What color is the dress? Otherwise known as #TheDress, the trend refers to a Tumblr post in which viewers were asked to identify the color of a dress, which appeared to be either white and gold or black and blue. The question sparked an Internet-wide debate in late February 2015, launching the competing hashtags “#WhiteAndGold” and “#BlackAndBlue.”
With the newest “Laurel or Yanny?” trend taking social media by storm, it serves to revisit the original trend that set this type of social media debate into motion.
Here’s what you need to know about #TheDress:
1. #TheDress Started When Cecilia Bleasdale Sent a Picture of the Dress to her Daughter, who Disagreed on the Color
On February 25th, 2015, Tumblr user “swiked” posted a photograph of a dress asking Tumblr users to help identify its colors, noting that her daughter and friends were torn between it being white and gold or black and blue. Within 48 hours, the post gained over 400,000 notes.
The question sparked an Internet-wide debate in 2015, launching the competing hashtags “#WhiteAndGold” and “#BlackAndBlue.”
The story began with a debate between a mother and daughter in the small island of Colonsay, Scotland. About a week before the wedding of couple Grace and Keir Johnston, the bride’s mother, Cecilia Bleasdale, took a photograph of a dress she planned to wear to the wedding and sent it to her daughter.
After the two disagreed over the perceived color of the dress in the photograph, the bride posted the image on Facebook, where her friends also argued about the color. Some of her friends saw it as white with gold lace, while others saw it as blue with black lace. For the course of a week, the debate became well known in Colonsay, and quickly spread across the world.
2. The Debate Spread Quickly Across Social Media, Gaining over 400, 000 Tweets in the First 12 Hours
The debate spread like wildfire across the internet. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, users chimed in on the color of the garment using the above hashtags. Within 12 hours, #TheDress had reached over 400,000 tweets, and #WhiteAndGold lead with a ratio of 3:1 tweets over #BlackAndBlue. By the end of 24 hours, tweets containing #TheDress had jumped to over 1.2 million.
According to Know Your Meme, “experts have cited the color constancy feature of the human color perception system, which attempts to make colors appear consistent under varying types of illumination, as being responsible for the different colors identified in the photograph. If the viewer assumes a white illuminant, the dress appears blue and black, but if a blue illuminant is assumed, the dress appears white and gold.”
According to Know Your Meme, on February 26th, BuzzFeed posted a poll asking readers to decide what color the dress really was. Within 10 hours the poll received more than 1.8 million votes, with 72% selecting “white and gold.”
“Later that evening, BuzzFeed published a second post revealing that the dress was actually blue after finding it available for purchase on United Kingdom-based online retailer Roman Originals, which listed it as a “Royal-Blue Lace Detail Bodycon Dress.”
The dress debate between the colors spawned thousands of memes that continue to live on through the internet three years later. However, one very powerful ad was created from the dress movement. A viral media ad was created by the Salvation Army highlighting the issue of domestic violence, asking the public why it is “so hard to see black and blue.”
3. The Attempts at Scientific Explanations Were Abundant During #TheDress Debates
According to Wired, the argument about what color the dress actually is involves “primal biology and the way human eyes and brains have evolved to see color in a sunlit world.”
“Your brain tries to interpolate a kind of color context for the image, and then spits out an answer for the color of the dress,” according to the Wired article. “Light enters the eye through the lens—different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. The light hits the retina in the back of the eye where pigments fire up neural connections to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes those signals into an image. Critically, though, that first burst of light is made of whatever wavelengths are illuminating the world, reflecting off whatever you’re looking at. Without you having to worry about it, your brain figures out what color light is bouncing off the thing your eyes are looking at, and essentially subtracts that color from the ‘real’ color of the object.”
The staff at Wired theorize that the argument spread so rapidly and with such vigor because of the way humans are wired. Human beings evolved to see in the daylight, but because daylight changes color the “chromatic axis varies from the pinkish red of dawn, up through the blue-white of noontime, and then back down to reddish twilight.”
According to Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies color and vision at Wellesley College, “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.”
Other explanations involved a process called “color constancy,” which involves your brain taking environmental lighting effects and your own past experiences into account when interpreting the precise wavelengths it believes are being reflected off a surface. Differences in the eye, your initial impression of the dress, and “interpretive processing” are all other potential explanations for the illusion.
According to this article by Slate, “the brain confidently fills in the gaps in knowledge by making assumptions,” therefore spawning a worldwide debate over the color of the dress in question.
4. Laurel vs Yanny is the Newest #TheDress Trend Sweeping Social Media
Over three years after the the internet had a meltdown debate over the color of the dress, an audio file has the internet in a frenzy once again, questioning one another’s hearing, as well as their own. However, this new fad involves a recorded voice saying “Yanny” or “Laurel.”
Social media influence and vlogger Cloe Feldman posted a posted of the audio recording on her Instagram account, as well as her Twitter page a short time later: “What do you hear? Yanny or Laurel,” accompanied by a recording of a computerized voice. This seemingly innocent question has the internet up-in-arms once again, battling over the correct answer and questioning the sanity of those who have opposing answers.
The debate has sparked fierce arguments across Twitter and Reddit, with people deliberating whether the pitch of the voice, the level of the bass from the audio device playing the recording, or the audio frequencies made a serious impact on what the listener heard.
Some social media users claimed they could hear both words at the same time after adjusting the audio levels, while others claimed they could hear different words depending on how the audio was manipulated.
Others claimed they heard one word for a while, then the other — or even both simultaneously. Either way, the debate has the internet at each other’s throats once again, pitting friends, family and coworkers against each other while they try to determine who is correct and who is crazy.
According to this Reddit thread, what you hear depends on the amount of bass that’s being produced from the device you’re listening on.
“Turn the volume up/down to hear each version.
It has to do with the bass frequencies not being perceived as loud at lower volumes.
If you turn the volume very low, there will be practically no bass and you will hear Yanny.
Turn the volume up and play it on some speakers that have actual bass response (aka not your phone) and you will hear Laurel.”
5. Bleasdale Attempted to get Royalties off the Copyright of the Dress Photo as More Debate Fads Sweep Social Media, Piggybacking off the Popularity of #TheDress Trend
Since Bleasdale took the original photo of the dress that started the movement, she technically owns the copyright and has attempted to retrieve the royalties earned from the worldwide fame of the picture. However, Bleasdale told the Guardian that the money collected so far hadn’t been enough to pay for solicitor’s fees.
According to the Guardian, the issue around copyright of the image has been a little muddled because “many places, including BuzzFeed, embedded the Tumblr post which included the image. But that post has since been deleted, leaving a gaping hole in internet history.”
Since the infamous dress debate started over three years ago, the people of the internet are continually looking for the next #TheDress trend. Until the #Yanny vs #Laurel trend that blossomed recently, there were a handful of other fun and goofy pictures trending across Twitter, hoping to find the same fame that #TheDress did.