Thousands of people are scavenging, raiding thrift stores or girlfriends’ wardrobes in search of that perfect red dress in the lead-up to the annual Red Dress Run. For those who may come up empty-handed, however, it’s easy, and common, to transfigure some red paraphernalia into a fashion statement.
“One year we had a woman show up in red duct tape. Well, very little of it,” said Curt McClain, general manager of the New Orleans Hash House Harriers. “We have also had a woman show up in a costume made of red rope.”
The New Orleans Hash House Harriers, aka NOH3, are the hosts of the annual Red Dress Run. It’s a run — or a walk, stumble or pub crawl — in which men, women and even pets adorn themselves in red dresses or a creative alternative, drink beer and dash along two miles to an undisclosed location.
Attracting over 6,000 participants, the New Orleans-based run is the largest of its type in the world.
Starting at Louis Armstrong Park, participants will run through the French Quarter on Saturday, Aug. 9. Proceeds benefit local charities, and last year alone, the event contributed more than $190,000 to 60 organizations.
“It is easy to find red in thrift stores because red really stands out. The Red White and Blue thrift store categorizes by color, which makes it even easier,” said Cree McCree, author of the how-to book “Flea Market America,” owner of Cree’s Cheap Chic, and organizer of Piety St. Market in the Bywater.
There are, however, more elaborate and coordinated approaches to the Red Dress Run wardrobe.
“Some people go to the nearest thrift store and find something that fits them. Other people put a lot of energy into it,” said McClain. “We have had a group dress up as very hot firefighters. Both men and women wore suspenders, plastic firefighter hats, bright red skirts and emblems saying things like ‘We know how to handle a hose.’ ”
Be advised that there are red dress fashion faux pas, and the biggest is the feather boa. No one wants to clean up the mess they leave behind.
McCree recently hosted her own boutique thrift sale, dubbed the “Red, White and Book Sale,” where people scoured clothes racks in search of the perfect dress.
“I saw an argument between a couple; the dress looked good on both of them so they ended up having to toss a coin,” McCree said. “Depending on size and shape of the man and woman, there are certain things that are totally unisexual.”
For the guys who have a little less experience in the dress-fitting department, McCree has some advice.
“You want to show off your manly curves, so snug but not too tight, because you do want to be able to run,” said McCree. “If it is going to be tight, cut it off above the knees; you don’t want to be in a long tight dress.”
McClain, who wears a custom-made red kilt but changes his tops every year, warns participants that it is bad form to wear the same dress two years in a row.
For the past 25 years, around the world participants of the red dress run phenomenon have been squeezing into little red numbers. Why? Because a lady in San Diego who didn’t want to be excluded from a Hash House Harriers run chased after them in the only thing she had to wear — a red dress.
Now in its 20th year in New Orleans, the run has become an all-day party. Registered participants indulge in beer, which starts flowing at 9:30 a.m., food and live entertainment at Louis Armstrong Park.
The Red Dress Run is open to participants age 21 and over. Registration is open until the morning of the race, but organizers strongly encourage people to pre-register and pick up their credentials beforehand at the Red Dress Expo, which is held Thursday, Aug. 7, and Friday, Aug. 8, at the Fairgrounds Clubhouse, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day. Registration includes all you can drink and eat on the day of the event, as well as live entertainment at Louis Armstrong Park.
“Please register because it allows us to give more to local charities,” McClain said.
For those who were too late in raiding the thrift stores, the Red Dress Expo has a vendor selling red dresses as a last-minute alternative.
One piece of advice is reverberated among experienced thrift store fashionistas and veteran runners. In the midst of Augusts’ scorching heat, when deciding on a dress, choose comfort over look.
“You want something you can be comfortable in,” said McCree. “Lightweight cotton is really important because you’re going to be running and it’s hot.”