Hats match society’s free spirit
"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me..."
A group of about 20 women asserted their right to dress as they please -- showing up in red hats and purple outfits Thursday, Nov. 6 at Cracker Barrel, 78th Street and Interstate 70 in Kansas City, Kan.
Most of the women are members of the Red Hat Society, an organization that has no official rules, except to have fun.
The society's origins are in Jenny Joseph's poem "Warning." She describes things she would do when she got old, including wearing purple with a red hat that doesn't match, wearing slippers in the rain and picking flowers in other people's gardens. At the end of the poem, she says perhaps she will begin doing those things so people who know her won't be surprised when she does them when she's old.
To distinguish themselves as Red Hat members, women 50 and older wear red hats and purple outfits while women younger than 50 wear pink hats and lavender outfits. The society recommends that each chapter be no more than 20 members so they can all fit around one table.
The original Lansing chapter members, who call themselves The Red Hat Movers and Shakers, were about 15 women who exercise two days a week together in Lansing.
"We read in the paper about a Red Hat group," said Mary Owen, Basehor resident and Red Hat member. "We thought that sounded like fun, so we decided to start a group."
That was about a year ago. Since then, the group -- always clad in red hats and purple -- has visited the Plaza, worn purple pajamas out to breakfast and spent time playing dress-up at Madame Hatter's Tea Room, a lunch and tea establishment in Eudora that also houses a collection of vintage clothing.
"We're hoping sometime around the first of the year to do a Red Hats ladies exercise video," said Teresa Hilliard, Lansing resident and exercise instructor for the original group.
The group has also added a few people from surrounding communities.
Edwardsville resident Roberta Schmitz was on her first visit after having heard from a friend about the group. She wore the appropriate attire -- a purple suit and red hat.
"I've had this hat for years and years," Schmitz said. "I had to go out and get a purple suit, though."
Barbara Henre, another Edwardsville resident who recently joined, said she'd been told she was a natural for the group, because in July she got married wearing a purple dress. She's already beginning to get a collection of hats and accessories and has been impressed with the variety other Red Hat Society members have.
"Everybody's hat is different," Henre said. "Some are antique hats, some are newer, but no two are the same."
For the trip to Cracker Barrel, Henre brought along her daughter, Kori Piccioli from Arizona, who was wearing a 43-year-old pink hat that she'd borrowed from another Red Hat member, Pat Lebrecht of Kansas City, Kan.
Piccioli wore a pink hat and lavender shirt, the "strongly suggested" dress for Red Hat members under 50 years of age.
Only one other member was wearing pink and lavender -- Teresa Hilliard, the exercise instructor.
"I'm the red hat wannabe," Hilliard said
She wore a lavender sweat suit and knit pink hat. She only has one other lavender outfit, a dress she dyed, and one other pink hat, which is made of straw.
"It's hard to find pink hats anymore," Hilliard said. "And lavender -- lavender's really hard to find."
During the almost two-hour lunch, the ladies shared pictures, chatted and enjoyed plenty of good-natured teasing and laughing.
"Hey, Teresa," said Laura Barnes, Lansing member, "a man just came by and asked if we'd expelled you because you're wearing a pink hat."
Other customers, most of whom couldn't help smiling, stared as they walked by the table of red hats. One woman, whose escort wouldn't let her stop, kept looking back, grinning and saying, "Beautiful," as she was on her way to her own table.
Some of the ladies had matching red purses, earrings, pins shaped as red hats and one was even wearing a pair of red heels.
"We're always looking for new things to wear," Mary Owen said.
But they said finding red hats wasn't always easy.
"When we first started, we couldn't find anything," said Betty Morris, Basehor resident and Red Hat member.
Members say more businesses are starting to catch on to the trend, though, and they've added to their collection of hats and accessories.
The ladies even rubbed off on the Cracker Barrel assistant manager, who, after seeing all the red hats, found a red felt cowboy-style hat of his own and modeled it for the ladies. He exemplified the spirit of the Red Hat Society -- enjoy yourself and those around you.
"There's no agenda, no minutes, no fund-raising," Hilliard said. "We just do whatever."
"And eat," Mary Owen said.
"And laugh," Betty Morris added.
The club does pay an annual fee of $35, but that amounts to a couple of dollars per person. Even the meetings are informal, including deciding when and where to go next.
"At exercise class, we figure out when we want to plan another one," Hilliard said.
"And then we pass the word along to the ladies not in the exercise class," Harris said.
Who knows where they might show up next -- but as the poem says, don't be shocked if they're wearing purple.
For more information about The Red Hat Movers and Shakers, contact Teresa Hilliard at email@example.com or (913) 351-5439. For information about the Red Hat Society, visit www.redhatsociety.com.