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Rural Missouri Magazine

Mad Hatters

Ladies with "hattitude" make aging a fun thing
"Disorganized" in March 2004, the Bethany Red Hat Society boasts 21 fun red hatters as members so far.

“When I am
an old woman
I shall wear purple
with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me
. . . but maybe I ought to
practice a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple.”

— excerpt from poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph


by Heather Berry

The little northwest Missouri park is as quiet as a gentle spring shower. Suddenly, as if the rain made them bloom, a sea of red hats and purple outfits appears as the Bethany Red Hat Society gathers for an informal meeting.

The Red Hat Society is a fun and light-hearted new women’s movement aimed at changing the perception of aging women in the world. The goal is to enjoy the bonds of sisterhood as women travel through the aging process together. In March, Iva Polley registered the local chapter with the official “hatquarters” of the society in Fullerton, Calif.

“I have five sisters,” says Iva, “so we were really a group before we registered the chapter name. We just made it official.”

Iva Polley, "queen" of the Bethany Red Hat Society

The new group already has 21 red-hatted members, age 50 and up. Humor and fun are the top priorities of these non-conformists with bold “hattitudes” as they call it.

The idea of this fun “disorganization” began in 1997 when Sue Ellen Cooper, founder of the Red Hat Society, gave a copy of the poem “Warning” and a bright vintage hat to a friend for her 55th birthday. Her friend enjoyed the gift so much Sue Ellen began giving the same gift to other friends. Soon each women thought of other friends they wanted to include and the Red Hat Society was officially organized. Adopting a royal theme for fun, Sue Ellen claims the title of “queen mother” and those who start chapters are dubbed “queens.”

While many groups choose a specific focus, such as golfing, sewing, quilting or reading, other groups want to make this a social gathering strictly for fun and laughter.

“We don’t really want another day designated for a specific meeting,” says Iva, the queen of the Bethany chapter. “We’re already in enough of those. Our group meets pretty spontaneously; just about anything can cause a red-hat gathering.”

While there are no real rules, there are strong suggestions. The only true requirement is to have a red hat and purple outfit and the nerve to wear them in public. “Nobody would follow them anyway,” Iva says regarding the rules many other organizations follow.

If you’re under 50, the Red Hat Society welcomes you although it’s recommended you wear a pink hat and lavender outfit until your big day. Until then, you’re dubbed a “pinkie.”

Peggy Rinehart

While birthdays are celebrated, age is not. If it’s your birthday month, you wear a purple hat and red outfit, to let others know to celebrate with you. Starting a local chapter is easy. All you need is $35 to register your chapter’s name, which you renew each year.

Currently, there are approximately 24,000 chapters in the United States and 25 countries. Of those chapters, 614 belong to Missourians who embrace the world with humor and fun as top priorities in life. The society has grown quickly as red hat membership approaches the half-million mark.

“Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next,” says Queen Mother Sue Ellen.

Red-hatters can also attend an official national convention. The next one is scheduled for June 24-29, 2005 in Las Vegas.

If there’s a local chapter but they’re currently closed to new members, don’t fret; start up your own chapter. You can join as many other chapters as you’d like. Again, there are no rules.

Ella Adkins

“It truly is a disorganization. We don’t have dues and we don’t take roll call. If you only want to come to something once a year, that’s OK with us,” she says.

“We’re married, single, widowed, divorced,” says Iva. “You’re never alone when you’ve got a bunch of red hatters around.”

While the Bethany Red Hat Society meets for the occasional brunch or dessert, they do have a few items on their social calendar such as attending a photography exhibit in June and riding in Bethany’s Fourth of July parade. Other plans include learning how to line dance — while wearing red hats of course.

Most members of the chapter compare the Red Hat Society to being a little girl again. “It’s like playing dress up,” says one member. Another lady chimes in, “We’ve always been red hat, we just didn’t have the hat yet!”

To locate a Red Hat Society chapter in your area or to find out how to begin your own group, log on to www.redhatsociety.com or call (714) 738-0001.

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