The Red Hat Society Invades Ocala: Mad as Red Hatters

Who would have ever predicted how well a red hat goes with a purple dress?

Colors once reserved for bishops and earls has made their little way onto literally hundreds of thousands of women across the planet, and to think, it all began with a charming poem by Jenny Joseph ( a copy of which used to hang on my wall for years, and an abbreviated version of which can be found on the official Red Hat Society Web site, www.redhatsociety.com).

Recently, the woman responsible for starting the whole shooting match, Sue Ellen Cooper, who is gloriously titled the Exalted Queen Mother, and certainly revered as such by the 250,000 worldwide members, paid a visit to the Villages, a small town outside Ocala, Florida, with all the pomp and circumstance afforded the Pope. It astounded me. Jimmy Buffett once sang a song about “a woman going crazy on Caroline Street,” and I’m certain now that she must have been wearing a red hat and a tidy little purple dress.

So, what do all the Red Hat clan have in common? Do they have a secret handshake, or wear Grand Poobah insignias or perhaps have to swear under the full moon of their undying devotion to all things red and purple? Well, no. There are no rules, no regulations – except two. Red Hatters have to be at least 50 years of age and female (but “underagers” can start gearing up now as a Pink Hatter, and men can “join” their own red hat society- and no, I don’t mean the Shriners – as a “Red Baron”). And, Red Hatters must be ready, willing and able to put the laundry aside sometimes and begin a life adventure of fun, frolic and friendship with kindred spirits. We’re not talking about slumber parties and painting toenails (red, of course) here, we’re talking a genuine bonding of the female cosmos, the likes of which have never been seen in any formal women’s club.

Red Hatter women travel in packs, giggling and chattering like little canaries on a warm summer day. They try on shoes just for the sheer fun of seeing what every single pair in the store look like on their feet. They buy every appetizer on the menu for lunch, and pass the plates around. They collect sparkly things, just like magpies, and slurp up root beer floats (with extra ice cream, please) like prepubescent girls. In short, they laugh right out loud if they darned well please.

You can find some interesting bits on the Internet about the Red Hatters. There are 73 separate chapters in my old home town alone, with names like the Cherry Dumplings, the Cabernet Chix and the Jolly Red Gems, and there are more chapters being formed around the nation every week. There are over 453,000 pages in one search engine for the Red Hat Society, from fashion must-haves to home pages of women that have embraced the phenomenon, and why.

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