New Orleans Red Dress Run: You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

By Joe Boals aka. “Squirt” – Contributing Writer

What’s a good way to spend a weekend in New Orleans, or more specifically, what’s a great way to use your time this weekend in the city of New Orleans? Attend a global event with a unique New Orleans twist: The Red Dress Run!

The New Orleans Hash House Harriers (NOH3) Red Dress Run hits the streets Saturday for its 25th year. While New Orleans has put it’s own flavor on this world-wide organization’s charity event, chances are, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, it takes more than wearing a red dress and standing on Bourbon Street to support local charities and organizations. You may not know that NOH3 isn’t the only “kennel” group in the city and you can go on these “beer runs” every week. But to best understand how a “drinking club with a running problem” came to doing charity work, or even came to be, a little history lesson is needed.

Since you’re busy getting your outfit ready and history was likely your least favorite subject, here’s an abridged version. British military officers and expatriates in Malaysia started a social club with fellow ex-pats in the tradition of the old game of hares and hounds. This paper chase style game involved a pack of runners (hounds) chasing a hare who led a trail. Being true military members, they included drinking in the event. Because the best cure for a hangover is… another beer. The event called “hashing” spread throughout the military community world-wide through the decade, laying trails on every continent in the search of beer and merriment.

Hashers, as they are called, are fond of tradition. Which explains why on a random Monday or Thursday you might find a runner clad in a kilt and happi coat with beer in hand searching for spots of flour. (That white powdery substance is flour. No need to call the cops.) So on one fateful Long Beach, California night in 1987, a woman by the name of Donna Rhinehart attended her first trail, decked out in a red dress and heels to match. Not something you’d typically wear to a run for beer. After being told she should wait in the truck, in a moment of girl power, the Lady in Red went through with the trail red heels and all. Thus, the tradition was born. In 1988, The Lady in Red returned for the inaugural Red Dress Run, declaring that proceeds from the run should go to local charities. The tradition spread through the hashing community world-wide.

Hashing is also traditionally exclusive, though it isn’t hard to become a member. Prior to 2006, even the New Orleans Red Dress Run was for hashers only. In the midst of rebuilding after Katrina, the kind hearts and taxed livers of NOH3 opened the charity run to muggles, aka “non-hashers.” This move allowed NOH3 to donate more funds to local charities trying to rebuild. As all good things in New Orleans, the idea caught on quickly and earns its place among New Orleans events such as White Linen Night and dare I say, even Mardi Gras.

With over $2-million donated to charities thus far and nearly four-thousand REGISTERED participants, New Orleans’ RDR is the largest run out of all other Hashes world-wide. But there also lies the problem. The Red Dress Run draws in well over ten-thousand people to the French Quarter. By the numbers, that means for every one red dress you see that registered for the run and donated to charity, nearly three others did not. This can be physically visualized by the number bibs worn by the actual participants. No, some just wear a red dress and stand on Bourbon Street. Unbeknownst to them, a bar might even claim to be a “Red Dress Run party,” but more often than not, zero of their proceeds go to the actual Red Dress Run charities. This is like celebrating Mardi Gras at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort and not venturing out into the city. Cute, but it misses the point.

“One of the biggest problems is the locals just don’t know the real purpose of the event,” says Anthony DiDomenico , NOH3 Mismanagement. “It’s one of the biggest nights of the year and bars take advantage of the Red Dress Run for advertising.” This causes a problem because NOH3 is legally a Section 501 (c) (3) non-profit. When more money spent on Bourbon Street and not on the registered event, the less money ends up going to charities.

“We also have to pay for cleanup in the Quarter every year, even if we don’t go down Bourbon,” says DiDomenico. “All those people bringing ice chests and dirtying the streets are essentially taking money from charities.”

So not only are the Chads and Beckys on Bourbon Street abstaining from donating, they are literally taking money from charities. All for a couple cute photos for their Instagram and Tinder profiles. And if that doesn’t take the cake, the weekend of the Red Dress Run is one of the most hated weekends by service industry workers due to lack of tips. Many bartenders and servers expressed displeasure with the crowds drawn, but all refused to go on record due to ramifications by employers in the past during high ticket, low tip out events.

This could very easily be alleviated by bars donating a small portion of proceeds to NOH3, so the Hashers can delegate more funds to charities and less to garbage cleanup. As for low tips, that’s another struggle for another article.

So as you run in the sun until your skin matches your dress, have fun, hydrate and for fuck’s sake, TIP! And REGISTER!


Editor’s Note:  As we say here at Big Easy Magazine, progressiveness isn’t something to apologize for – It’s something to be celebrated and acted on.  So get on over to our events section for other ideas on how to spend your time this weekend that are in line with your values!

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