Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The Tulip Festival in May 2006 at Orange City Iowa, was a crowd puller. Here, 19th century Holland was brought to life by people of Dutch origin, through floats, tableaux, music and plenty of Dutch food. It was a pleasure to watch people dressed in period costumes with wooden clogs and bonnets, representing different areas of Holland.

I saw a motley group of middle aged women wearing red hats and purple dresses, in a glaring mismatch of colours. I presumed that this was all a part of the festival, and that these women would probably be part of the parade. They seemed a friendly lot. So I moved closer, and struck up a conversation.

“Which part of the Netherlands do you come from?”

They guffawed.

“Oh dearie,” one of them said, “We’re all from Iowa. We’ve just come here to have some fun.”

“But the garish costumes?”

“You must be new to the country. Haven’t you heard of the Red Hatters in their red hats and purple dresses?”

“No,” I said, “But perhaps you could fill me in.”

And so over tea and Dutch cookies, I heard about this inspiring social group of women above fifty years of age, who meet every month to talk, laugh, eat and enjoy themselves.”

“What do you do?” I asked.

“Nothing. We just have fun. But it’s more than that. You could call it a Fellowship. We share a deep bond of affection forged by our life experiences, and we do have a zest for living.”

Sometime in the mid-nineties, a woman named Sue Ellen Cooper, who lives in Fullerton California, went on a holiday to Tuscon. She bought a bright red hat at a thrift shop, which she thought looked cute. A couple of years later, she happened to read a poem called “Warning” by a British writer called Jenny Joseph, which was about purple dresses and red hats.

An idea struck her, and on her friend Linda Murphy’s 55th birthday, she presented her with the red hat and a copy of the poem. It was well appreciated, and Linda in turn, bought a similar gift for another friend. And so it spread to a group of five women who possessed red hats. To complete the poem’s image, they all bought purple dresses and went out to tea in their eye catching costumes. On April 25th 1998, the Red Hatters’ Society was born in Fullerton California, with five members.

Then one of them sent a red hat as a gift to her friend in Florida. It was the beginning of a sibling group there. Today there are 40,000 chapters in 30 foreign countries all over the world. Each chapter has about 20-25 members.

Their motto is “Red Hats Matter.” They have also adapted Mike Marline’s music as their theme song.

“All my life I’ve given to you,

Now it’s my turn to do for me.”

Most women dread facing middle age. Not these Red hatters. They come from all walks of life – grandmothers, golfers, teachers, entertainers and housewives. Their spirit of buoyancy is infective. They call themselves a ‘disorganisation’ with no rules or by-laws. This makes them adventurous, ready to try out new things, or even change the course of their lives.

Ageing is something to be welcomed with enthusiasm, and not to be anticipated with fear. They have no time for gloomy, morose people who stifle the joy of living. The vibrant colours they wear are liberating.

This particular group in Iowa has taken up a new interest. They are the Red Hat Quilters. At their meetings, the hostess passes out a large square of fabric coloured red or purple, to each member. Each must make a quilted block out of it. When sufficient blocks are made, a lucky winner is given all the blocks, to make a quilt for herself.

Each chapter has its own activity. For those below fifty who would like to join, the colour schemes are different. They have pink hats and lilac dresses. April 25th is celebrated as the Red Hat Society Day.

Just interacting with this group made me feel twenty years younger. I wonder if there are any similar groups in other copuntries. Such lively groups would change the mind set of many middle aged women, who feel lonely and unwanted.

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