Does it matter what color the dress is?

I’ve been brainstorming topics and trying to figure out how to start this blog for a couple of weeks now. Do I take the time to introduce the idea behind creating it, or just jump right in? Talk about myself, or shift the focus to the culture in general? Try to be very serious and academic, or have fun talking about fandom? And then this ridiculous dress popped up in my social networks.

You’ve probably seen it already. I was lucky and only saw 3 people posting about it across all my networks all day long, none of them were arguing about it, and one was just posting to say it was a silly thing to get everyone’s attention. And it is. This is an utterly ridiculous way to start off my new blog. But that works for me, it makes a good introduction. I created this blog to talk about things a lot of people dismiss as silly – things like comic books, fandom, technology, etc. A lot of those silly things can matter quite a bit, it’s all in how you look at it. And even when there is no deeper meaning and it’s all about fun, fun is good and worth celebrating. I like fun, and I don’t think we should have to apologize for having it.

So this dress. Short version, someone on Tumblr posted a picture of a blue dress with black lace (or is it a white dress with gold lace?), stating that they and their friends couldn’t agree on the color. Which is it? For some reason, this is not a simple answer, there were people on both sides who felt very strongly that they were seeing it correctly, and there was lots of freaking out about it. And then, apparently, lots and lots of posts about it, to the point that some people are getting pretty annoyed with the whole question and wish we’d all just shut up and stop looking at the thing.

Some people jumped in with possible scientific explanations for why we’re seeing different things. My favorites were from Wired, which was the first one to explain the concept in a way that made sense to me, and Nerdist, which brought up an aspect I hadn’t considered at all and haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else (though admittedly I haven’t done a wide search). The basic idea is that our brains auto-correct colors based on the light in our environment, which apparently changes color throughout the day. But with a photo, we can’t really tell what time of day it is or what the light was like in the area being photographed, so our brains guess, and some of our brains made different assumptions.

There was a suggestion on the Nerdist report that the environment where people are viewing it might make a difference. If you’re in a dark room, will your brain assume it’s later in the day and correct that way? I was curious, so I moved to the brightest room in my house, looked again, and found that the dress did indeed seem quite a bit lighter! Still blue for sure, but before it had been such a dark blue I couldn’t imagine anyone seeing white. In the brighter room, I could. (I’m sure a placebo effect might also explain this and I’m not considering it proof, but I do find it interesting.)

I love to learn about how widely people’s perceptions can vary, and why that might happen. I think the brain is a fascinating thing and the world we live in is amazing I want to know more about all of it. So for me, this bizarre new internet freakout is just a great way to choose what new thing I’m going to learn today, and that’s awesome. It doesn’t really require any further meaning. But after seeing complaints that we’re talking about something so pointless when there are important issues in the world, I’m a little troubled that people would dismiss it that way and would like to make a case for the Great Dress Debate.

Sure, the color of a dress is not an important issue. People often perceive and/or describe colors in different ways, and generally no one cares much about it. (Is periwinkle purple or blue? Is teal blue or green? Why do all of these seem to involve blue? Actually, that last one can probably be answered by the fact that most of the light we see is blue, or something like that. That’s a learning topic for another day.) But when I look at something and see a medium-dark blue and other people are insisting it’s white? That’s a big difference, and it seems to me like something worth investigating.

After all, a lot of those more important issues boil down to this – the fact that we can all look at the same world, the same issues, and see things in such very different ways. How can we all look at the same problems and come up with opposing solutions? How can two people grow up in the same home, go to the same churches all their lives, and come to vastly different conclusions about how much they can trust anything they were taught in those places? This happens all the time and often causes serious conflict, so I actually think it’s extremely important that when we find a place where what we see is significantly different from what someone else sees, we consider what factors might cause us to perceive that thing differently.

Once we understand that someone so close to us and our own experience can have a totally different interpretation of those experiences, it should be easier to understand how people further removed from us would also see things in a completely different way. If you dismiss it as unimportant, you lose the opportunity to learn from the experience and understand the other person’s perspective. Communication is hard and imperfect as it is, getting better at it requires us to get outside our own heads and make the effort to see what someone else sees and the perceptions they have of certain words, events, etc. I’ve lost count of the number of tense, emotional debates I’ve had over the years that eventually ended when we realized we were defining a single word differently. It’s a lot of wasted energy, and I’d much rather spend that energy looking for explanations than arguing about it.

So no, of course it doesn’t matter if the dress is blue or white. That’s silly. But trying to figure out why two groups of people see the same silly dress in the same photo and can’t agree on what they’re seeing? I can’t think of many things that are more important.

Now that the serious(?) part is out of the way…

This post is easily my favorite thing to come out of this whole situation. Especially the following quote from the blue-and-bronze category, which definitely describes me: “You take your time with things. Often, you’ll stare at a tree for hours on end, just thinking about its point in the universe. Is it a tree? What makes it a tree? If you stop calling it a tree, is it still a tree?”

Celebrate your differences! I’m just sorry this didn’t happen back in the days when everyone was on livejournal and someone would have already made banners for us to add to our profiles to let visitors know where we stand on this very important issue.

7 thoughts on “Does it matter what color the dress is?

  1. I had a good time about this dress the other week and it was so interesting that some saw it one way and others a different way, even looking at the same dress on the same sreen in the same room at the same time!

    My husband though… well, I guess we could say that his reaction to it echoed the way he sees other “issues” in life. HE was right and I have a lower level of colour determination than him. His mind works better simply. I was like… WTF and STFU but the thing with him is that he didn’t necessarily mean it in a bad way, he just has this mentality of needing to be better and needing others to know about it, etc. He’s a narcissist really and it comes out in these ways. I always try to make my point of view understood but I rarely get anywhere.

    At work it was fun and interesting to ask people what colour the saw the dress and at home, it was a reminder of his belief and need to express that he is better somehow, more innately talented at even something like determining the true colour of a dress. No thought in his mind that it had to do with our perspective, the way our minds work in valid but different ways, etc. I just had a weaker mind somehow. He was proud that both our kids saw it as blue like he did.


    1. Not only that, I heard from a few people that the dress changed color for them when they scrolled down and then back up, and one person even said it changed color while they were looking at it! Kind of how that vase/faces optical illusion can change back and forth, or the dancing ballerina gif changes directions. It wasn’t just two sides, seems like there was a whole spectrum of how the dress was being perceived. I don’t understand how anyone could not think that’s awesome.

      Sorry to hear it was not so much a fun activity at home. How do you tend to deal with that? Argue back or just humor him? I try to just let these things slide in similar situations and just let them feel superior because they seem to need it, but I confess sometimes I just get mad and want to prove them wrong. 😀


  2. I was one of those who saw the dress one color, then scrolled back up the page after reading the article, and it had changed!

    Great post. I’m glad I finally found your new blog so I can catch up. 🙂


    1. Yay! Glad to see you here.

      I tried so hard to see a white dress. When I heard about the scroll thing I kept trying it, just scrolling up and down over and over again whenever I read an article about it. No dice.

      (Do you ever use a phrase, realize you have no idea why we use it or what it originally meant, and decide you need to go look it up before posting to make sure it’s right? “No dice” means the die is invalid because it bounced weird or fell off the table! Huh. I never use it that way, even though I play tabletop RPGs so that exact thing happens all the time!)


  3. Yes, I have looked up words and phrases before posting them to make sure they are correct. Thanks for sharing the original meaning! 🙂


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