So, What Color IS That Dress, Anyway?

February 28,2015

A new dress by British retailer Roman Originals attracted the world's attention when an international survey showed that people looking at it on the Internet could not agree on what color it is.

Some say it's blue and black; others go with white and gold. Still others offer slight variations on those pairings.

So what are the true colors? Images uploaded on various social media websites caused a worldwide debate Friday, with many celebrities voicing support for one camp or another. The photo also got some people worrying about whether they needed to see an eye doctor, especially after the British retailer gave a definite answer.

"I would like to definitely resolve this big enigma by clarifying that the color is royal blue and black," said Michele Bastock, the design director at Roman Originals. "It is not white and gold at all. But we are happy to put into production the white and gold if the demand comes along."

Optometry experts say the photo is a perfect example of how people's brains perceive color and process contrast in dramatically different ways.

"The visual system is very complex between males and females, or just between individuals," said Ramin Rabbani, a California ophthalmologist. "So context has to do with, lighting has to do with how we see things, and ultimately our brain is what interprets [what we see]."

Managers at Roman Originals said they had no idea that the dress, shot in a particular light, might be perceived in different color schemes — not until Friday, anyway, when they were flooded by phone calls and emails. The retailer said there were a million hits on its sales site in the first 18 hours following the photo's distribution.