"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me." - "Warning" by Jenny Joseph
And that is exactly what they did.
Seventy-two-year-old Shirley Jackson fluttered into a Victorian tea party on the lawn of a Vienna home with a traditional purple dress. It was complete with a bustle and a wide brimmed red hat adorned with feathers.
Jackson joined some 30 other women, mostly over 50 years old, dressed wearing red hats and purples dresses of all shades. It was truly a sea of red and purple.
When these ladies get together they call it "red-hatting."
These women are members of the Vienna chapter of the international Red Hat Society, whose mission is to simply have fun while aging, according to their web-site. Additionally, it is an opportunity for women to interact and do activities together that they normally would not do on their own.
"More often our chapter does very unique things. We have all kinds of things coming up. It gets these ladies out to do things they wouldn't normally do on their own," said Jackson, the "Queen Mother" of the Vienna chapter.
On April 1, Jackson began her reign of the Totally Eccentric Adventurous Red Hatters of Vienna (T.E.A.). It currently has 58 members and continues to grow.
Some of its members consist of divorced women or women whose children are away at college. Now, they are just looking for some fun.
"I LOVE IT. We have a lot of fun," said T.E.A. member Kathy Russell.
And the fun is overdue. "Our theory is we paid our dues and raised our families," said Red Hat founder Sue Ellen Cooper.
The society encourages ladies to get to know each other and a chance to "grab the brass ring one more time" said Jackson. And really, what would a Victorian tea party be without dressing up?
Russell had to choose which red hat to wear out of her eight to the tea party held Aug. 13. The red hat and purple attire is strongly encouraged for all activities.
Other T.E.A. member, Clare Schwartz, sported a purple dress dotted with white flowers. The tea party gave Schwartz an opportunity to wear a dress after not having worn one for 17 years.
Schwartz talks about her life "pre-red-hatter" and "post-red-hatter." "Its just changed my life," said Schwartz. In 1986, she retired from her job as a psychologist. During that time she primarily became a caregiver for her handicapped husband and fell into depression. So her husband looked up Red Hat Society on the internet and encouraged her to join. Her sister had also been a member of three chapters and also encouraged her to join a local chapter. After only having been a member since June, she no longer feels depressed. Having tea parties is not the only thing they do. Members do not meet regularly, but many activities are organized. T.E.A. has planned a trip to tour Harper's Ferry on Oct. 3 and Christmas shopping at the Black Eyed Susan in Vienna on Nov. 21. Another event is a luncheon and Victorian fashion show at Vienna's That's Amore. The luncheon will be held Oct. 25 and Jackson welcomes all "non-red hatters" to attend.
OTHER EVENTS that they've had were a visit to the Botanical Gardens and a visit to the library to fill out the Myers Briggs personality test.
The Red Hat Society's original "Queen Mother" is Sue Ellen Cooper of California, who started the society about three years ago. As a gift for a friend, Ellen gave a copy of Jenny Joseph's "Warning" and a vintage red hat. She was inspired by the poem and decided to buy a purple dress and have tea with her friends. The Red Hat Society became official in spring of 2000, according to the Red Hat Society's web-site.
Ann Dove will be "Queen Mother" of the second chapter in Vienna called Bodacious Red Ladies. Her first meeting was this week.
Those interested can find their local chapter by going to the Red Hat Society web site, www.redhatsociety.com. Women under 50 can join and wear pink hats and lavender dresses until their 50th birthday. There is no maximum or minimum age limit. T.E.A. also tries to accommodate members with disabilities. Jackson can be reached at 703-938-4747.
Red Hat Society continues to grow across the country with over 10,000 chapters internationally. The society is also in Canada, England, and France according to Jackson.
Jackson continues to go red-hatting all over the United States and the world. Consequently, Jackson has 23 red hats.
Jackson said, "My group has decided that no one is quite as 'red-hat' as I am. I want them to think that 'red-hatting' is something I really and truly enjoy. Red hatters enjoy what they do." Simply said by Jackson, "Old ladies that play."