Tacoma Actors Repertory Theatre

Intimate Theatre, Accessible Art

The Dress That Overtook the Internet

For 36 hours or so, social media was obsessed with a dress. The dress in question started a debate on one social media site that quickly spread to most other social media sites and was picked up by national media, no doubt trying to look hip.

Still don’t know what we’re talking about? Lucky you. We are referring to the dress that no one could tell what color it really was. Factions (and hashtags) quickly formed: team #goldandwhite versus #teamblueandblack. Was the dress gold and white, or blue and black? The colors you saw were determined by how your brain interprets light reflecting off objects, which is something lighting designers deal with every day.

“You’ll see black and blue if you interpret the picture as a dark dress with bright orangey light shining on it. In this case, your brain ignores the orange to see the “true” blue colour of the dress. But if you think the dress is cast in a blue shadow, it will see the underlying blue as a false colour imposed on a truly white dress.” [source

And here’s a great explanation from Wired

This image hits some kind of perceptual boundary. That might be because of how people are wired. Human beings evolved to see in daylight, but daylight changes color. That chromatic axis varies from the pinkish red of dawn, up through the blue-white of noontime, and then back down to reddish twilight. “What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis,” says Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies color and vision at Wellesley College. “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.”

In theatrical production, lighting designers manipulate the way your brain interprets the light your eye perceives. Much like the (in)famous dress, designers have the power to change the color of sets, costumes, even hair and makeup depending on which colors of light are projected onto the stage. Lighting techniques can be employed to create different locations, moods, and times of day. It’s a powerful tool to create live theater and we can’t wait for you to see what we have in store.