A Simple Question About A Dress, And The World Weighs In

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

Not even the guests at the wedding last weekend on the Scottish island of Colonsay could agree, including the four members of the band, who were evenly divided.

A few days after the wedding, the singer and guitarist, 21-year-old Caitlin McNeill, was so frustrated by the lack of consensus that she posted a photograph 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,” McNeill said in an interview Friday from Scotland.

Within a half-hour, her post had attracted some 500 likes and shares. Within an hour, that number had grown to tens of thousands. The photo had soon migrated to BuzzFeed and Facebook and Twitter, setting off a social-media conflagration that few were able to resist.

As the debate started to catch fire across the Internet, media companies rushed to get coverage online. Less than a half-hour after McNeill’s original Tumblr post, BuzzFeed had posted a poll: “What Colors Are This Dress?” As of Friday, it had been viewed more than 25 million times. (White and gold was winning handily.) With its blanket coverage of the debate Thursday, BuzzFeed easily smashed its prior records for traffic.

Everyone, it seems, had an opinion – and was convinced of being right.

“I don’t understand this odd dress debate and I feel like it’s a trick somehow,” Taylor Swift wrote on Twitter. “PS it’s OBVIOUSLY BLUE AND BLACK.”

Mindy Kaling wrote, “IT’S A BLUE AND BLACK DRESS!”

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME,” she continued, including an unprintable modifier for emphasis.

Celebrity couples were apparently torn asunder by the controversy.

“I see white & gold,” wrote Kim Kardashian West. “Kanye sees black and blue, who is color blind?”

In an era when just about everyone seems to be doing anything they can to ignite interest online, the great dress debate went viral the old-fashioned way. It just happened.

Unlike other Internet sensations – like Alex from Target, the 16-year-old Justin Bieber lookalike (and Target employee) whose picture lit up the smartphones of teenagers across the country last fall – this was less an Internet meme than a national conversation. Or maybe a national argument. At its center was a simple yet bedeviling mystery with an almost old-fashioned, trompe l’oeil quality: How could different people see the same article of clothing so differently?

“This definitely felt like a special thing,” said BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, Ben Smith. “It sort of erased the line between Web culture and real culture.”

The woman who unwittingly unleashed the pandemonium watched it all unfold on her iPhone in a hotel in Oban, Scotland.

“I’ve just been going through my Twitter, and pretty much every celebrity I know has been making reference to it, and that’s just totally insane,” McNeill said.

At one point, she added, the notifications on her Tumblr page were streaming in so furiously that her phone almost burned itself out in the palm of her hand.

“I turned it off and let it cool down for a while, and it was fine,” she said.

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