White and gold or blue and black — why do we even care about the colour of that dress?

Does The Dress tap into our searing, atavistic human fears of loneliness?

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White and gold, or blue and black? No question, I scoffed – the dress with the power to divide the internet and tear apart relationships is unavoidably white and gold.

“There!” I scoffed, factual evidence! I pointed to my computer screen. Smug sneer on my face I turned to my colleagues, rolled my eyes condescendingly, and laughed as I pointed out the curious wave of colour-driven dissent that has spread across the internet like a bad case of chicken pox. “People are going wild on Twitter about this white and gold dress.”

“White and gold?” they responded, brows furrowing with concern – for me, for the unenlightened one, for the person who may need to get their eyes checked, their contact lens prescription renewed; the one who may just need to go and lie down in a dark, colour-stripped room. “Don’t you mean blue and black?” I looked again, confidence shaken. Frantically, I typed “#thedress’ into the Twitter search engine, on a desperate quest for images – more images, more – to confirm what I already knew to be true. I waded through memes, scrolled past tweets from Taylor Swift, skipped the predictably sarcastic yawns and “Enough of The Dress already!” grumblings.

I ‘favourited’ multiple news stories, Vines, stills and retweets. In each and every one, white and gold. Then I stepped away from my desk, bemused but, secretly, pretty proud. It probably meant something, seeing white and gold. Like being ever so slightly more evolved. Like having a slightly longer index finger, or an extra toe, perhaps.

So sure was I of its colour that I thought nothing more as I stepped away from my desk to get a coffee, returning moments later… to a veritable sea of black and blue dresses. Sorry, what? Have my fellow news organisations all replaced the original picture with a different dress? Have people altered the brightness settings to toy with those who believe in colour? Am I the victim of a callous, cruel hoax – hang on, am I the only one who isn’t in on the joke?

The real colour of 'The Dress' revealed

But, no – in the space of five minutes, the dress has changed colour completely; from bright white and shining gold to a blue bordering on navy, and black. It’s not the angle at which I’m sitting, nor a slight blurring of the lines. I’m not being manipulated by anything other than my own field of vision. The same images I bookmarked less than an hour before are now completely different. Even more chillingly, as I watch, they change again – back to white and gold, before my very eyes. I close down my browser, remove my glasses, start whimpering silently about needing a holiday. Then I check again – back to black. The dress, or my brain, is toying with me.

But what is it about this one item of clothing that’s captured our collective imaginations? Why is this dress – which, let’s face it, is a little bit… well, dowdy – any different to goats balancing on metal boards, dogs barking with human voices, or any other beloved viral meme? Is it the realisation that we all see different things? Does The Dress tap into our searing, atavistic human fears of loneliness? For if we are having such intrinsically opposing experiences, when we least expect them, then can we ever really be together? Or are we all destined to live out our monochrome  lives devoid of the bright, rainbow hues of companionship? Oh, it’s all too much. Someone lead me to that dark room.