What Color Is This Dress? Science Answers

By Lisa Raffensperger | February 27, 2015 10:28 am

It’s Friday on the Internet, and we’re all abuzz with the latest meme  but, happily, for once it’s a meme with some fascinating science behind it.

The question at hand, if you haven’t been asked it already, is what color is this dress, below? The results are remarkably divided. An informal Buzzfeed poll indicates that about 75 percent of people perceive it to be white and gold.


But, as the video above explains, other people see it as black and blue  which are indeed its true colors. What’s going on?

Well it appears that this snapshot hits a sweet spot of ambiguity, allowing our brains’ color processing judgment calls to be laid bare. It depends, essentially, on whether you perceive the dress’s lighting to be an overexposed, yellow light (which would lead you to conclude the dress is blue) or a bluish light perhaps cast by sunlight shining through a window (which would lead you to see white).

It’s a judgment call our brains make all the time, but rarely are we able to compare those judgments to other people so starkly. “I’ve studied individual differences in color vision for 30 years, and this is one of the biggest individual differences I’ve ever seen,” Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington, told Wired.

It’s just one example of how weird things happen to our color perception in colored light. “I used to own a red Volkswagen,” Neitz told Vice. “I was out and it was dark and I was getting into my car. Someone next to me had just gotten into their car and put on their brake lights. When they did that, my car was illuminated just with the brake lights—and my car looked white!”

So, what color do you see? And can you flip your perception? Tell us in the comments!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
  • Marwa Hassan

    I don’t think it depends on the environment or light type while viewing the picture , because some of my family members at the same house and same place viewed the pic but our perceptions were different

    • Guest

      among my family members

      • Nathan Lashlee

        The first time I saw this picture as I scrolled through Facebook, I saw white and gold. A few minutes later saw and showed me a larger picture of it on her phone and it looked blue and black. Later, when I saw it reappear on my news feed it looked white and gold.

    • SKowalski

      The video means that different people perceive the colors in the photo either blue light or yellow light, nothing has to do with where you see the photo or in what room of the house. It’s just solely in the photo itself.
      I see white and gold and my husband sees blue and black. Which I cannot understand how he sees black at all!

    • Skip Nordenholz

      I think the point is that the background lighting in the image is ambiguous, and so how you interpret the colours depends on what background lighting the image has, does it have blue lighting making whites look blue and golds look dark brown, or is it yellow lighting, reflecting of black to make it look brownish and adding little to blue, so blue looks pretty much blue. Without knowing what the background lighting in the image is, both interpretation are possible.

  • Steven Otte

    This is the first picture of that dress I’ve seen that actually looked blue and black. All the others have looked unambiguously gold and white. I think people are posting altered versions of the photo to social media to try to trick readers.

    • rlmays

      That is so amazing. I thought exactly the opposite!

    • Lisa Raffensperger

      Nope, we promise this is the exact image you’ve seen elsewhere on the internet. Scouts honor.

  • Sandra Cowdrick

    My Husband, Brother, Daughter, Nephew and I all looked at this on the computer, same time, same room. My Brother, Nephew and Daughter saw white/gold, and my Nephew and I saw blue black. We (my daughter and I) didn’t tell them what we were doing, just asked ‘what color is this dress?’ then explained after. This isn’t some altered gif, it’s simply science.

    • Darryl

      This is a JPEG. Not a GIF. Potato. PS. Its white and gold. This isn’t Rhianna’s dress, that would be black and blue.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    In the version above, I see lightish blue and gold/brown.

    • fjuliet6054@yahoo.com

      Same here. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see the actual darker blue and black.

    • http://www.ryanlifeofryan.com Michael P Haluska

      Yes– I was also able to see these colors of lightish blue and darkish gold/brown as a *transition phase* between white and gold and blue and black! In fact, I wasn’t able to see the* true * blue and black for awhile… but now it is back for me.

  • Brett Champion

    I actually see a mix of the two sets of colors: blue and gold

  • sdfg

    looks like its blue and gold to me :/

  • Ŵãlĩd Ţãlbĩ

    For the peopl who see it ‘ gold and white’ try to look at it from a different angle( horizontaly) . You ‘ll see the difference

    • Laura Hagan Sauls

      Oh, thank you! I tilted my laptop screen back a bit and immediately saw blue and black, but the first 50 times I’ve seen this was always bluish white and gold. Now I can understand why some people see the blue and black!

