The Red Hat Society: Creating Sisterhood One Hat at a Time

Getting older never looked so fabulous. Get the scoop on the Red Hat Society and how they're breaking down barriers one hat at a time.

Updated January 8, 2024
The red and purple hats

When you think about American social groups, pop culture titans like the Freemasons and the Knights Templar usually come to mind. And what these groups did for brotherhood, the Red Hat Society did for bringing elderly women together.

Break out your best red hats and purple scarves because we're taking a look at one of the most fabulous social groups the world has ever seen. 

Red Hat Society: Looking & Feeling Fabulous at Any Age

Society has a habit of making older women feel invisible at times. That's the exact kind of thing the Red Hat Society, which was founded in 1998, strives to undercut. Originally designed for women 50+, but now open to women of all ages, the Red Hat Society is an international social network linking women around the world in friendship, fashion, and fun. 

Behind the Iconic Red Hat Uniform 

Society founder Sue Ellen Cooper, known as "Exalted Queen Mother," was inspired by Jenny Joseph's poem "Warning." The poem opens with a line about wearing purple and a red hat, and inspired by its sentiments, Sue Ellen gifted both the poem and a red hat to a dear friend.

Decked out in her own red hat she found at a thrift shop, the two started going out for tea. Two became four, four became eight, until within a short time, nearly 20 friends were flashing southern California the full red and purple. That group splintered off into another, and as the women attracted media attention, the word of this frivolous "dis-organization" spread.

Red Hatters Are Never Too Old to Dress Up

For color purists, red and purple seem like a horrible fashion choice. But therein lies the point. Red Hatters believe that "daughters of society" may indeed grow up, but they are never too old to enjoy playing dress-up and attending tea parties. They aim to balk social expectations one clashing red hat and purple outfit at a time. Red Hatters rebel against the way women over 50 are seen by society and by each other.

Fast Fact

Jenny Joseph's poem, "Warning" encapsulates everything the Red Hat Society is about, and the opening lines directly inspired their uniform. "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."

Red and Purple Are a 50+ Privilege 

The society decrees that no one can wear red and purple until their 50th birthday. These "rules" were created to encourage women not to dread turning 50, but to instead trumpet its arrival.

The "Pink Hatter" inclusion encourages members of any generation to partake in the fun. This means that you'll find mothers, daughters, aunts, and even grandmothers from the same family participating in group activities. 

Try Your Hand at Tongue-in-Cheek Titling 

You're also encouraged to give yourself a title, and the general rule is that the goofier, the better. Individual chapter leaders can be "Queen" or "Queen Mother" but other members' titles run the gamut.

Perhaps "Vice-Mother, The Mother of All Vices" for the chapter leader's assistant. Or "Mistress of Anxiety, The Patron Chapter Worrier," "Lady Bakes-A-Lot," and "Dame I Don't Give A Damn" are just a few of the monikers that stress the tongue-in-cheek fun the Red Hat Society's all about.

Related: 20 Fun Activities for Older Adults to Live Your Best Life

Get to Know the Red Hat Society

The Red Hat Society marries the frivolity of youth with the carefree wisdom of your later years. It's more celebration and playdate than it is a secret society, and it's still going strong 30+ years later. 

Elegant older woman wearing purple and a red hat

Red Hat Society Rules

As a Red Hat lady, you only need to follow three "rules": 

  • If you're 50+, you have to wear a red hat and a purple outfit to any social function. 
  • If you're under 50, you're admitted as a "Pink Hatter" and designated by your pink hat and lavender outfit.
  • You have to have as much fun as possible.

Red Hat Society Fees

There are two membership tiers in the Red Hat Society: 

  • Red Hat Membership: The Red Hat Membership costs $30 a year and includes access to society resources, invites to society events, and more. 
  • Queen Membership: The Queen Membership gets regular member benefits plus invitations to exclusive events, the ability to host events, and more. 

Individual chapter queens may also set a nominal fee to belong to a chapter to aid administration and activity coordination, but that option varies by chapter. Usually, 20 or fewer women make up a chapter, and the group typically meets once a month.

Need to Know

Although the Red Hat Society is a nonprofit, they're classified as a social club. This means the organization isn't linked to any charitable or activist groups. 

Red Hat Group Activities

When it comes to everyday activities, it's all up to you! Red Hatters get to decide what they want to do as a group. It can be something as simple as getting together for coffee every Wednesday, helping fill boxes at a food bank, or going out to the opera in full regalia. Society tries to put limits on aging women, and the Red Hat Society gives them their freedom back! 


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Get the Scoop on Special Red Hat Society Perks 

Heading out with friends in your red and purple isn't the only perk you get for belonging to the Red Hat Society. 

  • "Hatquarters," the official organizational arm, coordinates a variety of fun events and trips for members to enjoy, including things like international cruises. 
  • Red Hatters can also get the "Purple Perk" card for deals on shopping, travel, and other merchandise by select retailers.
  • Red Hatters can get 15% off of a language course at the International Center for Language Studies.

Things to Look Forward to as a Red Hat Society Member

There aren't any limits to how much fun you can have in the Red Hat Society, and these are just a handful of the activities you can look forward to. 

  • Marching in parades
  • Going to plays
  • Working on hobbies with each other
  • Seeing concerts
  • Visiting museums
  • Exercising together (hats and all)
  • Hosting luncheons
  • Going anticking
  • Volunteering for special causes
  • Traveling together
  • Participating in a multitude of other things that tickle their fancy

Tip Your Hat to New Friends 

Getting older is difficult for everyone. Your joints ache, you can't sleep, and traveling gets harder and harder. Embrace the joys of living a long, storied life through the Red Hat Society. If you're looking for sisterhood as a senior, this is where it's at!

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The Red Hat Society: Creating Sisterhood One Hat at a Time