  • Imagine the photo was underexposed. It is evening and the dress is under tungsten lights.
  • Stare at a dark object briefly before looking at the dress. This desensitizes your cones.
  • Adjust color settings on your monitor to a warmer, yellow tone.
  • Focus on the white lace first. Your brain will correct to blue.

With a bit of guided visualisation, most people find they can switch between the two interpretations of the dress. Our perception is an active process influenced by both optical cues and higher-level expectations. Once you understand these factors, you can gain more control over the optical illusion.

Demographics Who Saw Blue/Black vs White/Gold

As the dress debate went viral online, informal surveys tried to gather demographic statistics on who fell into each perception camp. Here is a summary of the trends that emerged:

Saw Black/Blue Saw White/Gold
More women More men
Older ages Younger ages
Night owls Morning larks
East Asians Caucasians

However, these trends were not universally consistent across polls. Individual differences in culture, language, genetics, and other factors created plenty of outliers. The important takeaway is that there are biological and social reasons why different groups were predisposed towards a certain perspective.

Applications to Color Theory

For artists, designers and photographers, lessons from the dress can be applied to color theory and practice:

  • Be aware of how lighting and exposure can alter color perception.
  • Use warm and cool adjustment layers to visually tweak tones.
  • Understand that people may interpret colors differently than intended.
  • Leverage optical illusions judiciously to create stunning effects.
  • Consider demographic factors that influence audience color preferences.

Carefully controlling color context and using optical tricks of light can make for memorable, impactful visual art. But predicting how the human eye will react is not always straightforward!


While #TheDress briefly divided the internet, it provided a fascinating case study in individual and cultural differences in visual perception. The context of the ambiguous photograph, coupled with variations in our eyes and brains, led to the dichotomy in color interpretation. With a mix of optical cues and mental concentration, it is possible to flip your perception from white/gold to blue/black. Use the lessons from this viral phenomenon to create your own custom optical illusions!