The women of the Red Hat Society
By Erica Williams/Montana Living
For members of the Red Hat Society, few things go better together than red hats, purple outfits, unabashed silliness and warm friendships.
“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.”
These are the words of Jenny Joseph’s poem, “Warning,” that struck a chord with Sue Ellen Cooper, the founder and “Exalted Queen Mother” of the Red Hat Society, more than 13 years ago.
It was this poem that inspired Cooper to give her dear friend Linda Murphy a vintage red hat and a copy of the poem as a birthday present. It marked the beginning of the Red Hat Society. Cooper gave identical birthday gifts to friend after friend until it occurred to her that something special was in the making — the Red Hat Society, to be exact. Now in 2010, with 164 official chapters in Montana, the Red Hat Society is proud to celebrate its 12th birthday.
“The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan,” Cooper said. “We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together.
“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."
The Red Hat Society is a sisterhood of spunky and optimistic women who can teach the rest of us a thing or two about life. These women understand the beauty of appreciating life’s little gifts, about loving the life they lead. Any red hatter can become a “Queen” of a chapter simply by starting up one of their own; royalty in the Red Hat Society is home-grown.
Montana officially jumped on the Red Hat Society map in Libby with Montana’s Red Hat Mamas, the oldest chapter of the state. The newest chapter to appear in Montana is the Red Hat Ladies of the Rockies, which makes its home in Butte. The Blackfoot Babes of Helmville proudly boasts its Queen, Peaches Raymond, who is 93.
Syl Trundle, Queen of the Ruby Red deRailers of the Flathead Valley, was originally a member of one of the first Red Hat Society Chapters in the Flathead, the Perhaps Sisters.
“The whole idea is to do things, just for the fun of it,” she said.
The guidelines for membership simply encourage all Red Hatters to wear red hats and purple clothing when they gather together for Society events, which occur each month. To join, one must be a woman of at least 50.
Although, even that “guideline” is loose. If a woman is interested in joining the Society and has not yet reached 50, she may join under the title of a “Pink Hatter” or a “Lady in Waiting,” and, with a pink hat and lavender clothing, can enjoy everything the Red Hat Society has to offer.
Each chapter has a chapter Queen — not a president — and the Red Hatters get together for events, not meetings. Some of the events that members of the Red Hat Society attend include train rides, boat rides, movies, parades, lunches, teas, picnics, shopping outings and plays. For the Ruby Red deRailers, once a year the chapter has a “P.J. B and B,” which entails bowling and breakfast in their pajamas. During the Christmas season, the Ruby Red deRailers shop in their robes and slippers, just because.
“It’s interesting to see people’s reactions,” said Trundle. “I had a lady step off the sidewalk and walk around me and I said, ‘Haven’t you ever shopped in your robe and slippers before?’ And she just sort of looked at me.”
The Red Hat Society has national, regional and statewide convergences that provide a chance for members of several different chapters to get together and enjoy a fun, social gathering. A typical convergence weekend consists of a Friday night casual attire, red hats and purple outfits expected; a Saturday night dressy event; and a Sunday pajama party.
“I like to call them 3 a.m. friends, where you could call them at 3 a.m. and they would be there for you."
“Most of it is just being able to have fun, and be silly, and grow old without worrying about what other people think,” Trundle said. “What else can I say, laughter is the best medicine and being amongst friends, we’re just enjoying each other.”
Red Hatters come to the Society to take a break from the rest of their lives, to enjoy each other’s company, and to remind one another not to take themselves too seriously. The Rudy Red deRailers, for example, have appeared in the Whitefish Winter Carnival on a float they designed and decorated. Their presence in the parade, their laughter and light-heartedness, and of course the colorful costumes, was contagious for all. Kindness is also contagious for the members of the Red Hat Society.
Trundle explained the appeal Red Hat Society has for her, and for many other members. “The women are just so sweet, and warm and welcoming,” she said. “I like to call them 3 a.m. friends, where you could call them at 3 a.m. and they would be there for you."