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What is the Red Hat Society?

Alison McAdams
Alison McAdams

Feeling bolder in your old age? The Red Hat Society might be just the ticket for fun and companionship in your retirement years. The Society bills itself as an international "disorganization" of middle-aged women who live with gusto and wear - what else? — bright red hats.

The Red Hat Society started in July 2000 when Sue Ellen Cooper, of Fullerton, California, sent a red hat and a copy of Jenny Joseph's poem, "Warning" to a friend for her birthday. The practice quickly snowballed and a burgeoning circle of friends began gathering for tea dressed in red hats and purple dresses.

Middle-aged women may join the Red Hat Society.
Middle-aged women may join the Red Hat Society.

Today Sue Ellen, the Society's "Queen Mother," organizes several conventions a year for mass frivolity and publishes a quarterly mini-magazine of "Red Hatter Matters" to the 256,000 members worldwide. The Society's $35 yearly membership fee covers the operating costs for the organization's six staff members.

Members younger than fifty are encouraged to join and wear pink hats and lavender dresses until their fiftieth birthday Coronation when they are crowned while being serenaded with kazoos and clappers.

Attire at conventions ranges from lady-like tea clothes and pajamas for breakfast to formal wear for banquets. While red and purple dominate the color scheme at each event, the only fashion rule is "gaudy is good."

The Society is unique for offering a club whose activities are entirely dependent on the whims of the members. No causes are professed and no fund-raising is needed to sustain the grassroots spread of chapters. All that the devoted Red Hatters seek is the chance to dress up, kick up their heels and be more visible in an era that idealizes youth.

By Jenny Joseph

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
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens...

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.

Discussion Comments


There are also many speedo gangs of elderly people who go to the beach in speedo outfits in various locations throughout the world. These are intimidating and infamous. It seems that a red hat society is much more widely appreciated.


It was actually started in 1997.

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    • Middle-aged women may join the Red Hat Society.
      By: spotmatikphoto
      Middle-aged women may join the Red Hat Society.