“What Color Is This Dress?” or: “Why I Need To Learn Scopes”

by Hugh Brownstone4 Comments

Or even: why I need to stop watching the “news.” AND use a color chart.

It started off innocently enough: our 17-year old traipsed down the stairs, laptop in hand, to ask us what we saw.

Really? A gold and white dress.

But he saw a blue and black one. As did his mom.

We were now officially part of the “dress that melted the Internet” phenomenon.

OK, simple enough: it’s a sense, just like taste, and people have different senses. The 17-year old can practically drink Tabasco sauce, while I break out in hives from just thinking about the stuff. Some people are color blind (we checked, and that didn’t explain the difference). I know my left eye sees colors a little cooler than my right.

We then coaxed our 21 year old into the debate. She saw the same colors I did.

We had a nice family discussion for ten minutes or so, and hypothesized that the differences were due to basic differences in our receptors and/or how our brains interpret what we see.

Turns out that’s about right.

So what does this have to do with scopes?

It now seems inescapable to me that when it comes to color grading it’s not enough to properly calibrate one’s monitor, and it’s not enough to “eyeball” colors for scene matching by pushing around s-curves and color wheels until it looks right.

We actually need vectorscopes, histograms and waveforms to make sure it actually IS right.

For you colorists out there: is this right?

Sigh. [bctt tweet=”‘Dress that Melted the Internet' is giving me panic attacks about color grading.”]

The dirty little secret, of course, is that there IS an objective answer to what the colors of the dress are in this particular photo as it is displayed by one’s particular monitor — which is not the same question as “what color is this dress in real life?”

We searched for color swatches on the web and then opened up the image in a separate, side-by-side window, and lo and behold – we all agreed what the colors among the swatches were that best represented what we saw in the photo. They had names like “champagne” and “lilac.”

So, what colors do YOU see?

  • Gold and white; or
  • Blue and black

And how, precisely, would you determine what the colors of the actual image being displayed are using scopes, waveforms and histograms?

The White and Gold (No, Blue and Black!) Dress That Melted the Internet

Via The New York Times:

The mother of the bride wore white and gold. Or was it blue and black?

From a photograph of the dress the bride posted online, there was broad disagreement. A few days after the wedding last weekend on the Scottish island of Colonsay, a member of the wedding band was so frustrated by the lack of consensus that she posted a picture of the dress on Tumblr, and asked her followers for feedback.

“I was just looking for an answer because it was messing with my head,” said Caitlin McNeill, a 21-year-old singer and guitarist.

Within a half-hour, her post attracted some 500 likes and shares. The photo soon migrated to Buzzfeed and Facebook and Twitter, setting off a social media conflagration that few were able to resist.

The dress color

The dress in a photo from Caitlin McNeill’s Tumblr site. Source: New York Times

As the debate caught fire across the Internet — even scientists could not agree on what was causing the discrepancy — media companies rushed to get articles online. Less than a half-hour after Ms. McNeil’s original Tumblr post, Buzzfeed posted a poll: “What Colors Are This Dress?” As of Friday afternoon, it had been viewed more than 28 million times. (White and gold was winning handily.)

Read full article at The New York Times “The White and Gold (No, Blue and Black!) Dress That Melted the Internet”


Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)


  1. I don’t know if it’s my monitor, the image or me, but I see bluish grey and slightly greenish gold.
    The image looks as though the color balance is off – like a phone shot in mixed lighting.

  2. jlippencott So here’s the question: what tools would we use in post to get a precise match to the darker color band, whatever it is?

  3. It all depends on what we are trying to match it to. “Whatever it is” is the big question. We don’t know what color it is supposed to be without some sort of reference, like a calibrated color chart somewhere in the photo, or another photo showing the color chart with the exact same lighting conditions and camera settings.
    If we had that we may be able to correct using the scopes in post. Otherwise, it’s no more than a wild guess, at best.

  4. jlippencott I’ve learned a great deal this week because of that darned dress.  To my surprise (ignorance will do that), I learned that scopes, histograms et al do NOT allow you to match by the numbers, even though our displays are in fact mapping pixel by pixel to a specific numerical value.  I’m somewhere between crushed and relieved.

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