Why #TheDress matters

Why #TheDress matters
This dress, recently posted on Tumblr, has spurred a debate over whether the dress is blue and black or white and gold. Turns out there is a scientific reason why people see it differently. (Tumblr)

It's not a royal wedding gown or a haute couture creation that's turned the world into armchair fashion critics, it's an ambiguously colored frock from British retailer Roman Originals.

The bodycon dress, which sells online for 50 pounds (about $77.13), is nothing to get excited about from a fashion standpoint. It's the kind of affordable, special-occasion style that is standard fare at weddings and parties.

But the debate it has sparked (even among celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Kanye West  and Taylor Swift), highlights how social media have become a fashion forum for all, because clothing (like cute animals, apparently) is a thread that unites us as humans.

Quite simply, we all have to get dressed in the morning, and every time we observe what someone is wearing, we form opinions. Clothing is a sign system that transmits messages about age, sex and social class, which all starts with the most basic decision about a garment's color. And even that is open to interpretation, which is what makes clothing — and indeed fashion — such a vital topic for discussion.

While fashions come and go (hemlines go up and down, jeans are skinny, then flared) depending on the whims of culture, the language of clothes is constant. And it's visual, so it's no wonder that social media, with endless possibilities for photo sharing and Photoshopping, have spawned so many clothing-related memes, from Pharrell's hat to Jennifer Lawrence's toilet paper dress. Instead of playing out on the walls of a cave, the jokes play out on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, and everyone can relate; you don't even have to be able to read.

#TheDress may be silly, but it's also brilliant, because it reminds us of something we take for granted every day. Clothing matters because it's something everyone notices. It defines us, divides us and unites us.

Twitter: @booth1