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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Ask Bobby #12
September 25, 2023

The Dress That Broke the Internet and Our Minds

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Do You Know What Color This Dress Is?

Everyone is probably sick of hearing the words “the dress,” because we all know exactly what that phrase means.
For those who have been out of the digital loop, the photo everyone is going nuts over is a picture of a dress with lace fringe and a small leather coat. Seemingly harmless, except for the fact that some people see the dress as black and blue, while others see the dress as white and gold. Some even see other color combinations all together, like orange and blue.
Let’s give the dress some credit, though: even though we all think we’re going crazy because of it and, honestly, it’s a pretty ugly dress to begin with, this photo hit viral status.
The dress originates from a post made by the user “swiked” on the popular social media platform Tumblr.
“Guys please help me—is this dress white and gold or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree,” the original poster captioned.
She expanded on her initial post by clarifying that the dress belongs to the mother of the bride of the wedding she attended, and that on the day of, everyone saw the dress as blue and black until the viral photo was taken. She shared another photo of the dress, in which the dress owner is actually wearing the dress, and it is clearly black and blue.
Personally, in the viral photo, I can only ever see the dress as white with gold lace fringe.
“This is so freakin’ weird,” Justin McGrath, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Boston said. “I can only see blue and black.”
“I saw it as blue and black when I first saw it. Then the next morning I looked at it and it changed right in front of my eyes. I think maybe it’s just the lighting of the picture and how your eyes perceive it, because I read that the dress in real life actually is blue and black,” said Khanh Nguyen, a 20-year-old UMass Boston student.
So, why on Earth is this dress not only different colors for different people, but even switching colors for people who initially saw the dress one way?
Wired.com takes a stab at the science behind the way the human eye functions in regards to perceiving color. Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist at Wellesley College, explains that the way the human eye selects color perception is based on how humans have evolved to see in daylight, which has a wide range of colors.
This range, which is referred to as a “chromatic axis,” results in your eyes attempting to identify a color set to settle on based partially on the background color behind the dress.  The photo has a limited amount of cues for eyes to work with to determine the true colors and lighting. Your eyes may ignore the blue aspect of the spectrum and see white and gold, or ignore the gold aspect and see blue and black.
Conway says that, if the background behind the dress is modified to white, the dress can appear blue, and if the background is modified to black, the dress can appear white.
When it comes down to it, the dress is more than just an internet sensation: it’s an accidental experiment allowing us to examine the way human sight works.
In other words, a viral photo just did a small favor on your grade for Biology.