Debate over the dress is put to good use


Black and blue, or gold and white? The colour of a dress has sparked banter on the internet, including a campaign against domestic violence. And The Salvation Army’s Southern Africa Territory says reaction to the campaign has been overwhelming.

salvation army “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?” asks a Salvation Army campaign highlighting the abuse of women. (Image: The Salvation Army Southern Africa/Ireland Davenport)

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Priya Pitamber

Earlier this month, a debate raged over the internet about the colour of a dress. Some people saw the dress as gold and white; others saw the very same garment as black and blue. The discrepancy in colours caused a social media uproar.

Charity organisation The Salvation Army took a different approach to the discussion, and chose to use it to highlight the abuse of women. “Advertising agency Ireland Davenport took the worldwide interest [in the dress] and used it cleverly to highlight the issue of domestic violence in South Africa, while also publicising The Salvation Army’s work with abused and trafficked women,” The Salvation Army wrote on its website.

“They photographed an image of a ‘bruised’ model wearing a copy of #thedress. The Army’s advert… adds the headline ‘Why is it so hard to see black and blue’, along with text saying: ‘The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.'”

In addition to publishing the ad in newspapers, it was also uploaded to Twitter:

In another image, the ad referenced the white and gold colour scheme:

A powerful campaign

The ad has since gone viral, with many people applauding the initiative.

“Awareness of the problems of domestic abuse and human trafficking is key for us, and the reaction to this campaign is overwhelming,” said Major Carin Holmes, the public relations secretary of The Salvation Army’s Southern Africa Territory. “More than 3 000 tweets an hour shows the desperateness of the situation – domestic violence and human trafficking needs to be stopped.”

How it all started

The dress first appeared on the blog portal, Tumblr posted by a user using the alias Swiked, with the caption: “Guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking out.” But that only added fuel to the heated debate, instead of resolving it.

“I see it as white and gold. My friend right here sees it as blue and black. I can’t handle this,” wrote Littlewotsit. Swiked replied: “If that’s not gold my entire life has been a lie.”

The science behind it

the dress One dress, two different colour schemes. (Image: Books and Such)

Scientists have explained that neither colour combination is wrong; because of the way people perceive colour, it all boils down to illusion.

“When you look at things on a sunny day, things in shadow are lit by the sky and clouds and have a more bluey tinge,” Andrew Hanson, the former chairman of the Colour Group of Great Britain and scientists at the National Physical Laboratory told the British newspaper, The Telegraph. “It’s why snow in the sunshine looks blue in shadow. So when you see the dress you could be forgiven that you are seeing something on a sunny day in shadow, and interpret it as white.

“We all have memory colours. We know that bananas are yellow, for example. Similarly we know that shadow should be blue. It’s nothing to do with colour blindness; it’s all do to with colour perception. Essentially it is an illusion but people who see white, are actually seeing white, even though it is not really there.”