Was it black and blue or white and gold? The internet was divided but for Cecilia Bleasdale, who bought the dress for her daughter’s wedding, going viral left her confused – and caused family friction

‘I’m not a public person’ ... Cecilia Bleasdale, beside her partner Paul Jinks, holds the dress that divided the internet
‘I’m not a public person’ … Cecilia Bleasdale, beside her partner Paul Jinks, holds the dress that divided the internet. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

In a small village in Lancashire, in an upstairs wardrobe, in a Roman Originals bag, still with its receipt, lies The Dress. Which dress? Like you need to ask. When Twitter released its list of the most influential moments of 2015, only big political events, the Women’s World Cup and humanity’s first trip to Pluto were ranked ahead of the dress that Cecilia Bleasdale bought to wear at her daughter’s Grace’s wedding. Was it #blueandblack or was it #whiteandgold? For a few days in late February and early March, millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, including Taylor Swift, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, all had an opinion.

“I’m not a very public person,” Bleasdale says now. “I’m not a blogger or anything like that. So it’s been quite stressful having to deal with it and thinking, What’s going to happen next?” Most people still don’t know what happened to begin with.

Early in February, Bleasdale and her partner Paul Jinks went shopping in the Cheshire Oaks mall, just north of Chester. Bleasdale was not a regular at Roman Originals, but passing by, she thought she might find a dress to wear for Grace’s wedding. “I wanted something that would kind of hold me in in the right places!” she laughs. In fact, she found three dresses, which the shop assistant gave her permission to photograph, one of which she bought for £50, with a matching jacket. Driving home afterwards, she sent Grace a text with pictures of the dresses, adding that she had bought the third one. Grace said, “Oh, the white and gold one?” “No,” her mother replied. “It’s blue and black.” “Mum,” said her daughter, “if you think that’s blue and black you need to go and see the doctor.”

Bleasdale showed the phone to Jinks. Despite having held the dress himself in the photograph, and paid for it at the till, he too saw white and gold. When the couple got home, Bleasdale’s youngest daughter, Phoebe, sided with her mother. Later Grace, who lives in Scotland, privately shared the picture with her friends on Facebook.

The original dress photo, with colour treatments that may help explain why people see different colours.
The original dress photo, with colour treatments that may help explain why people see different colours. Photograph: Cecilia Bleasdale

At the wedding in Scotland a fortnight later, nobody mentioned Bleasdale’s dress. A friend of Grace’s, Caitlin McNeill, had not been able to stop thinking about the image, however, and soon afterwards posted the picture on her Tumblr blog. It was the day afterwards, 27 February, when everything went nuts.

“That Friday,” Jinks recalls, “me and Phoebe were just watching the internet, sitting here looking at each other going, ‘This is bizarre, this.’” Then it was in the papers, then it was on TV, then it was on the whole world’s TV. Bleasdale was working and knew little about it until the afternoon. By midnight, she and Jinks had agreed to fly to LA to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It would be an exclusive, so they couldn’t talk to anyone about it.

Buzzfeed, whose Tumblr editor, Cates Holderness, first took the photograph into the mainstream media, normally expect traffic on a successful viral story to rise and fall like a wave. The dress picture, in the words of Mark Wilkie, Buzzfeed’s chief technology officer, was more like “a vertical wall”. Between Thursday evening east-coast time and 11am the following morning, 26.5 million people had seen Holderness’s original page. An extra technical team was assigned to stop Buzzfeed’s servers crashing.

It was and still is difficult for Bleasdale, who is 57, and Jinks, 47, to understand what happened, still less what they should do about it. Obviously, they had created something of immense value – though they did not know how they had created it, nor how valuable it was. As the photographer, Bleasdale owned the copyright, but at first she was neither consulted nor credited by McNeill or Buzzfeed. Then again, without them she might never have recognised its value.

LA was fun. Flights and hotels were all paid for, of course, and Bleasdale and Jinks remember being given $200 each to buy food while they were there. They locked the dress in the hotel safe. In an email, Bleasdale remembers being told that the trip “will be worth your while”, and during the show DeGeneres announced that they would pay for a deluxe sequel to Grace and Keir’s honeymoon, and gave the couple a briefcase containing $10,000 cash. They also made special pairs of underpants for the family, half blue and black, half white and gold. By the time Bleasdale and Jinks returned to Britain, having insisted that Grace and Keir should keep the money despite her daughter’s offer to share it, the frenzy had subsided.

A Salvation army domestic violence campaign launched in South Africa.
A Salvation Army domestic violence campaign launched in South Africa. Photograph: Salvation Army/PA

Clearly #thedress had been good to Grace and Keir, and good to Roman Originals (who sold out of it twice) and very, very good to Buzzfeed, Tumblr and Twitter. Yet when I ask if it has been a good for them, neither Jinks nor Bleasdale can quite bring themselves to say so. They have not been pestered by the media, they say, because to begin with no one knew about them. Eventually, they engaged solicitors to chase up royalty payments, but the money so far collected (including from the Guardian) has not yet paid off the solicitors’ fees. Bleasdale even lost money by taking the time off work to go to LA. Locally, many of their friends and neighbours still don’t know anything about the story and, as Bleasdale points out, many wouldn’t care. “I work for social services,” she says. “We kind of have different priorities to what’s going on in the media.”

The couple are pleased and interested by the science of their photograph, and have learned a great deal about colour perception, yet they talk wistfully, as though still wondering whether something a little better might have passed them by. Roman Originals offered Bleasdale a free dress, but when she said she’d been hoping for more, they never got back. At one point, most worryingly, the whole affair became a source of friction between her and Grace. “We did have a bit of a falling-out,” she admits. “We were both very, very upset about it, because we’re very close.” Are things OK now? “Oh, yeah, everything’s fine. We just don’t talk about it.” Legal conversations are continuing with Buzzfeed. Perhaps something good may yet emerge from them.

And of course they still have #thedress – neither worn nor washed since LA. “Should it be on display somewhere?” Bleasdale wonders. “Should it be in a vault or whatever? It’s still got sweaty marks on, though. It needs a clean.” At one stage, they were in talks to auction it and split the proceeds with a charity, “but that never really took off”. Perhaps it is the dress’s destiny to be the star exhibit in some future meme museum, not that Bleasdale will understand the fuss even then.

“I don’t see it,” she says. “I’ve still got the same phone with the same conversation, and sometimes I’ll bring it up. Not very often. I’ll show people the photograph and the conversation, and they’ll go: ‘Oh, it’s white and gold.’ And I’ll go: ‘No it’s not! It’s blue and black!’ I’ve never seen the white and gold. Ever.”

[Source:-the gurdian]

By Adam