How Can One Stupid Dress Be So Many Colors?

Boston luminaries sound off on a weird internet debate. And as always, XKCD has the final word.

Thursday night, the internet suddenly erupted in a collective debate about a photo of a dress. Is this garment white and gold? Is it blue and black? If you’re like most people, you probably think it’s exactly ONE of those pairings, and anyone who sees it otherwise needs to see an optometrist.

It all began, according to, when Scottish musician Caitlin McNeill posted a photo of the dress to Tumblr. Debate about its color quickly spilled over to other social networks, where everyone from Taylor Swift to Kanye West had some strong opinions.’s Steve Silva tweeted out the reactions of several Red Sox players. David Ortiz had a strong one:

Boston’s media organizations began taking definitive-sounding stances:

Celebrities like Mindy Kaling grew irate:

Others, like the New Yorker‘s Ian Crouch, began to despair:

Obviously, something strange was going on. After cooling off, and/or signing divorce papers with a former loved one with whom they disagreed, people began looking for answers. The issue, it seems, is how people are interpreting the photo’s context. Most people either see a white and gold dress in shadowy lighting (in which case, the “white” looks sort of blueish) or a black and gold dress in direct sunlight. Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist at Wellesley College, told Wired magazine:

What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis. So people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black.

The best visualization to help grasp this idea that we’ve seen comes from Somerville’s own Randall Munroe of the webcomic XKCD:

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

That dress’s colors are the same in both frames. Only the surrounding colors have changed. So … there you go. Whatever the dress is in real life, a person could reasonably interpret it to be either set of colors. Probably time to reconcile with those loved ones. Now.