Red hatters ready for fun

When Judy Davidson, 53, of Pickering, Ontario attended a professional conference in Kansas City last May, the last thing she expected was to make friends closer to home. But when the topic of stress relief came up at the conference, one of the other attendees shared that she’d found a way to relax every month with a group of interesting, fun-loving women: the Red Hat Society.

The Red Hat Society is a network of women dedicated to showing the world that there is fun after 50. Its formal mission is to work towards higher visibility for women and to reshape the way they are viewed by today’s culture. Started by Sue Ellen Cooper eight years ago, the organization gets its name — and dress code — from the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph which begins:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves…

Starting out
Judy thought the concept was a great idea. “I came home and started a chapter right away, the Frivolous Fillies.” Starting or joining a chapter is easy — just visit the official website at href=”” target=”_blank”> to search for chapters worldwide, or pay $39 to start your own (the fee includes a listing on the website and a starter kit for chapter “Queens”). Although there is some “legalese” the basic rules are pretty simple:

– You must be a woman over 50 (although women under 50 may attend as “Pink Hatters”)
– You must attend events in full regalia (red hat and purple suit for women over 50; pink hat and lavender suit for women under 50)

Judy’s first chapter meeting was at a restaurant. “I was nervous, but I had a friend and my twin sister with me.” It was a smashing success. “12 people met as strangers, but by the end of the evening it was like we had known each other all our lives.” There was even an impromptu song and kazoo session, thanks to coaching by Janet Forrester.

It’s that kind of celebratory spirit that defines Red Hatters worldwide. With their outrageous uniform and public events, the women who participate are clearly refusing to become invisible after “THE birthday,” as Red Hatters call it. And they are certainly making their presence known. The society’s growth has been astonishing: it has thousands of chapters across the world, and has spawned books (including a book in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series, to be published next year) and even a musical.

Since that first outrageous meal, Judy’s own chapter has grown to 45 members, and she receives two or three requests to join each month. The group has enjoyed a wide variety of events: tassle doll making; teas, including a field trip to a local “Red Hat friendly” town; shopping; “chick flick” movie events, and a Hallowe’en party. It’s not just about the activities: it’s about the connection between members. “At my age it can be hard to make friends, but through the group I’ve made many.”

And has it been stress-relieving, as Judy hoped? You bet. “It’s like going back to being a child and having the freedom to be who you were unencumbered,” Judy says. What’s surprised her the most has been how easy it is to get along. “You see so many different life paths and we have members from many different cultures. But we all have things in common”. Laughter is the most important part.”

Judy’s advice to anyone thinking of joining or starting a chapter? “Just do it. And be open to everyone. You gain through diversity.”

Photo credit: Kevin Farrington