Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 26, 2003

Red Hat Society: embracing middle age with style

By Julie Yurek

Ladies dressed in red hats and purple dresses can get many stares, but they don't care.

They're not trying to set a new fashion trend, they're just having fun.

They are women ages 50 years old and up who are embracing middle age. They are known as the Red Hat Society.

Howard Lake has two chapters, the Cardinal Chics and The Red Rubies.

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

"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 Cardinal Chics have eight members, said member Nancy Main of Howard Lake.

The group meets once a month, Main said.

They take day trips together, and are planning a weekend trip to Branson, Mo. to meet up with a Branson chapter of the Red Hats.

They are also hoping to see "Tony and Tina's Wedding," and visit Duluth and Alexandria, she said.

The chapter was formed in August 2002, Main said. A friend from Willmar told Main about the society and that she joined one while in Florida for the winter, Main said.

When the friend returned from Florida, she decided to start her own chapter in Willmar, Main said. It sounded like so much fun that Main decided to start one here too, she said.

She registered the chapter online at the society's web site, she said. Main received a card and a chapter number which allows the Cardinal Chics to participate in Red Hat Society events, such as the national convention that was May 1-4 in Nashville, Tenn., Main said.

The Cardinal Chics were unable to make it to this year's convention, but is hoping to make it to next year's at Dallas, Texas April 22 - 25, she said.

The Chics are all about having a good time, Main said. "There are no rules or regulations in the society."

"We're all friends and here to have fun," she said.

When the group goes out in public, such as going out to eat, shopping, or to the Women's Expo in Winsted, they wear their red hats, purple dresses, red shoes, and sometimes red gloves.

For the summer, they have purple shirts to wear to their outings, she said.

It was hard to find red hats, Main said. They did find some in the Twin Cities, but they were very expensive, she said.

One lady was in California and found reasonably priced red hats that she brought back with her, Main said.

It takes a bit of nerve to go out in public dressed in purple and red, Main said. "People do stare sometimes."

"There are, however, people who see us and know what we're about and will honk and give us the thumbs up," she said.

The Chics keep their chapter small because making travel arrangements, dinner reservations, and driving is easier with eight than a larger group, Main said.

Down south, there are some chapters that are so large that they take a bus, she said.

Main encourages those that are interested in starting up their own chapter.

"It was easy. You don't have to register with the Red Hat Society if you don't want to," she said. It's $35 to register a chapter.

The ladies of Cardinal Chics all worked together at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted elementary school in Waverly at one time, Main said. Some are still working, while others have retired.

"We are a bunch of women getting together to have fun," she said.

The Red Rubies

Carol Sideen and Addie Mucha of Howard Lake echoed Main's sentiment. The ladies are two of 11 women that make up The Red Rubies chapter.

The Red Rubies began last summer at the Wright County Fair, Mucha said. They put on a dinner there, and wore red hats, she said.

The members were able to organize the dinner because many work at the fair, Sideen said.

It is now the chapter's annual tradition, Sideen said. They have already began planning and sending out invitations for this summer's dinner at the fair, Mucha said. The chapter also has a monthly newsletter.

The ladies have purple shirts, and will soon be getting together to cut out patterns for a 1920s style purple dress, Mucha said.

The Red Rubies usually meet once a month at members' homes on a member's birthday, Sideen said.

They also go out for coffee at the Grounds in Cokato, visit Carlson's Apple Orchard, and have dinner in Delano and other area restaurants, Sideen said.

Many of the Red Hat ladies attended the Rockettes in Minneapolis last year, Sideen said.

Last winter, Diane Sonstegard hosted a formal dinner for St. Lucia's Day/Christmas at her house, Sideen said

Sonstegard also made all the ladies a Red Hat doll that is about 10 inches tall dressed in purple attire with red hats, Sideen said. "They are so adorable," Mucha said.

The ladies made shopping trips to the Twin Cities to pick up red and purple clothing, she said. They found a store that has many red and purple clothing and accessories, Mucha said.

"We have a lot fun," Sideen said. "We get a lot of interesting red and purple gifts. I was given a purple boa for a gift." Sideen does bring the boa to their gatherings, she said.

"It's about camaraderie," Mucha said.

The women are also connected through the HLWW high school, she said. "Either they work here, have a spouse who does, or retired from here," Sideen said.

"We have a lot of fun," Mucha said. "It's to laugh and have a good time."

How it 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.

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.

Women under 50 years old are welcome, however, they typically wear pink hats and lavender attire until their 50th birthday.

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