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That Blue Dress!

that-blue-dressWritten by Cicely Rathmell, M.Sc.

And just in time to distract the world on a Friday, the web has been thrown into hot debate over the color of a dress. Or rather, a picture of a dress. Some see it as white & gold, while others are adamant that it is blue and black.

As trivial a topic as this may seem, it does make one think about that subjective thing we call color. We’ve all “matched” two items in our closet and then headed out the door only to discover that they no longer match, but that’s due to the balance of colors or wavelengths in the illuminating light sources interacting differently with the two fabrics and sending a different balance of reflected wavelengths to our eye.

This debate is over emissive color, which is what you are seeing when you view the photo on your phone or computer screen. Our eyes expect to see light from objects like clothing only in reflective mode, so when you see the photo of the dress online, your eye is processing the wavelengths seen as if they were light reflected from fabric, attempting to compensate for the effect of the illuminating source as if the dress were being seen in person. But not everyone’s brain will process that information through the same algorithm, or balance against the background in the image the same way.

In fact, not everyone “sees” exactly the same way. In fact, about 5.5% of males and 0.4% of females are classed as anomalous trichromats, and show pronounced deviations from the majority of the population in how they perceive color, and that’s beyond traditional color blindness. What we do know is that spectrometers perceive color the same way, every time. Learn more about how to make objective color measurements.

Oh, and by the way — it’s blue and black. And not just because we think so.