When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me.

from "Warning," by Jenny Joseph

You see them at restaurants, movie theatres, and events: troops of older women in bright purple outfits and even brighter red hats. The Red Hat Society is a recent phenomenon in the United States and abroad, founded by Sue Ellen Cooper of California in the late 1980s. The Red Hats are women over the age of 50 who celebrate their years with wisdom, humor, and silliness.

Their costume originates from a poem by Jenny Joseph, in which she describes her desire to be an old woman so she can "make up for the sobriety" of her youth. Jenny writes about the fun that can be had in old age and how, when she grows older, she plans to wear ridiculous outfits and be as eccentric as possible. The poem struck a nerve with a growing segment of the adult population in the U.S, women who aren't quite ready to settle into a retirement home and knit quietly.

Instead, these women gather together at somewhat raucous tea parties, lively luncheons, or otherwise entertaining events. They do not sponsor charity events or volunteer; the purpose of the Red Hats is strictly to have a good time. Each group has a leader, who bears the official title Queen Mother, Empress, or Queen Bee. There are chapters throughout the United States and Canada, some more eccentric and wild than others. There are even annual conventions where Red Hat chapters can meet up and celebrate growing older together.

For more information or to join, redhatsociety.com.

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