Painting The Town Red

These Red Hat Society ladies
know how to have fun

New chapters are flourishing around Kentuckiana

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(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.

November Issue Cover

November 2004
Issue Cover

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 local chapter.
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.

Alice Ellsworth

Photo by Helen McKinney

Alice Ellsworth of
Oldham County enjoys the fun during an October Red Hat Society Coffee Party and Fashion Show held at the Oldham County
Senior Center.

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 hasn’t 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 Heaven restaurant.
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 Byer’s 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.

Norma Kennedy, Ellie Husband

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Above, 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 Conley’s 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 chapter’s 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.

Madison In. Red Hat Group

Photo provided

A 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 décor.
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 you’re 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 Joseph’s poem.

Aimnee Johnson

Photo provided

Aimnee Johnson attending
a Red Hat event.

The fact that there are no obligations or officers in the society is another plus for Williams. It’s 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. “I’m so very proud of my girls,” she said.
Wanda Gross, owner of Wanda’s 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. “It’s always a group thing.”
Some of the more popular Red Hat items that Wanda’s 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.”

How 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 Ellen’s vision of reaching every corner of the world may not be too far off.

Source: www.redhatsociety.com

• 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.

Back to November 2004 Articles.



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