Much Like 'The Dress,' People Can't Decide What Color These Shoes Are

Carly Ledbetter
Two years after “the dress” divided people over its color, the internet is back with another puzzling wardrobe question.

Two years after “the dress” divided people over its color, the internet is back with another puzzling wardrobe question. What color are these shoes?

Some people think these Vans sneakers look gray and mint (or teal), while others see pink and white. 

For some, the color changes the more they stare at the shoes: 

While others are dead-set on the color they see: 

Twitter user @dolansmalik explained one theory about why the shoes look like different colors to some people:  

“THE REAL SHOE IS PINK & WHITE OKAY?!” she wrote on Twitter. “The second pic was with flash & darkened, so it looks teal & gray. (depends on what lighting ur in).” 

Bevil Conway is an investigator with the National Eye Institute who helped contribute to a study on the differences in color perception for the famous “dress” controversy two years ago. He told HuffPost how and why our eyes play tricks on us, in situations like “the dress” and the shoes above.

“This is related to the famous dress insofar as both are related to issues of color constancy,” he explained. “Basically your visual system is constantly trying to color correct the images projected on the retina, to remove the color contamination introduced by the spectral bias in the light source.” 

Conway explained just how and why some people see turquoise in the shoes, while others see pink. 

“In that manipulated photograph there is a lot of the turquoise cast over the whole image. When you first look at it, after having looked at the pink version, your visual system is still adapted to the lighting conditions of the pink version and so you see the turquoise in the other version, and you attribute this to the shoe itself,” he said. “But after a while, your visual system adapts to the turquoise across the whole of that image and interprets it as part of the light source, eventually discounting it and restoring the shoe to the original pink version (or at least pinker).” 

He said that there are a few cues people can look for to see what the color of the light is in the photograph, by looking at the shoelaces of the Vans and the color of the person’s skin. 

“Everyone has a very strong prior belief that shoelaces are white. So when your visual system sees the manipulated photograph, where the shoe laces are a weird turquoise, it then subtracts that color from the rest of the scene, restoring the canvas of the shoe to pink,” Conway said. 

He added, “In the original photograph the human hand is clearly a normal color, whereas in the other photograph it is clearly weird. So when your visual system sees the weirdly lit hand, it tells your brain, ‘hang on, the color of the light must be kinda funny, fix it!’” 

In many ways, the inability of people to see certain colors of the shoes is a lot like “the dress,” Conway said, because there is “some ambiguity about the cues to the color of the light.” 

“It seems as if some people are ‘big picture’ people, who evaluate the color of the light by looking across the whole scene, and other people are ‘small picture’ people, who have some fairly strong internal set point about what the color of light is,” he explained. “The big picture people see the turquoise cast across the whole scene and discount it; the small picture people see the turquoise as part of the surface.” 

Mystery solved! 

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.