The Second Half: Red hat happiness

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

So, I’m sitting in the chair at Karma Salon on Riverside when Karla, Second-Half Pal and Fabulous Nail Gal, asks me, “What do you know about those Red Hat Ladies? They sure seem to be having fun.”

She’s got a point—whenever and wherever you see them, the Red Hats are laughing and joking with great hilarity and generally reflecting an attitude of “Who cares? Let’s have a good time!”

The only thing I could tell Karla was my Second-Half friend, Shelley, received several red hats from family and friends when she turned 50. Neither of us knew the true significance of the hats, but guessed it to mean “when you’re old, you can wear fabulously crazy stuff just for kicks.”

“I’ll look into it,” I promised Karla, and it wasn’t hard. A Google search instantly revealed the Red Hat Society website where they explain:

“Welcome to the place where there is fun after 50 (and before) for women of all walks of life. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life and, since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next.” (Visit

Now, I’m thinking, “Red-gloved hands, they said, and no mention of hats…what’s up?”

TIP TO READERS NOT YET IN THEIR SECOND HALF: Never deliberately confuse folks in their Second Half, my friends. You cannot predict the response, ranging anywhere from a hearty laugh to an angry expletive…or worse!

For publication purposes, let’s just say I mumbled, “Crap!” and continued to browse their site for answers.

It all started with the poem “Warning,” written in 1961 by English poet Jenny Joseph, which begins:

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me…

The poem goes on to explain all the cantankerous things the woman will do to “make up for the sobriety of my youth.” I can relate to that. As a youngster, I was big on obeying the laws of convention because, for no other reason, people might get mad at me. Folks who knew me then might disagree: “You were always railing against authority, Kathleen!”

Being a strongly-opinionated woman back then (“What do you mean, ‘back then?!’” Hubby chuckled), I did share my thoughts liberally and with great gusto on topics such as what people should do and how things should be run. I now realize how many toes I stepped on and feelings I hurt with such an attitude, but so go the impetuous pursuits of the young—if I ever bruised your toes or heart, please accept my regrets. Since then, I have tried to stop “should-ing” all over everyone (say that fast, to really get the full effect of “should-ing” on someone).

It was a wonderful relief to discover that everyone in the whole world was NOT my responsibility. On the other hand, it was a great shock to realize that minding my own business certainly was my responsibility, and a monstrous task all by itself. Again, “Crap!”

Back to the Red Hat Society…it seems that the seeds for this movement were planted by the final lines of Joseph’s poem:

…But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

The Red Hat Society founder and Queen Mother, Sue Ellen Cooper, bought a red fedora just for fun. She later read “Warning” and started sharing a copy of the poem and a red hat with her friends on their birthdays. Wikipedia offers this description:

“The Red Hat Society (RHS) is a social organization, founded in 1998, for women approaching the age of 50 and beyond. As of July 2010, there are over 50,000 registered members and almost 24,000 chapters in the United States and 25 other countries. The Red Hat Society is the largest women’s social group in the world.”

Their philosophy is shared by another Second-Half pal of mine, Kelly Epperson.

Her website describes Kelly as using Science of Happiness research “and plain, old silliness” to help us wake up happier, healthier and wealthier. I receive one of Kelly’s Joy newsletters in my e-mail regularly (get yours at Recently, she quoted Einstein: “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.”  Now that’s genius!

I can compare the Red Hat concept to my own special wardrobe. In my closet, I have two mink coats—a brown one and a white one. They were given to me by my deceased mother and stepmother, respectively, and I wear them proudly. Fur-haters scowl, but if you lived in the country, you would know that minks are nothing but vermin, in the same basic category as weasels. Yeah, I know mink farms are often not humane, in the same way meat and poultry farms are often not humane. But two important ladies in my life gave me these mink coats decades ago, and now that they are gone, I honor their memories by wearing them.

Those coats are warm and lovely, and not purple, but they carry the same sentiment as a red hat or purple gown: you live your life and I’ll live mine…with gusto.

Here’s to those Red Hat ladies, whoever you are!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

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