The Red Hat Society: A Different Chapter

Red hats, purple dresses, feather boas — all signatures of the Red Hat Society. There is even a Queen Mother, Sue Ellen Cooper of Orange County, California, who founded the Society in 1998 after she hosted a fancy tea party for ladies decked out in purple and red. Since then, Cooper has written two best-sellers about her Society, which has spawned thousands of chapters of women with “hattitude” nationwide.

"When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple / With a red hat . . . !"
“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple / With a red hat . . . !”

My sisters and I had our own Red Hat Lady, my plain Grandma Longenecker’s fancy cousin, Mame Goss, who brought picked-over hats of all colors to us from a millinery shop where she worked in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Getting hats from Mame was heady stuff! She was a main character in the script of our youthful play-acting.

Mame is one step closer to revealing the treasures in her bag now. Soon we lay eyes on the partly smashed trousseau of hats, left over from the spring season. We fight over who gets what, of course.

* * *

“Here’s a straw hat with a polka dot bow, “ I say but cast it aside. Janice and Jean don’t pick it up either. They are eying the red satin bows and lavender netting attached to other headgear.

* * *

“Hey, I want this one,” Janice and Jean tussle over a swoopy hat with pink flowers. Jean finally picks up a white thing that looks like an upside-down, flat-bottomed boat with a wad of blue tulle tied in a fluffy bow in the back. Janice’s is flat and round and dark, not my taste, with black-eyed Susan circling the straw hat. I get the best hat, I believe. It is flat and round too, but navy, and studded with azalea pink silk flowers around the edges. Best of all, I can pull a dark blue net over my face. Instantly, I become a woman of mystery and allure.

* * *

We take our newly-found treasures up to Grandma’s bedroom and indulge in more fantasy. The space between her marble-topped vanity and tall headboard becomes our runway. We take turns prancing in front of her vanity mirror with wavy glass, cocking our heads just so and smiling at our reflections.

One day Auntie Mame brings another batch of hats. When I spy the red felt with broad brim, I know it is mine. Our catwalk this time is not the narrow confines of Grandma’s bedroom, but the front lawn along Harrisburg Avenue: Marian, Janice, and Jean preen for the camera this time. Soon enough we will stuff our hair under a prayer veiling, but until then, we’re fancy girls!

Home movie from the 1950s

Do you remember playing dress up as a kid? What were your costumes? Inquiring minds want to hear your story. 

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20 thoughts on “The Red Hat Society: A Different Chapter

  1. I love that you had an Auntie Mame! Every family should have one. Sadly mine passed away in ’96. The home movie footage is precious.
    And I certainly did play dress up. My favorites were the high heels. Oh, how grown up that made me feel. Later with our own girls, we had a basket of dress up clothes, and I remember at one birthday party we had a Barbie theme. It included a “dress up for the prom” relay race to see who could get ready the fastest for Ken coming to the door.

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    1. You’re # 1 for posting today. The Barbie theme birthday party sounds like a hit, especially with Ken coming to the door. A treasured memorable moment for your girls. I’ll bet you have photos too! Thanks, Georgette!

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  2. Great Aunt Mary Will word hats of all types. Fruit, feathers, flowers. Nobody wanted to sit behind her in church. I am a member of the Kissimmee Red Hat Society. Just started last year. Fun group.

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  3. This is a joy to read, Marian, and the video is wonderful.
    Several months ago, as we were coming out of a restaurant , a group of Red Hat Ladies were coming in. A gust of wind whipped the hats off the white-haired heads of two ladies. A young man gallantly chased after them, and when he handed them out to the women, they studied them and laughed. They tried on each other’s hats, traded and tried on their own, and asked which he liked better. He said they were both beautiful, offered his arms to assist them inside, and escorted them. It was a charming, touching scene.

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  4. Oh my gosh, to have a real live Auntie Mame — how doggone FUN — as clearly evidenced by the amazing footage you shared with us. Thank you!

    Other than Halloween, I don’t recall playing dress up. I was a tree climbing, marble playing, cap shooting kind of gal.

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    1. Are you saying you were a tom-girl, Laurie! My sisters and I climbed birch trees, played marbles, and shot off a cap gun on the 4th of July, but other than that I was rather girl-y. Yes, Auntie Mame was doggone FUN, and best of a fancy to this plain girl.

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  5. Great idea–I’m sure whatever hat you choose would be picture-perfect, Fiona. I’m sure you wear some type of head-gear in Sweden during these cold months, but probably not the dress-up kind. Right? Thanks for posting a comment once again.

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  6. I loved this Marian! I’ve seen the red hat ladies at theatres in Philadelphia. The video reminds me of my daughters. I don’t think my sister and I played dress up as much as my daughters did. We have some photos of them in interesting hats and head-gear–their version of Maria and Capt. Von Trapp from the Sound of Music–when they were about 6 and 3. 🙂

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    1. Your comment reminds me that our children, a boy and a girl, didn’t play dress up much either. But what they did do was put on shows for us. They’d dress up dolls or stuffed animals as actors in a play they devised. Dress up or play acting–it all involves using the imagination, a good thing.

      Now grandson Ian likes to dress-up like Mario, a comic book character. He has been wearing his costume off and on since Hallowe’en.

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  7. How did I miss this delightful post back in February? I taught a class on women’s poetry and performance once and memorized that Jenny Joseph poem “Warning” for it. I think I had almost as much fun as the red hatted girl in your video! I still find it amazing that a plain girl had such big splashes of color in her life — through an aunt with an education and a camera. You are forever young.

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  8. Yes, the video capture freezes me as young always. You know the Madeleine l’Engle quote about being all the ages you’ve ever been though you grow old. And the best is yet to be!

    Thanks for visiting this oldish post. I had to play the video again too. 😉

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