What The Hell is Wrong With Your Eyes? A Dress Explainer

By Chris Mills on at

During the night, an internet madness happened. One of those all encompassing, everyone-jump-on-the-bandwagon viral hits – about the colour of a dress. The garment – which was originally posted online by a Scottish woman by the name of Caitlin McNeill  – appears to be white and gold to some. But no, apparently it's black and blue to others. Boom. Internet goes crazy. What the hell is going on? Here's an educated guess.

According to a few vision-scientist friends (who were unwilling to put names to a theory due to threat of reprisals from the white/gold camp), the explanation probably has something to do with the two different types of cells that sense light in your eyes.

What The Fuck Is Wrong With Your Eyes? A Dress Explainer

Your retina is comprised of rods and cones. Rods are more sensitive to light, but see shapes and not colour. Cones are sensitive to colour, but less sensitive to light — i.e. in darker conditions, you're seeing more with rods than cones. You have three sizes of cones, blue (smallest) to red (biggest), as seen on the graph above.

Whether the dress appears as blue/black or white/gold depends on whether your eye has more rods or cones, and also the ambient lighting conditions in the room. (This is thanks to the different colours that are produced by additive and subtractive colour mixing.) Different people have different balances of rods and cones — most notably colour-blind weirdos like myself — hence different people seeing different colours, and families brutally murdering each other over this mess.

But rods are also very sensitive to light. Rod cells detect colour using a pigment called rhodopsin, which is very sensitive to low light, but is bleached and destroyed by higher light levels, and takes around 45 minutes to redevelop (why your eyes take time to adapt to night, in other words). Basically, if you look at the dress in bright light conditions, then go away for half an hour into a dark room and come back, the dress will quite probably change colour.

To wrap up the non-science side of things: according to Tumblr, the original dress is actually blue and black. But don't beat yourself up if you're seeing white and gold: a colour-picker investigation shows the colours, more or less, to be a pale blue and a muddy gold.

What The Fuck Is Wrong With Your Eyes? A Dress Explainer

What The Fuck Is Wrong With Your Eyes? A Dress Explainer

For an idea of how crazy it all went, check out Kotaku UK's round-up of some of the internet's best reactions to the madness. Everyone from official PlayStation to Kim Kardashian had their say on the matter.

Update: Jesus has the answer: