We all understand the power of red. A 2015 study from the City University of New York went so far as to say a woman holding a red laptop was found to be more attractive by men than a woman holding a gray one.
And we all know the cliche: Someone walks by in a red dress and people notice.
But what if thousands (several thousands!) of “someones” walk by in a red dress? What if many are running? Through the French Quarter?
And what if half of them are men?
I bet you’d notice. I’d definitely notice.
But maybe you’d also like to join them? Well, it’s not too late!
This Saturday, Aug. 11, is New Orleans’ 24th annual Red Dress Run. New Orleanians from across the city congregate in Crescent Park at the downriver edge of the French Quarter as early as 9 a.m.
“That’s when the kegs of beer tap, and the music starts,” explained Heather West, a member of the New Orleans Hash House Harriers (NOH3), that group that organizes the event. “There’s red everywhere! Dresses, sure, but New Orleanians are creative in how they interpret that.
"Some people wear red tutus with a red T-shirt. Some people just wear a red tutu. Polka dots, stripes or solids. Flats or heels. Hats or not. Drinks in hand. It’s a sea of red.”
But NOH3 is trying to spread the word: there is a right way (and a wrong way) to celebrate this special day.
Behind those red dresses is a group with a lot of history.
“The Hash House Harriers started in the 1930s with English soldiers stationed in Malaysia,” explained another H3 member, Tiffany Mueller. “They were looking to stay in shape, while also adding a fun, social component to their day.”
“Now there are H3s all over the world,” added Dan Heidl, a board member of the New Orleans-based club he joined back in 1991. “NOH3 was founded in 1989. We meet once a week, and we still base our meetings off the same game those soldiers in Malaysia played decades ago.”
That game is called “Hare & Hounds,” and it was patterned on a game enjoyed by English schoolchildren since at least the time of Queen Elizabeth I.
This version, however, has a lot more drinking.
“We all meet up in a different place in the city each week, and start off with a beer, or two, or some amount,” Heidl said.
For every meeting, there’s one hare, who starts the run 10-15 minutes before the hounds (who are still enjoying their beverages, presumably). Heidl continued, “When the hounds begin running, they follow a lightly marked trail — of flour or chalk, laid down by the lead hare — and encounter markings meant to aid or confuse the hounds.”
If this sounds, tiring, don’t worry, there’s a beer stop halfway through. And when the hounds find the hare at the end of the course, how do they celebrate? Heidl answered as you might expect: “More beer.”
Lady in red
In 1987, a woman who had never heard of the Hash House Harriers, Hare & Hounds, or the customs of English soldiers in Malaysia flew to San Diego to meet a friend at an H3 event.
Not sure what that was, she showed up wearing a red dress and matching heels. She was mocked for her unsuitable attire but decided to shove it in the club’s face by doing the run anyway, making her an instant hero.
The following year, the San Diego club (also known as a “kennel” because of the association with hounds) commemorated the lady in red by hosting the world’s first-ever Red Dress Run. In the years since, the event has spread across the globe.
Nowadays, few do it bigger or better than here in New Orleans, whose first Red Dress Run was hosted in 1995.
New Orleans is legendary
It won’t just be New Orleanians at the run this Saturday. Hashers and nonhashers alike travel to the city for the event. One woman from Birmingham, Alabama, who goes by her hash name, “Baskin Throbbins” (everyone who joins a kennel gets a hash name, but not all choose to share it with the public) is coming for her first New Orleans Red Dress Run.
When I asked why she was coming to New Orleans for our event, she said, “Even though there are Red Dress Runs all over the world, the New Orleans version is legendary!”
“It’s a massive event," she said. "There aren’t many Red Dress Runs with as many people as you guys get. Plus, it’s one of the only runs open to both hashers and nonhashers, which seems really unique and fun. It seems like a great way for me to experience New Orleans.”
Join the party (but get on the list first!)
In 2005, 11 years after New Orleans’ first Red Dress Run, NOH3 decided to make the event a fundraiser for local nonprofits.
The runners knew that if they opened it up to the public, and not just hashers, they could raise more money. Since then, they’ve raised more than $1 million for more than 100 New Orleans and Louisiana nonprofits. It's a public good many red dress-wearers don’t even realize is occurring.
“2011 was probably our biggest year for registered participants,” Heidl said, putting the emphasis on “registered.” More than 8,000 participants signed up, and we raised in excess of $200,000 for charity.”
West added, “There’s probably more people wearing red dresses on the day of the event than ever before, but unfortunately, we’re not raising as much money because not everyone registers.”
She sighed in frustration — a sigh common among most of the event’s organizers — unsure how to solve the problem. “They just drag their ice chests into the Quarter and hang out in red dresses.”
Gaby Biro, who started hashing in 2012 while living in Seattle and continued when she moved to New Orleans in 2016, shared West’s frustration. “It’s like crashing a party! You don’t know what the party’s for, or who the host is. And, worse yet, you’re not contributing money to charities doing some really great work for our city.”
“Not only are you not contributing,” West said, “but NOH3 has to use some of other peoples’ registration fees to cover the cost of security, permits and clean-up for folks, whether they signed up or not.”
So many reasons to register
“I didn’t even know there was a fundraiser or a registration,” said one red dress-wearing New Orleanian, who wished to remain anonymous for this article, possibly due to shame.
“I’m not an official H3 member or anything. It’s just a really fun day. I hang out in the Quarter with friends to drink and have a great time. As a dude, there aren’t many days in the year I get to wear this red dress I bought.”
I read this back to Heidl, who conceded, “Yup, it’s possible some people just don’t know. But as we spread the word and more people hear about the organizations we use the event to fundraise for, hopefully they’ll help by encouraging others to register.”
“And if the fundraiser’s not enough,” Biro chimed in, “the all-you-can-drink beer, free food, and great music is a pretty good incentive. Plus you get a taste of what being a Hash House Harrier is like. I know people who have joined a kennel because they had so much fun at Red Dress Run.”
West, too, brings up a good point: “Fundraiser aside, it’s a pretty great deal for all that food and nine hours of unlimited beer and live music with your friends.”
So how do you register? Even though the event is just a few days away, it’s not too late. NOH3 has extended online registration through Friday, August 10, and will also have day-of registration at the event. But Heidl cautions against signing up that day if it can be avoided.
“Every year you get more than a 100 "Last Minute Charlies" showing up 10 minutes before the event and getting frustrated by the registration lines. We’ve got volunteers manning the tables, so do us (and yourself) a favor and sign up online, or at least come early that morning to register!
“It’s really a special event for us and the organizations we fundraise for. ... I wouldn’t wear a dress just any day — but for a good cause, I’ll do my part.”