Let’s say you’re out for a nice, quiet dinner at your favorite French restaurant, when suddenly you hear some racket in another room. Leaning back in your chair to see what the fuss is, you spot a group of women who give flamboyant a whole new meaning.

 

These flashy females aren’t just wearing garish colors; they’re bathed in them from hat to heel, adorned in accessories that would do a burlesque singer proud.

 

          With a shake of your head you return to your meal, but a familiar face makes you look again.

 

“MOM?!”

 

It could happen to you. Women all over the world are joining the Red Hat Society, donning red hats and purple clothes for a night out with the girls. But the thing is, they’re not girls at all. They’re all at least 50, long past the age when they should know better. And that’s exactly why they do it.

 

Preston Hollow resident Liz Joe recently became a red hatter, attending her first gathering with the Crème de la Crimson Chapeaux chapter a few months ago.

 

“Oh, it was so much fun,” she says. “Nothing was too fancy — beads, feathers, boas, you name it. It was like we were little girls playing dress-up in our mom’s clothes.”

 

With plenty of demands on her time already, Joe says she was drawn to the group for both its sense of fun and lack of requirements.

 

“There are no rules. That is the rule,” she says. “It’s purely social, just to dress up and get together, with no service requirements or regular meetings.”

 

The Red Hat Society started four years ago, after Sue Ellen Cooper read “Warning,” a poem about shirking society’s constraints upon reaching a certain age. Inspired by a line in the poem, she gave red hats to several friends, who decided to gather for tea wearing their hats with purple clothes.

 

Four years later, what began as uninhibited friends having fun is still exactly that, though it’s roughly 300,000 friends, in more than 16,000 chapters across 17 countries. The group is so popular, in fact, that women under 50 are now joining, though they wear pink and lavender until graduating to the bolder colors of the big kids.

 

The Dallas area will be swarming with red hats this month, when Grapevine hosts the group’s third annual national convention. But even with a national convention and huge numbers of members, the society glories in its disorganization. Anything sounding remotely organized or business-like is frowned upon.

 

Joe says that laid-back attitude is what attracts so many members.

 

“These women have put in a lot of time over the years, volunteering, working at jobs and in the community, and taking care of their families. And here’s just a fun thing to go to, where they can kick back, be silly and have a good time without any obligations.”

 

          Of course, there is one rule: All women over 50 must attend the non-meetings wearing a red hat and purple clothing.

 

For Jacquelyn Hill, Preston Hollow resident and co-queen of the Scarlet Scamps chapter, dressing the part has always come easily.

 

“I like bright,” she says. “I have three hats, and I want more,” she says. “And my eyes are open all the time for purple.”

 

The Scarlet Scamps’ outings have involved a bit of everything, from having high tea at the Aldophus Hotel to riding a DART train to Plano . One especially memorable evening came at the Dallas Museum of Art, when they turned an otherwise low-key gathering into a lively gabfest.

 

“Everyone was there listening to classical music, and it was all very nice,” Hill says. “We get there and suddenly everybody is at our table, talking and asking us questions.

 

“People are very curious. They want to know who we are, what we’re doing and why. We just giggle. It’s like going through your second childhood with this.“

 

          Glynda Pryor, also of the Scarlet Scamps, loves the fun-loving, work-avoiding attitude of the group.

 

“It’s not labor intensive, let’s just put it that way,” she says with a laugh. “Or mentally challenging. You just go and clear your mind and have a fun evening, kind of like going to the spa.”

 

          Pryor says belonging to the Red Hat Society is just one of the perks she’s found to being over 50.

 

“I like being the age I am,” she says. “There are a lot of disadvantages of being young. You don’t have as much direction in life, and you’re often making mistakes and don’t even realize it. When you’re older, you realize how you can build on those mistakes and make things positive.”

 

That refreshing attitude on aging, in a land that cherishes few things more than youth, is a big reason she says the group is so popular.

 

Sure, its stated purpose is for members to have fun without a thought to what others might think. But with so many women trading sensible shoes and support hose for flashy hats and feather boas, they’re redefining what it means to act their age.

 

“It has a lot to do with women feeling more secure in themselves,” says Pryor. “Women in their 50s used to see themselves as aging and not able to do things. But in today’s society, you can see all the diverse roles women play. The way women see themselves has changed.”

 


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