Herald JournalHerald Journal, Aug. 4, 2003

Mad Red Hatters enjoying middle age with zest

By Julie Yurek

Red hats, purple outfits, beaded necklaces, and an occasional feather boa are what these ladies wear in public.

They talk and giggle wherever they go, whatever they're doing, no matter how many looks they receive.

They're not dressed this way to make political statements. They dress this way to celebrate middle age, and most importantly, to have fun.

These ladies are members of the Red Hat Society, specifically designed for women age 50 or older.

According to the Red Hats Society web site, www.redhatsociety.com, the main responsibility of the women is "to have fun."

"We see this group as an opportunity for those who have shouldered various responsibilities in the home and the community their whole lives to say goodbye to burdensome responsibilities. This is a place to have fun and enjoy ourselves," according to the web site.

"If an individual chapter wishes to participate in charitable events or such things, we encourage them to do so, but the Red Hat Society as a whole does not see itself as an appropriate forum for fundraising or other events. The refrain of the Red Hat Society theme song by Mike Harline says it bluntly: 'All my life, I've done for you. Now it's my turn to do for me.'"

The Mad Red Hatters

"We all just celebrated out 50th birthday," Jan Kappel said with winks to Karen Dawes and Sue Fynboh.

Kappel, Dawes, and Fynboh are the founding ladies of Winsted's Red Hat Society chapter called the Mad Red Hatters. They celebrate their one-year anniversary Wednesday, Aug. 6.

There are eight members who are over 50, and one that has not yet turned the magic number. Only those over 50 can wear red hats and purple attire, according to the society.

So instead, Sue Dunne, the one under 50, wears pink hats and lavender clothes.

The Mad Red Hatters had their first meeting at the Blue Note of Winsted, Kappel said.

Since then, they have been to places such as Antiquity Rose and Dinning Room in Excelsior, the Victoria House in Victoria, Carlson's Orchard in Winsted, the Bavarian Haus in Hutchinson, Clemens Garden Complex in St. Cloud, and a French restaurant in Buffalo.

Future activities may include a Minnetonka boat cruise and going to the theater in St. Paul.

They may also be in the Winsted Summer Festival parade on Sunday.

They usually meet every six weeks, but this summer it's been about once a month, Fynboh said. There isn't a set date every month, Kappel added.

No matter where the destination is, the goal is always the same: to have fun, Dawes said.

"Our only purpose to exist is to have fun together," Dawes said.

"We usually like to eat when we go out," Fynboh said.

"It's about trying new ideas, new things," Fynboh said. "It's a good attitude adjustment."

The Mad Red Hatters have gathered at members' homes, but the fun is going out all dressed up, Kappel said.

Many times strangers, usually men and children, have asked the ladies why they're dressed the way they are. "When the men hear the explanation, they usually say, 'my wife would like that,'" Kappel said.

Children like the hats, Fynboh said.

No rules, only suggestions

There are no rules in this club, only suggestions, Dawes said.

One suggestion is that if someone arrives without a purple shirt or a red hat on, she will have to buy a round of drinks, Dawes said. "That hasn't happened yet. Everyone comes dressed."

"Part of the fun is finding inexpensive red hats or shoes or purple clothing," Fynboh said.

Both Dawes and Kappel bought white hats and spray painted them red, Kappel said.

Other members have dyed clothes, or shopped the Worn-a-Bit at Holy Trinity, Dawes said.

"It's like dress up," Fynboh said.

"There's three red feather boas now," Kappel said.

"The jewelry and hats ­ it's eccentric," Fynboh said.

"I'm trying to find the perfect red shoes," Dawes said.

Kappel and other members add flowers, scarves, and other items to their hats to mix it up, she said.

Kappel and Dawes found clothing and accessories while on an Alaskan cruise together with their husbands this year.

Before organizing the Mad Red Hatters, the trio had heard about the Red Hat Society in newspaper articles and on TV.

Keeping it small

There are nine women in the group. None of the three founding ladies want to see it get much bigger than that. "We all know so many more women who would be great to include, but we don't want to get too big. How would you fit 30 women at a restaurant? We'd be at separate tables, which isn't the purpose," Kappel said.

Keeping the number of members small allows the group flexibility and it's easier for reservations and travel.

The three encourage other women to start their own chapters. Dawes suggested that those who are interested go to the Red Hat Society's web site to get information about the club.

The Mad Red Hatters aren't official members of the national chapter, Kappel said.

The group agreed it didn't want to pay the yearly $35 per chapter membership.

"We collected one dollar at the first meeting to cover postage," Fynboh said.

"I don't think we need to be members to have more fun," Kappel added.

How the RHS started

The Red Hat Society was inadvertently started by Sue Ellen Cooper of Fullerton, Calif. sometime before 2000, according to the society's web site.

The society began "as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor, and elan." They believe that silliness is the comedy relief of life.

She took inspiration from a poem titled "Warning" by Jenny Joseph. Below is a portion of the poem that the society takes to heart.


When I am an old women 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.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired and gobble up

samples in shops and press

alarm bells and run my stick

along the public railings

and make up for the

sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my

slippers in the rain

and pick the flowers

in other people's gardens. . .


But maybe I ought to

practice a little now?

So people who know me

are not too shocked and

surprised when suddenly

I am old, and start

to wear purple.

Cooper gave a friend a copy of the entire poem and a red hat for her birthday. The intent was to hang the framed poem on a wall with the hat as decoration.

Cooper's friend had so much fun with the two decorative pieces that Cooper gave other friends the poem and a red hat as birthday gifts.

One day the group of friends decided to buy purple dresses to wear with the red hats, as it says in the poem, and go out to tea as a way to celebrate the poem and what it stands for.

Soon the group swelled to 18 members and divided off into separate chapters. The first "sibling" chapter was born when a group was started in Florida.

Besides the United States, there are chapters in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico.

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