Women attending a party Saturday in Independence wore sequined, purple dresses accessorized by blingy jewelry and wide-brimmed, feather-decorated red hats.
The event marked two decades that women throughout the country have celebrated a life phase that previously was often anything but celebrated -- middle age and beyond.
More than 100 women from throughout the Kansas City area and some from other states, attended the 20th anniversary celebration of the Red Hat Society at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Sandy Fluty of Eastern Jackson County, who founded the area’s first Red Hat group in 2008, reminded attendees of Red Hat’s origins.
“Sue Ellen (Cooper) started this years ago,” she said, referring to the California woman who purchased a red fedora for a friend’s 55th birthday.
“I always say she lets us play in her playground,” Fluty said, referring to the Red Hatters’ propensity for play.
The group concept took full shape after Cooper read a 1960s era poem by Jenny Joseph that begins, “Warning -- when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat ...” The groups have established fun-filled festivities, including “reduations” in which women “graduate” from wearing pink (for those under age 50) to Red Hatters.
“Colors are diluted at first,” Debra Granich, CEO of Red Hat Society’s “Hatquarters” in southern California, explained during an interview. “You have to earn your colors.”
Saturday’s event included special recognitions of “Queens” or leaders of the Kansas City area small groups in attendance, who were given red roses. The roomful of red hatters recognized those present with June birthdays by singing “Happy Birthday” accompanied by audience members playing kazoos.
Sandy Roberts, of Independence, said the society “has made a big difference in my life,” referring to the support from her “sisters,” during challenging times. When asked about the fun-loving nature, she said, “Bling is our thing!”
Jayne Holliday of Independence said she joined for the companionship. “It’s good for your social life,” she said.
Outings range from monthly restaurant “meetings” to trips to Branson and Red Hat conventions and other events throughout the country.
Loretta Anderson of Lee’s Summit, a member since 2002, said she especially enjoys the comaraderie.
“It’s a sisterhood, companionship,” she said, adding that she’s formed close bonds. “You get to dress up and be silly … and dance when they have a band.”
Some attendees demonstrated when they formed a line to freestyle dance during live performances by The World-Famous Platters. The tribute singing group out of Branson provided live entertainment by singing some of the original group’s romance-based 1950s and 60’s hits.
Debra Granich, CEO at the national Hatquarters, was a special guest at the event. She said the groups offer sisterhood, support and social ties and have grown to have more than 50,000 members from this country, Canada and 30 other countries. In 2011, a red hat and purple boa was placed on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
During an interview, Granich said “It’s fun to see how it translates” in chapters throughout the country. “We’re all here to have fun, but, also to support,” she said. “We grew as this country started growing older,” she said of the country’s aging baby boomers. “Fun and happiness is the best medicine. It’s better than any drug you could take.”
Granich praised the efforts of Fluty, founder and “Queen” of the Red Hat Flashes, whose members mainly live in Eastern Jackson County.
“Her name comes up everywhere,” Granich said.
“We get to play ‘dress up’ and positively impact other people,” she said. “Happiness is a choice, and those of us who are Red Hatters choose to be happy.”