The Town Red
Red Hat Society ladies
know how to have fun
chapters are flourishing around Kentuckiana
Helen E. McKinney
(November 2004) Having fun after 50 is what belonging
to the Red Hat Society is all about. With more than 250,000 members
nationally, the Red Hat Society is a phenomenon sweeping the country.
Norma Kennedy, Queen Mother of the Oldham County Red Hat
Society, said the organization is a great way to have a lot of
fun. Kennedy, 81, became familiar with the society after visiting
a Senior Center in Grapevine, Texas, where she lived at the time.
When Kennedy moved to La Grange, Ky., the existing Senior Center was
not very active. After gathering Red Hat information, she held an open
house at the center and received enough positive response to start a
The Red Hat Society is most commonly described by the verb fun.
Sue Ellen Cooper started this phenomenon in Fullerton, Calif., when
she impulsively bought a bright red fedora at a thrift shop. A year
or so later, Cooper read a poem by Jenny Joseph titled, Warning,
and felt an immediate kinship with the author. The poem depicted an
older woman wearing purple clothing and a red hat.
Cooper began giving the poem and vintage red hats to friends as gifts.
Soon the friends invited more friends to dress in red hats and purple
dresses, while accompanying each other to teas and luncheons. As this
California group grew, sibling chapters were formed in other states.
Two national Red Hat Society conventions are held annually.
by Helen McKinney
Oldham County enjoys the fun during an October Red Hat Society
Coffee Party and Fashion Show held at the Oldham County
On her website, Cooper has said, The Red Hat Society
began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve,
humor and elam. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection
forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever
life takes us next.
Finding appropriate clothing and accessories locally is easy thanks
to the many shops that now carry the two popular required colors. Kennedy
said The Clothes Boutique in Crestwood, Ky., is one of the best local
stores for Red Hat accessories. To stock her store, owner Ellie Husband
said she tries to find Red Hat items she hasnt seen before.
I try to find something different, said Husband, who recently
supplied clothing for a Red Hat Society Coffee Party and Fashion Show
hosted by the Oldham County Senior Center.
The Clothes Boutique carries a large assortment of new and consignment
items. Husband said she received many requests from ladies visiting
her store after having lunch across the street at A Little Taste of
Another business the Oldham County chapter frequents is the 1887 Corner
Store in La Grange. They often stop here after lunch, said
owner Frances Poth. Poth carries a variety of Red Hat items, including
treasure boxes, cards, calendars, wall hangings, journals, stationary
and Byers Choice ornaments.
A popular item with Red Hatters is Christmas ornaments. Middletown resident
Betty Conley crafts dough ornaments and sells them at Head House Antiques.
Conley said she tries to produce ornaments that cater to whatever
is popular. And the Red Hatters popularity is steadily growing
on both sides of the Ohio River.
by Helen E. McKinney
Oldham County Red Hat Society organizer Norma Kennedy with Ellie
Husband, who sells Red Hat specialty clothing and items at her
store, The Clothes Boutique, in Crestwood.
Many of Conleys creations depict a red hat, a lady
wearing a red hat and holiday ornaments with a snowman wearing the traditional
red hat. Conley even produces tabletop trees decorated in the Red Hat
fashion, adorned with hats, feathers and lights.
Conley began making dough ornaments 20 years ago and embellishes them
with acrylic paints. The Red Hat ornaments sell for $2.98 to $3.98.
While Conley is best known locally for her sports-themed ornaments,
the Red Hat-themed ornaments are bringing her a brisk business from
the many local Red Hat chapters. The Red Hat Society is a great excuse
for the ladies to get together, said Conley.
Barbara Dunn of Carrollton, Ky., was looking for something to
do at my age, when she met some Red Hatters in La Grange. Dunn,
59, described herself as a very outgoing person. For her, the Red Hat
Society is like a sisterhood.
Dunn joined the society online after reading about the society on the
national website. Dunn has organized a Carrollton chapter, the Red Hats
of Twin Rivers. She hopes her chapter will expand and members will go
places and do things as a group, or sisterhood.
For one of the chapters first projects, Dunn would
like to decorate a Red Hat Christmas tree to display at Gen. Butler
State Resort Park. She wants to organize an active chapter, with meetings
twice a month.
