Haberdashery With Attitude 

Founder of the Red Hat Society inspires the over-50 set

Founder of the Red Hat Society inspires the over-50 set

Sue Ellen Cooper, at 50, didn't need the red hat. Who wore hats anymore?

But she bought it anyway. A couple of months later, she bought another outlandish red hat, this one for a friend turning 55. Soon Cooper and her over-50 crowd were all sporting red hats, gathering together for outings to restaurants, museums and sporting events. Inspired by "Warning," a poem by Jenny Joseph ("When I am old woman, I shall wear purple, / with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me"), the women began to don purple outfits under their ostentatious hats and officially dubbed themselves the Red Hat Society.

In her book, The Red Hat Society: Fun and Friendship After Fifty (Warner Books, 2004, 256 pp., $12.95), Cooper charts the history and progression of the group, now 10,000 chapters strong—Nashville alone claims 24 chapters, including the Blooming Red Hatters, the Ole Bats in Red Hats, and the Mystic Order of the Scarlet Kerfuffles—while offering anecdotes and feel-good stories from members around the nation. Part inspirational text, part how-to manual (including how to join or start a group), the Queen Mother's playful treatise seeks to teach a once invisible class of women how to age with a silly grace: Surround yourself with friends, dress to be seen and, most importantly, laugh at everything, including yourself. Cooper reads at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on April 28 at 6 p.m.

—Pablo Tanguay

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