A sea of women in elegant caftans and orange wigs bar-hopped along Western Avenue in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood in honor of Helen Roper, the stylish character from the 1970s sitcom “Three’s Company.”
They wore tropical, paisley, ocean-getaway-themed and bold-colored caftans on Saturday. The Roper Romp drew more than 100 women dressed like the spunky landlady, who is experiencing a revival.
The three middle-aged women who organized the South Side bar crawl said they wanted to put on some makeup and do something crazy.
“We just saw [a Roper caftan crawl] on TikTok while sitting around over a couple of glasses of wine,” said Katie Durkin, one of the head Helens, “and thought ‘Oh my god, we should do that here.’”
The caftan crawl is a throwback to their childhood — even if they were too young to watch the show when it originally aired on ABC.
“But as a kid, that’s all that was on,” said Erin Whealan, one of Durkin’s neighbors in Beverly. “There was no Cartoon Network. There were no other channels to watch.”
But some parents didn’t let their kids watch the “risque” show. And others like Sunny Byers didn’t have a TV growing up. At the caftan crawl, the 48-year-old recalled how she used to watch the show at a neighbor’s house.
“It was kind of like contraband,” Byers said.
Helen Roper was largely seen as the cool aunt who dressed in eccentric caftans. So it makes sense why young women at the time wanted to be Helen, and why so many across the country are dressing up like her and organizing similar caftan crawls today.
The women are also lured by the appeal of wearing a flowy garment that can complement any body size.
“Nowadays women are expected to look so good with [photo] filters and things like that,” said Mary Morgan, 46, who sported a sleek, modern-looking caftan with stripes on the sides. “But today is a day to just be yourself and have fun and wear loose clothes.”
Plus, who doesn’t love to wear a mumu in their 40s? The bar-hopping Helens of Beverly certainly do.
They partied all through Saturday, starting at Harte’s Saloon in the late afternoon. Tickets were sold for a Helen-Roper-themed raffle and a food truck set up during the six-bar crawl. Durkin said proceeds will go to the Finley Forever Foundation, a charity that helps local families affected by cancer.
But the tickets also came with a nostalgia for the grandiose and super cheesy sitcom.
Joanne Bizub sipped on a beer as she reflected on the independent Helen, played by the late Audra Lindley.
“She was just loud … and she didn’t care what society or people thought about her,” the 53-year-old said.
As the Helens waltzed into the next bar, Syreeta Talbert stood on the curb, showering them with compliments while live-streaming the event from her phone.
“She [Helen] is kooky. She thinks she has this sexy appeal, which is very awkward-ish. But she was a very confident woman, knowing that she owned her womanhood. And she wore some mean caftans and gawky jewelry,” Talbert said.
Emboldened in a striking caftan and bedazzled sunglasses, Talbert commandeered the other Helens to break into the “Three’s Company” theme song. Cars driving down Western Avenue honked back to them as the Helens cheered and hooted, their caftans fluttering as they waved.
Anna Savchenko is a reporter for WBEZ. You can reach her at @annasavchenkoo.