Gray or Pink? The Internet Argues Over the Color of These Sneakers

We break down the science of color perception and how this sneaker is exactly the same case as that darn dress from two years ago.

The worlds of Facebook and Twitter were sent into a flurry yesterday as the color of a sneaker sparked much debate. Similar to the heated discussion in 2015 about whether a dress in a post was blue and black or white and gold, the sneaker post has garnered thousands of reactions, comments, and shares. Some claim they only see the shoe as mint and gray, others guess it’s white and pink, while some say they see both. This is the sneaker that has launched the next color war and some reactions:

Why don't we all see the same colors? Before any further conspiracies are drawn up, those who have argues that the lighting comes into play with perception are on to something. Just as the science behind the dress that preceded it in fame, there are several natural factors that affect the way human beings see color. Color perception first begins with the sensors in the back of the eye where the wavelength reflects and sends that information to the brain and processes it into what we know as color, Joseph Rizzo, professor and neuro-ophthalmologist tellsNational Geographic. These are called photoreceptors. Depending also on the light that reaches our eyes, not all the colors we see in objects are exactly the same.


Various studies and articles have been conducted on the color of the dress and its different perceptions, which we may apply to the related sneaker debacle. One study on color names three factors that deal in understanding how human beings see an object. In this study by Louis Dellieu, Garin Cael, Michel Louette, and others, the color of an object depends on the “reflectance spectrum,” or how the light scatters, the response time of the photoreceptor, and the coherence properties of the lighting. Their argument is that the coherence properties of the lighting and the time it takes to reach our photoreceptors affect the color perception of a subject.

Christoph Witzel, Kevin O’Regan, and Sabrina Hansmann-Roth conducted another study on vision research, specifically on that dress. Their findings brought them to assume that perception of color is due to the illumination of the dress, which someone else pointed out about the sneaker. It seemed to be a problem of lighting, really.

How do we resolve this debacle? The lighting really did affect the photo and if you really want to know, here is a photo of the original product on the Vans website.

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