If you and your family or friends have been arguing about the color of the dress — and if you don’t know what dress we’re talking about here, you probably do not use social media — be prepared to end the argument right here and now. The New York Times has revealed the color of the dress: It is, indeed, black and blue, not gold and white.
The Times article shows a different photo of the dress than the one making its way around the Internet. Unlike the one that originally was posted on Tumblr and was subject to interpretation, the Times photo was shot in different light that clearly shows the dress as black and blue.
The controversy began innocently enough on Feb. 25 when Caitlin McNeill, a 21-year-old woman who had recently attended a wedding in Scotland, posted a photo of the dress (which had been worn in the wedding) with this message: “guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the [expletive deleted] out.”
McNeill got quite a lot of help; to say the photo went viral is an understatement. The photo has an uncanny ability to absolutely appear gold-and-white to some and positively black-and-blue to others — igniting fierce debates around the country.
Facebook posts just mentioned the dress — they didn’t have to explain — and drew a torrent of posts. For example, when Michigan resident Jim Schaeffer posted his opinion, comments came in from all over the country. Said Beverly Hills, Mich., resident Karen Hettrick Wiegel: “There was a lot of screaming about it in our house last night…two distinct camps.”
Celebrities like Mandy Kaling and Kim Kardashian weighed in. A U.S. Senator tweeted his position on the weighty matter. But social media was just the beginning. Radio deejays bantered about it. CNN did a segment on it. Wired Magazine wrote about it.
By this morning, the post had travelled so far that The New York Times picked up on it and published an article entitled, “The White and Gold (No, Blue and Black!) Dress That Melted the Internet.”
Another Times science section story explained — sort of — how two people can see the same photo, see different colors and both be absolutely certainly they are right:
Our eyes are able to assign fixed colors to objects under widely different lighting conditions. This ability is called color constancy. But the photograph doesn’t give many clues about the ambient light in the room. Is the background bright and the dress in shadow? Or is the whole room bright and all the colors are washed out? Different people may pick up on different visual cues in the image, which can change how they interpret and name the colors.
Meanwhile, a post on the website of the Poynter Institute, a training organization for journalists, concluded that there are lessons to be learned from the dress mess:
The simple truth is our brains process information in ways that can lead us astray. This is something every journalist needs to be aware of and account for in the work we do.
(For the record, this writer was certain that the dress was gold and white, eliciting gasps of disbelief from his wife and daughters, who absolutely could not believe that he could not see that the dress was clearly black and blue.)