At age 82, Vina Williams likes to have fun with a capital F
when she steps out with her group, the Red Hatters Society of Madison,
Ind. Williams began the Madison chapter two years ago after having previously
began two in Florida. She traveled to Florida for 29 winters and that
is where she first learned of the Red Hat Society.
group of Red
Hat Society members
seated at the table during a recent
event at the Senior Center. Standing
in back is Madison area Red Hat
Society organizer Vina Williams.
One winter the Florida chapter visited Cypress Gardens,
having the entire place to themselves for a day. With 600 Red Hatters
there, the catered event included red geraniums and purple table cloth
Williams said she instructs people, When you get old, instead
of feeling sorry for yourself, put on a red hat, purple dress, and feel
good. In the Red Hat Society, Williams said the goal is for everyone
to feel welcome. Red hats and purple dresses can be bought at garage
sales and thrift shops, or at more expensive department stores. But
the purpose when wearing them is the same: to have fun.
Williams said she gets a kickout of being noticed in her
symbolic red and purple clothing. The organization is a social club
that gets you out. There are a lot of widows in the Madison
chapter. And youre never too old to have fun; three members are
in their 90s.
We do a lot, said Williams, who also volunteers three days
a week for various civic and church organizations. Such participation
does your heart good, she said. When new members join, Williams
presents them with a copy of Josephs poem.
a Red Hat event.
The fact that there are no obligations or officers in
the society is another plus for Williams. Its truly a fun experience,
with no strings attached. Not a day passes without people telling
me, I saw a bunch of Red Hatters recently, said Williams.
Sometimes husbands are invited for the luncheons the ladies share, but
asked to sit at another table, she joked. This organization is for women
only. Im so very proud of my girls, she said.
Wanda Gross, owner of Wandas Gifts in Madison, is the Queen Bee
of the recently formed Hoosier Red Hat Honeys. Gross, 64, said the society
just keeps growing more all of the time. Ladies can get
together as friends, eat out, shop, and become acquainted with new people,
with no rules or strings attached, she said. Its always
a group thing.
Some of the more popular Red Hat items that Wandas Gifts carries
are hats, scarves, feathers, jewelry, hats, boas, ink pens and stationery.
She said the items exemplify a lot of fun. They give the feeling
of being free, fun, your own individual.
it all started
It all began
in Tucson, Ariz., where Sue Ellen Cooper (a.k.a. The Queen Mother)
came across a bright red hat at a thrift shop. She liked it and
it was cheap, so she purchased it. A year or two had passed when
she read the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph which begins,
When I am an old woman, and then goes on to depict
a woman boldly wearing a red hat and a mismatched purple outfit.
Cooper, intrigued by the poem, decided to give her friend, Linda
Murphy, a vintage red hat with a copy of the poem as gift on her
birthday. Her thought was that her friend would be able to hang
the hat on a hook next to the framed poem on the wall.
Murphy loved the gift so much that she gave the same gift to several
of her friends. As this continued, it occurred to the women that,
without any intentions of doing so, they were forming a Red
Hat Society, and that it might be fun to go out to tea in
their red hats. To complete the image of the poem that had inspired
them, they all went out and found purple outfits to wear to tea
with their red hats.
The tea was such a success that soon each woman began inviting
friends to buy a red hat and join the group. In no time at all,
there were 18 women in red hats and purple attire trying to squeeze
around a table for tea.
As more women became interested, they were encouraged to start
their own chapters. The day one of the women told a friend in
Florida about the group of which she had grown so fond, the first
sibling chapter was born. Although the group began
with women 50 and older, membership is not restricted; members
under 50 are pink hatters who wear lavender outfits
with pink hats until the big birthday.
Sue Ellen hopes for chapters to proliferate around the globe so
that women everywhere can join hands and embrace aging with silliness
and companionship. Chapters have formed across the United States
and in several other countries. In addition to regular chapter
get-togethers, there have been two successful Red Hat Society
Conventions filling hotels with women in red hats. Sue Ellens
vision of reaching every corner of the world may not be too far
For more information on these local chapters, contact Kennedy
at (502) 225-0955, Dunn at (502) 732-5332, Williams at (812) 273-1981
or Gross at (812) 265-5166. Or visit the national website at: www.redhatsociety.com
to find a chapter near you.
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