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Is this dress gold or blue?

The debate over the color of a certain dress took the internet by storm back in 2015. A washed-out photograph of a dress was posted online, and people fiercely disagreed over whether the dress was blue and black or white and gold. This seemingly simple question revealed how different people can perceive colors differently. In this article, we’ll explore some of the science behind color perception, the psychology of why people saw this dress so differently, and the viral phenomenon that this dress sparked.

The Original Dress Photo

In February 2015, a woman named Cecilia Bleasdale purchased a dress online from the British retailer Roman Originals. The dress was striped, with alternating bands of blue and black lace. However, the photograph that was posted online made the dress appear much more ambiguous. Due to the lighting and camera quality, the colors were washed out. The black stripes looked almost gold or tan, while the dark blue looked similar to a light blue.

Here is the original photo that sparked the debate:

Original dress photo

When Cecilia’s friend posted the picture online, it quickly went viral as people argued over the colors. Some were convinced it was white and gold, while others saw blue and black. Passions ran high, and the dress even split households and friend groups over the issue. But why did people see the dress so differently?

The Science of Color Perception

The way we perceive color depends on a variety of factors. Our eyes have receptor cells called cones that detect different wavelengths of light. But the way our brains interpret those signals can vary. Here are some of the things that can influence color perception:

  • Lighting conditions – Our brains make assumptions about the color of the light source and discount that color. So under bluer light we may perceive an object as more yellow.
  • Optical illusions – Adjacent colors can influence how we perceive a color due to an effect called chromatic induction.
  • Color constancy – Our brains try to maintain consistent perception of color even as lighting changes. This can warp our perception.
  • Individual differences – Factors like age, gender, culture, mood and other individual traits can all play a role.

Many vision scientists who studied the dress believe that differences in color constancy were a major factor behind the discrepancies. The dress likely appeared blue and black in person under normal lighting. But for those who assumed the dress was under yellowish indoor lighting, their brains shifted the colors towards white and gold.

Psychology of the Dress Debate

Beyond the science of color vision, the dress debate also revealed some fascinating aspects of psychology. Here’s why this viral topic captured so much public attention:

  • Surprise – People were shocked others saw the dress so differently from their own perception.
  • Social proof – When surrounded by others who saw it differently, it made individuals doubt what they saw.
  • Tribalism – Acting superior over those who saw it “wrong” satisfied people’s need for belonging to their color tribe.
  • Curiosity – The mystery of why people saw it differently was intriguing and caused more sharing.

These factors combined to make #TheDress go viral online. People who saw white/gold couldn’t believe that anyone saw blue/black. They accused the other side of playing tricks on them. Those who saw blue/black were stunned when they were told repeatedly that it was “obviously” white/gold. Families and coworkers debated the dress endlessly, each side convinced the other was confused.

Viral Spread of the Dress

Within days of being posted, the dress image saturated social media and became a worldwide phenomenon. Here’s a look at some key stats about its viral spread:

Platform Engagement
Twitter Over 600,000 tweets in two days
Tumblr 14 million notes in first week
Facebook Over 10 million shares in a month
Instagram 1.7 million posts with #TheDress hashtag

Notable celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber weighed in on the debate. It trended globally and was discussed on major TV networks. The sheer absurdity of the disagreement, combined with people’s shock at seeing differently, fueled rapid sharing. It became not just a debate about color, but about how we each perceive reality through our own lens.

Lasting Impact and Lessons

The dress debate had some important cultural impacts:

  • It revealed individual differences in perception more prominently.
  • It demonstrated the power and speed of viral social sharing.
  • It showed how people cling to their own perception as the “correct” one.
  • It highlighted the human drive to make meaning from ambiguity.

While the mania eventually faded away, the science and psychology behind #TheDress offer some valuable lessons:

  • Human perception is subjective and shaped by complex factors.
  • Group dynamics can cause us to doubt what we see with our own eyes.
  • Viral memes reveal how we react to uncertainty and each other.
  • Debates are rarely resolved if both sides feel certain they are correct.

So while we may never agree on whether that dress was blue and black or white and gold, the experience revealed just how differently we each see the world. In a world filled with ambiguity, it’s a valuable lesson in perspective.


The dress color debate of 2015 captivated the public and revealed how variable yet stubborn human perception can be. The same photo produced two wildly different color interpretations, spawning arguments but also introspection. While humorous on the surface, the deeper issues raised remind us to maintain perspective and humility when insisting others see the world exactly as we do. Our senses, biases and social contexts shape reality. The dress was never just about color, but about understanding ourselves.