Beneath the red hats

Published 10:10 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Instead of sitting cooped up at home on a hot Wednesday afternoon, a group of ladies donned their hats of red sequins, red feathers and purple accents and went out for some fun on the town.

Sitting around a table at the Suffolk Museum, they laughed as they practiced the ancient art of Japanese paper folding to make origami birds under the direction of Linda Bunch, executive director of the Suffolk Art League.

“We don’t care if we do it right or not,” Kay Dudley said to the group between laughs as many of the ladies were having trouble folding the beak of the bird.

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“It’s the experience that counts,” Linda Glasser firmly added.

The group of ladies, whose outfits were as loud as their laughter, are part of the Duchess of Windsor chapter of the Red Hat Society.

Every month, they gather to laugh out loud, break out their feathers and sequins and have some fun together.

“Now that we’re older, we’re no longer defined as anyone’s daughter or mother,” said member Karla Kirk, also a Queen of a Portsmouth chapter. “We can do what we want to — laugh as loud as we want to, wear red and purple together. We’re unusual — even without our hats.”

The Red Hat Society is an international group created in 1998 for women older than 50 to own and enjoy their age.

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,” reads “Warning,” a poem by Jenny Joseph, which inspired the society’s founder.

“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.”

Since the society’s founding, the red hats with purple accents have become an icon. After the society came to Suffolk roughly 12 years ago, it took off and produced several chapters.

“The Suffolk chapter had more than 50 women in it,” said the Duchess chapter’s Queen Mary Catherine Foster. “Most restaurants want you to keep reservations under 20 people, so we birthed from the Suffolk chapter about five years ago.”

Each chapter has its Queen, or leader, and there are nearly 200 area queens who are under the leadership of Rose Jory, Queen of the Queen’s Council.

The Duchess chapter has grown to about 14 members, who each take a turn deciding where to go each month.

“We’ve visited the botanical gardens, the Maple Inn Restaurant, the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts, Azalea Festival and the Spirit,” Foster said. “There is so much to do in Tidewater.”

In addition to their monthly outings, the ladies also have the opportunity to visit state, national and international conferences, where they meet other ‘Red Hatters.’

“Just being in the society, you meet and make new friends all the time,” Foster said. “That’s my favorite thing about the group — knowing I have friends everywhere.”

Whatever their life’s circumstances might be, the women provide friendship and camaraderie for one another — a few girlfriends with whom to laugh.

“I’ll say I was a little depressed after I retired,” “said Bobbi Anderson, who joined in February. “I needed an outlet and for those of us who are married, it’s an opportunity to get out of the house while our husbands are at work. We do things you wouldn’t normally do by yourself. It’s just some good, clean fun.”