Warning: Fun ahead!
PUBLISHED: 06:26 29 September 2014
With their bright red and vibrant purple attire, it is hard to miss members of the Norfolk Broads branch of The Red Hat Society. But it is not just their outfits which sets them apart; their lively, positive outlook is the embodiment of living life to the full and making sure age is no barrier to fun and friendship.
The original Red Hat Society was formed in America 16 years ago when a group of woman celebrated their friend Sue Ellen Cooper’s 50th birthday by going out for tea dressed in purple and red – inspired by the iconic 1961 Jenny Joseph poem, Warning. It begins with the lines:
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves,
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.”
The society now has more than a million members in 29 different countries, and three years ago, Sue Ellen’s original hat was installed in the world famous Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Jude Sayer has been “Queen” of the Norfolk Broads chapter for the past six years and was one of the founder members.
“The original founding queen in Norfolk was an American lady called Sheila, who put an advert in the newspaper looking for members. A few of my friends told me I should definitely go along as they knew it was something I would enjoy. None of us knew each other beforehand, but it has been an amazing experience and we have formed some amazing friendships. Sheila left Norfolk and I took over as queen.”
She says the group quickly grew, largely down to the very visible presence, and it now has more than 100 members.
“The idea is to celebrate woman who are junking the stereotypes, who don’t think ‘I can’t do this now I am 40, or I can’t wear that because I am 50’. I don’t see why anyone should fade away into beige just because they reach a certain age,” she says.
“We encourage our members to be proud of their colours. So much is orientated towards the youth culture in this country, but we want to show there is fun and friendship for everyone and give women that confidence to enjoy life.”
There is a busy calendar of Red Hat “Hoots” which happen throughout the year, as well as the monthly meeting for lunch and a few drinks at the Nelson Hotel in Norwich.
“We don’t have a hierarchy, we just have the events crew, and every year we ask all members to come up with ideas for things people would like to do. We have some old favourites we do every year, like Newmarket Races, the Christmas lunch and a beach party, but other than that members help decide. We try to have a good balance of expensive outings and cheaper events and to make sure there is something for everyone. At the moment we are preparing to rehearse for our first ever pantomime – Alice in Red Hat Land. I think it will be completely bonkers.
“We also take part in Norfolk events, like the Lord Mayor’s Procession, so we are a very visible presence and get a lot of attention, and I hope it inspires other ladies to get out there and have fun.”
Jude says that while the organisation is not designed to be a support group, close bonds have been formed and they are all there for each other through good times and bad.
“The core of our group is in their 60s, so of course you often don’t get to that age without some tragedy, illness or challenges to deal with. It was never formed as a support group but inevitably really close and supportive friendships have formed and if anyone is in trouble or poorly, we all look out for one another. I like to think we are there for one another during bad times as well as all those good times.”
For those under 50, there is the Pinkies’ section in which members have to wear pink hats and lilac outfits.
“When they hit 50, they get to ‘graduate’ to the red and purple and I think most of them look forward to it – the colours are far more exciting,” she laughs.