  • Shawn Fluhr

    For anyone who actually cares: “As the video above explains, other people see it as black and blue – which are indeed its true colors.”

    It is not the appearance of the dress that is an optical illusion that is deceiving… it is that the IMAGE of the illusion is actually ‘white’ and ‘gold’

    Want hard data?
    A color graph of the pixels of the ‘gold portion’ average it out to be: 122,104,64. Which is unfortunately brown.
    The ‘white’ pixels, is: 154,173,216. That makes it mostly blue, or what would be called ‘steel blue’.

    For anyone who cares this dress is actually grayish-blue and light-brown in the image. If you are seeing anything other than this, you are succumbing to the fact that discover magazine typically expresses false information to the public, and swarm intelligence.

    • lynndobb

      So my perception was influenced by an article I hadn’t read before looking at the picture? Seems unlikely.

      • Shawn Fluhr

        😛 It’s also influenced by whether or not you are using a CRT monitor or LC Display. The resolution of the image. The lighting in the room you are in. There are a number of factors.

    • Skip Nordenholz

      You don’t know what your talking about, sure the actual pixel values may be what you say but thats not how people see colour, people judge the colour by what they think the background lighting is. Anything white in blue lighting will have pixel values of blue, but if we are aware of the blue lighting our brains take this into account and conclude its actually white. I have managed to see both white and gold and blue and black, I even managed to see it change in front of my eyes whilst scrolling it into view this was before seeing it here. There are plenty of good example of how our perception of colour can tricked by (or informed) by the lighting, the rubix cube example is a good one where two orange squares on a rubix cube one in the well lit top and one on the shadowed side look like completely different colours even though they are identical, thing is in the real world they would be different colours because they have different lighting.

  • Sarah Finch

    I can’t see the white and gold no matter how many times I look.

  • Trace

    I really want to see it as black and blue. But I see it as white and gold on all devices including the library and differant people’s devices?

  • Michael P Haluska

    This might be interesting to some: When I saw this image on an iPhone yesterday, it appeared unambiguosly blue and black to me. However, just a few minuites ago, having just awakened from sleep, I started to read this article and saw the dress as a beautiful white and gold! Then, I read about the background lighting ambiguity… scrolled back to the picture… squinted my eyes just a little… and the dress transformed to blue and black! I’m currently trying to *trick* my eyes into seeing it in the stunning white and gold version that I saw a few minutes ago– but so far, cannot. Any ideas out there? PS: To see both is really Fun!

  • isabelle

    I see blue and gold at both lights. Is that a problem?

  • Jenny wise

    I see white and gold

  • Jeevan Rai

    I saw it black and blue color.

  • rio

    Me my father and my boyfriend sees blue and golden black.. While my two neighbors sees white and brown..

  • George Baxter

    The real colours could easily be analysed by a spectrum analyser, as available in photo-shop.

    I think this is some sort of hoax, or possibly a psychological experiment to test the gullibility or suspectibility of groups of people. Maybe to see if they can be convinced by peer pressure to perceive something that is not there.

    Why do I think it is a hoax. The BBC has a news clip purporting to show the same dress. Sure enough, some shots look white/gold and others look blue/black. But I can put both images side by side and see both sets of colours on the same screen. If it were a “rods and cones” effect, then both images should be the same and they weren’t.

  • HolyAlcoholic

    If you change the angle of view at your monitor you can see both pairs of colors. Optical trick

  • Lwanda Mhlauli

    The dress “color” is whatever tiny wavelength portion of the electromagnetic spectrum it happens to reflect into our crude vision receptors from the environment around it, at the moment it is perceived.

  • Cassidy McGarry

    This has become very controversial in our home. My wife has only seen it as white and gold. My sons both see it as blue and black. Yesterday, when I saw it the first time it was B&B, and today when I look at it, it’s white and gold.

  • Pat Holtman

    Even though I now know it’s a lovely cobalt blue and black, the picture still looks lavender and bronze to me.

  • Skip Nordenholz

    What, I suppose to come up with a different answer than the correct one? So what if its in the same order, how many different orders are there. What do you mean by actual colour. The actual colour of the dress is washed out blue and washed out brown, thats not what most people reported seeing.

  • Dr Mubeen Malik

    white & gold.

  • JoleneMc

    Last year, all I could see was gold and white. When this came up, all I could see was black and blue. If I tilt the screen on my laptop toward me, it becomes white and gold; if I tilt it back away from me, it becomes black and blue.



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