The Mystery Of Why You Saw "The Dress" As Different Colors Might Finally Be Solved


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


Please forgive us for bringing it up again. Cecilia Bleasdale

We know, we’re sorry. You’re really, really sick of reading about that bloody dress. We hear you. Promise.

But, there is an interesting study out that looks into the phenomenon from two years ago (yes, it really was that long ago). It was conducted by Pascal Wallisch from New York University and published in the Journal of Vision.


When The Dress first hit the scenes in February 2015, people were at a loss to explain why some saw it as white and gold, and others as black and blue. The predominant theory was that it had something to do with how our brains perceived shadows, but no one was quite sure.

Wallisch proposes an advancement of the theory. He suggests that how people thought the dress was illuminated does seem to be the driving factor, and as a test found the amount of sunlight we had been exposed to acted as an indicator. Specifically, looking at the different times people woke up, early risers were more likely to see white and gold, and vice versa, which affects how they think the dress is illuminated.

“We show that assumptions about the illumination of the dress – i.e. whether the stimulus was illuminated by natural or artificial light or whether it was in a shadow – strongly affects the subjective interpretation of observers, compared to demographic factors, such as age or gender, which have a relatively smaller influence,” he wrote in the paper.

His findings are based on a study of 13,417 people taking part in online surveys. 8,084 responded in March 2015, and a further 5,333 took part in a replication study a year later in March 2016, to find out which color they saw. He looked at a range of factors, including gender or age, but found no correlation. However, when taking into account the sleeping patterns of people, there was a link.


Cecilia Bleasdale

In the first survey, “strong larks” (the earliest risers) were 11 percent more likely to see the dress as white and gold than “strong owls” (the latest sleepers). In the second survey, this increased to 40 percent. The difference, he suggests, may be due to fewer people “trolling” the survey when it had lapsed from public view.

As to why this is the case, it seems to come down to lighting. Perhaps early risers, who see more daylight, interpret the dress as being lit by natural light, and thus see it white and gold. Those who sleep later perceive it to be lit by artificial light, and thus it appears black and blue.

There was also a sharp drop in people who saw it as white and gold after the age of 65 for some reason. Perhaps there is a link to retirement, and the amount of time people spend outdoors.


Sleep patterns and dress color. Pascal Wallisch

Wallisch noted to IFLScience the science was still not entirely settled, though. "How would you ask someone about their history of relative illumination exposure?" he said. "The owl thing is simply a proxy to get at that. And it worked. But given how noisy it is, one needs thousands of people to show that in a statistically reliable way."

He's now conducting a new survey to further get to the bottom of it all, which you can get involved with here.

Are you an owl or lark? What color do you see the dress as (out of interest, I’m an “owl” but see it as white and gold)? Let us know in the comments below. Then we’ll never talk about it again. Probably.


Retirement and dress color. Pascal Wallisch


  • tag
  • optical illusion,

  • the dress,

  • white and gold,

  • black and blue,

  • make it stop