Physics and Chemistry

Light, Sound, and Other Waves

Why does the color of clothing appear different in sunlight than it does in a store under fluorescent light?

White light is a blend of all the colors, and each color has a different wavelength. Although sunlight and fluorescent light both appear as “white light,” they each contain slightly different mixtures of these varying wavelengths. When sunlight and fluorescent light (white light) are absorbed by a piece of clothing, only some of the wavelengths (composing white light) reflect off the clothing. When the retina of the eye perceives the “color” of the clothing, it is really perceiving these reflected wavelengths. The mixture of wavelengths determines the color perceived. This is why an article of clothing sometimes appears to be a different color in the store than it does on the street.


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