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What does the color you see on the dress mean?

The now infamous dress that divided the internet back in 2015 sparked fierce debate over whether it was blue and black or white and gold. While people furiously argued over the actual color of the dress, the fascination revealed something interesting about human perception, biases and the subjective nature of reality.

The Dress That Broke the Internet

In February 2015, a washed-out photograph of a dress posted online went viral. Some people insisted the dress was blue and black while others saw white and gold. The image became an internet sensation with millions weighing in on the great dress debate. So what colors were people actually seeing?

The Original Dress

The dress photograph was originally posted on the social networking site Tumblr by Caitlin McNeill, a 21-year-old aspiring singer from Scotland. The picture showed a dress she spotted while browsing for a wedding outfit with her mother. McNeill noticed her mother saw the dress as white and gold while she saw blue and black. Amused by the discrepancy, she posted the picture online asking friends to weigh in.

The actual dress was confirmed to be royal blue with black lace overlay designed by the clothing company Roman Originals. But the overexposed photograph washed out the colors leading to confusion over the hue.

Viral Sensation

Soon the post went viral as people began intensely debating what colors they saw. Within 48 hours, over 10 million tweets mentioned the dress with viral hashtags like #thedress, #whiteandgold and #blackandblue. Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber also joined the frenzy. Some celebrities even shifted perspectives, first seeing one set of colors then suddenly the other. The dress meme dominated social media and water cooler discussions around the world.

The mania highlighted differences in human color perception fueled by expectations, context and optical illusions. The dress photograph itself may be the greatest trick the internet has ever played on the eyes.

What Science Says About the Dress Colors

The dress debate inspired scientific investigation into the phenomenon. Color vision experts, neuroscientists and psychologists conducted experiments to explain why people saw the dress so differently. Their research uncovered facts about how the brain perceives color and provided insight into the subjective nature of reality.

Color Constancy

Experts say the discrepancies over the dress stem from color constancy. This is the visual system’s ability to maintain consistent color perception despite changes in lighting conditions. The brain uses visual cues to make assumptions and automatically adjust color interpretations.

For example, people typically associate shadows and folds with darker colors. So the brain may interpret the dress photographed in shadow as having a darker color like blue instead of white. Differences in cues picked up by the brain altered whether people saw the real color or the perceived color.

Individual Differences

Studies found individual differences also affected whether people saw the dress as blue/black or white/gold. Younger people were more likely to see the white and gold interpretation. Cultural background and language impacted readings as well. For example, Chinese participants saw white and gold more often than British participants did.

People’s individual levels of daylight and blue color perception also influenced dress colors. Those more sensitive to bluish tints were prone to seeing white/gold while those less sensitive saw blue/black. Pre-existing individual brain differences shaped color biases.

Factors Blue/Black White/Gold
Age Older Younger
Culture British Chinese
Color Perception Less blue sensitive More blue sensitive

Optical Illusions

Optical illusions also came into play with the dress photograph. The overexposure created visual effects that tricked the eyes. Looking at the image aperture surrounding the dress impacted interpretations. Staring into the darker margins first made the dress appear lighter in contrast. But staring into the bright center made the dress look darker when glancing at the lace trim.

Starting points and individual gaze patterns changed readings of the dress. Some optical illusions can even flip perceptions back and forth. These effects confused the visual system and probably contributed to shifting perspectives on the dress colors.

What Explaining the Dress Says About Reality

The dress debate highlighted intriguing aspects about human psychology, physiology and the nature of reality. Here are some of the insights it revealed:

Perception is Subjective

The dress shows perception is relative and subjective. People can look at the exact same image yet see something completely different. Reality only exists within the mind of the observer rather than in absolute terms. As author Michael Bach put it: “This picture is neither white/gold nor blue/black but could be either, depending on interpretation.”

Facts Don’t Change Minds

Even when told the actual colors of the dress, people continued seeing blue/black or white/gold. This demonstrated how hard it is to change ingrained perceptual interpretations. People hold onto initial impressions and biases even in the face of facts.

Individual Brains Are Unique

Differing dress interpretations reflect individual neurology. People have unique visual systems, color sensitivities, cognitive biases and psychological associations. These mental signatures shape how people construct reality. The dress shows there may not be any “true” color but only diversity of experience.

Context Shapes Perception

Subtle contextual cues like light conditions, surrounding colors and language impacted dress readings. This highlights how perceptions arise within frameworks of culture, biology and circumstance. People don’t form interpretations in isolation but against backdrops of context filtering input.

Snap Judgements Mislead

Jumping to conclusions about the dress colors led to errors. This demonstrates problems with making rushed judgements without careful thinking. Allowing time for the brain to fully process ambiguity shows the value of patient, open-minded observation.

What Does the Dress You See Say About You?

Personality traits and thinking styles correlate with whether people saw the dress as white/gold or blue/black. This means interpretations reveal aspects of personal psychology.

Dress Colors Seen Personality Traits
  • Optimistic
  • Emotionally stable
  • Going with the flow
  • Detail-oriented
  • Argumentative
  • Critically analytical

Studies found those who saw the dress as white and gold were more likely to be positive personalities with easy-going mindsets. They conformed to popular perceptions and made snap judgements.

In contrast, those adamantly seeing blue/black were more detail-focused. They critically examined information and formed independent interpretations. This group resisted conformity and questioned quick assumptions.

Optimism Bias

Seeing white/gold correlated to optimism bias. The brain’s tendency to see things pleasantly influenced perceptions of a lighter dress. Those more emotionally positive took shortcuts to interpret the dress in a happy way.


Blue/black perceivers were more skeptical. Rather than just going with the crowd, they logically analyzed the image details before reaching conclusions. Despite facts, they stuck firmly to initial deductions. This reveals higher levels of dogmatism.

Reaction to Ambiguity

The vague dress colors created confusion. Those seeing white/gold had more tolerance for uncertainty. But blue/black viewers felt heightened discomfort with ambiguity. Disliking the unknown, they sought closure by adamantly arguing their position.

What the Dress Color You See Reveals

Here’s a quick overview of what your dress color interpretation suggests about your personality and perceptions:

Dress Color What it Reveals
  • Optimistic
  • Tolerant of ambiguity
  • Conforms to expectations
  • Detail-oriented
  • Dogmatic thinker
  • Dislikes uncertainty


The dress that captured the attention of millions acts as an apt metaphor. Just like the shape-shifting dress, reality is not one-size-fits-all but depends on individual minds. The way people interpret the same image differently reveals truth’s fluid nature. However, underlying biases and perceptual tendencies give clues to who someone is as a unique person.

So though people may not agree on colors, the great dress debate provided perspective. It showed how truth emanates from within yet a little bit of the seer also appears embedded in the seen. In the end, the dress is not so much blue or gold but a mirror reflecting back the many faces of human psychology.