Jackets and Dresses: Thinking about Perspective

Last year, a controversy of the greatest importance came out of social media: what are the colors of this dress? People debated whether it was blue and black or gold and white. The odd lighting and quality of the picture made it look quite different from one person to another.

Recently, a new photo reengaged the old debate. This Adidas jacket, is it black and brown? Blue and white? Green and brown?


What these arguments tell us is something inherent in the ways we communicate with each other: perspective is important! For those who are color blind, their sense of what color is different, but not wrong from someone else’s. For all of us, color, like other sensations, is a subjective experience.

While color exists due to the different amounts of reflectivity and absorption of light in objects, how we perceive and understand that color isn’t objective. According to color vision scientist (yes that is a thing) Joseph Carrol, “I think we can say for certain that people don’t see the same colors.”

So why does this matter in writing and tutoring? Well, we can become more empathetic to other’s perspectives by understanding how subjective and personal writing can be, just like color perception.  The reactions to a piece of writing can vary by the reader’s background, education, experience, identity, and other factors.  In other words, the audience isn’t a monolith! Similarly, if someone is writing fiction, understanding the perspective of each character will create more distinct voices within the fiction.

Being mindful of different perspectives not only improves how we communicate with each other, but it can build better solutions. Unlike the people shouting at each other on the internet over the color of a dress or jacket, tutors should  let different perspective work together in an appointment. This is a key aspect of agenda building: a tutor and a writer may take different things away from what needs to be done in appointment, but  the collaboration between these perspectives makes a meaningful appointment.

So go forward and be confident in how your perspectives adds to our meaning of the world! And, what color is the dress for you?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Maggie C. says:

    Hi Donovan,

    I’m glad to see this post! Talking about perspective is crucial in tutoring because it is so easy to forget that everyone else doesn’t have the same background and experiences as you — they can have different opinions.

    While color perception may be natural, views on different topics may be changed, so at what point should tutors interfere with writers who may have “bad” perceptions and discuss the issue with them to see it from a new light? Or is that infringing on their agency?

    And when I first saw the dress it was white and gold, but I only see it as blue and black now. 🙂


    • Donovan S. says:

      Hi Maggie,

      Thank you for the comment! I think that the mingling of perceptions may be able to improve both parties’ perceptions. It depends on how you approach it as well. Whenever there is a disagreement between a writer and me about an issue, I make sure to remind them that they have the final decision of what is best.

      Also, it depends on the writer as well. Some may put different value into our expertise as tutors and our responses to their work. So I guess it is contextual!