The accidental mastermind behind this gathering, painter Bart Rouwenhorst, happens to be a blonde without a speck of ginger in his hair. Inspired by artists who famously painted red-haired women such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Gustav Klimt, Rouwenhorst put an ad in the newspaper asking for 15 natural redheaded women to model for him in 2005. More than 150 women called. Not wanting to turn any of them away, he decided to hold a gathering where the women would enter a lottery, and the inaugural festival was born.
Twelve years later, what started as a small gathering has grown into a major event attended by upwards of 5,000 people from more than 80 countries. While a number of similar festivals have popped up across Ireland, London, Portland, Chicago, and Georgia, Breda claims the title of the original and the largest.
The weekend-long festival is free to attend, and you don’t have to be a redhead to go—friends, family, and admirers are all welcome. Photographers set up tents all over town, poised to do individual photoshoots. There are speed-meeting sessions, art exhibits, fashion shows, a high heels race, lectures on the history of red hair, an Irish whiskey tasting, and beauty tutorials. An assortment of food trucks park around Kasteelplein (Castle Square), prepared to feed the crowds, and of-age attendees can quench their thirst at the Saturday night pub crawl.
The only event that requires crimson tresses is the group photo, which is taken on the last day of the festival. In 2015, the last time an official count was done, 1,721 redheads wearing blue were included in the group shot, breaking the festival’s own 2013 Guinness World Record of 1,672 redheads in one place.
Shelby Vittek is a writer covering food, travel, and redhead culture. Follow her on Twitter @bigboldreds.