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The Red Hat Society: Fun and Friendship After Fifty    by Sue Ellen Cooper order for
Red Hat Society
by Sue Ellen Cooper
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Sue Ellen Cooper spotted a tempting purchase in a thrift shop - an $8.00 red hat. Further inspired by the words of Jenny Jones' poem, 'When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me', Cooper presented a red hat gift to each friend reaching the age of fifty. In 1998, the group had their first tearoom outing in full regalia of red hats and purple dresses. The author was named 'Exalted Queen Mother' and her friends became: 'Vice Mother' (not sure of which vice); 'Hysterian' (scrapbook); 'Antiparliamentarian' (no rules) and 'Sergeant In Gloves' (ladylike behavior). In 2000, the organization officially formed as 'The Red Hat Society', its sole purpose being to have fun together!

The book is informative, witty, humorous, serious, perceptive, supportive and generally a feel-good read. It covers the Society, its formation, growth and its purpose - to promote joy. This is also a self-help book on attitudes and coping methods to handle the ups and downs of life - narratives of society members are cited as heartwarming examples. Present membership of the society is over 300,000 with 10,000 chapters in the USA, Canada and worldwide. In Cooper's words, 'The Red Hat Society began as a 'disorganization' for those of us who have reached the half-century mark.' Chapter titles are just as much fun as the Society itself ... 'Bodacious Babes', 'The Red Hot Flashes', 'The Red Cardinal Chapeaux', 'The Wise Women of Webster' (Webster, NH), 'The Steel Magnolias', and my favorite 'The Hubba Hubba Ding Dings'. Red Hatters search for red and purple items in thrift shops, at yard sales and even in dumpsters!

The Red Hatters have established annual conventions, regional and nationwide. April 25th - the anniversary date of that first tearoom meeting - has been designated as 'Founding Day'. The author expresses her hope that the Society 'can promote and spread a counterculture message about women, and ... revolutionize the view of feminine aging in our society.' In response to questions about the Red Hatters success, she speaks of 'some kind of glittery magic inherent in our very spirit', and tells us that 'the brilliant colors we wear emanate a glow, revealing that magic to others.' There are many humorous interjections, such as one from an Internet-circulated article entitled Midlife ... 'Midlife is when you bounce (a lot), but you don't bounce back. It's more like 'splat'.' The Society's mascot is 'Ruby RedHat'. Ruby's 'Top Ten Rules for Living, Plus One' include: nurture yourself (e.g., curling up with a novel); accept reality (no what ifs!); be compassionate, courageous, positive and PLAY! Cooper calls it 'a refreshing, liberating attitude toward aging.'

The Red Hat Society is not just about wearing red and purple, and enjoying get togethers. It is about women supportive of each other in the aging process, with camaraderie and a heck of a lot of fun! A tip of a red hat to 'Founder and Exalted Queen Mother' Sue Ellen Cooper for a pleasurable read, and for following through in bringing the Society's objective of 'JOY' to so many women. After reading the book, I liken this extraordinary group of women to a small boulder rolling downhill, accumulating friends at each turn. You do not have to be a member of The Red Hat Society to enjoy their book, which I recommend to men and women of all ages.

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