The Red Hat Society
Women Over 50 Happily "Acting Their Age"
by Jennifer Geronaitis
Sue Ellen Cooper of Fullerton California, affectionately known as the "Queen Mother" is a retired
mural artist who never realized that just "acting her age" and allowing others to do the same could cause such a stir. The
Red Hat Society was formed in July 2000 after Sue Ellen gave her friend Linda Murphy a Red Hat and a copy of the poem entitled
"Warning" by Jenny Joseph, a poem which is about growing old and wearing purple.
Linda loved the gift so much that Sue Ellen began giving the gift to more friends. Soon a group
of 20 ladies began wearing there attire in public, therefore starting the first Red Hat Society Chapter. Ever since that day
Sue Ellen says "the growth and popularity of the Society has been a gradual, serendipitous thing." The group which originally
started as two ladies, than 20 has grown like wildfire. In a matter of just three years over 12,800 chapters representing
over 256,000 women have been formed in the US and around the world.
The philosophy of the organization according to Cooper is to "keep a sense of humor and to enjoy
every phase of life, even old age which the Red Hatters have proven, can be good fun. Each official Red Hat Chapter is registered
through the Society at a fee of $35 per year and consists of about 20-30- women age 50+. Sue Ellen was amazed and flattered
when young women wanted to join as well so she established a different dress code for them consisting of Pink Hats instead
of Red and Lavender clothing instead of Purple until they "come of age."
The coming of age party or "Coronation" is a Celebration in itself and often includes a Crown,
Cake, Clappers and Kazoos. And although the members of each chapter share similar traits like age and attire there ideas and
ways of expressing themselves are endless. Chapters like "The Brassy Belles," "Dazzling Divas" and the "Naughty Nanas." have
dressed in full Red Hat attire and met at restaurants, tea rooms, theatres and on cruise ships. One group went to see an Elvis
impersonator and threw purple panties on the stage, while another made their mark boarding a Double-Decker bus in London and
waiving their Red Hats in a New Year's Day Parade. Regardless, they all have a marvelous time "acting their age"
Sue Ellen is thrilled that her idea has touched so many lives. Business began to boom when an
article was written in a local paper a couple of years ago. The article was picked up by syndication and ran in almost every
newspaper in the country. And then of course there was also a mention of the Society on the Today Show. The challenge now
is to keep up with the demands of running a successful business.
Currently the Red Hat Society employees 6 people and up to this point she hasn't had to "actively
searched for employees. They just seemed to come at the right times." Linda Murphy, the First Vice Mother and Sue Ellen were
the first employees. Next came Sue Ellen's daughters sister-in-law who was looking for a part time job and then her husband
of 35 years who left his career in the computers industry to take on the technical aspects of the business. Later she employed
an operations manager and financial officer.
Although Sue Ellen is enjoying the sweet taste of success she is disappointed that she no longer
has time to respond personally to each e-mail she receives. With several thousand e-mails coming in per week it is virtually
impossible. However, Sue Ellen communicates to the masses via her Weekly Friday Broadcast, and Quarterly Newsletter entitled
"Red Hatter Matters" In addition she plans a yearly Red Hatters Convention which allows her to meet and interact with members
of chapters all over the country who get together in "sisterhood", once a year to kick up their heels for a fun filled five
The next convention will take place in Dallas Texas April 14-18, 2004. Many of the events planned
include a Rodeo, BBQ, Pajama Breakfast and Formal Banquet. As always the dress code will be Red Hats and Purple clothing (if
you're under 50 pink hats and lavender clothing ). The Queen Mother has asked guests to wear something lady-like for the afternoon
tea, pajamas for the pajama breakfast, and formal or semi-formal attire for the Saturday night banquet, keeping in mind that
"Gaudy Is Good!
In addition to the newsletter, broadcast, website and convention the Red Hat Society also has
a retail shop in Fullerton , California and an on-line shop entitled the Red Hat Society Emporium which offers 100's of products
ranging from hats, jewelry and handbags to note cards and luggage tags. Mass Merchandisers approach the Red Hat Society regularly
to try and reach this niche market of women over 50+.
Recently The April Cornell Trading Company contacted The Red Hat Society and offered to create
a line of clothing just for it's members. Headquarter was "delighted with their clothing line" because of it's "figure -flattering
designs and durable, opulent fabrics." Many advertisers would give there eye teeth to reach this niche market via ads in her
newsletter or on her website, however as the official "Queen Mother", Sue Ellen has a special bond based on trust with her
members which she does not want broken. Any future plans to expand her business in these areas will need careful consideration.
With over 42 million* women over 50 in just the US alone it's easy to forecast incredible growth all around in the years to
come for the Red Hat Society.
When we asked Sue Ellen what she likes to do in her free time, she laughs and says "there is
little of that these days. In fact I could work 24-7 if I allowed myself too," however, she makes a point to spend quality
time with her family which consist of her husband and daughter who both work for the company and communication with her son
who lives in New Zealand and works on the "Lord of the Rings" pictures. She wishes he was home to share her success and says
"he really doesn't understand what the Red Hat Society is all about." She doesn't have any grandchildren as of yet but enjoys
her dog Frosty and three cats . She walks daily and reads whenever she can find the time.
*U.S. Census Bureau Census 2000 Summary File 1
You can visit the Red Hat Society at www.redhatsociety.com or contact them at Red Hat Society 131 S. Acacia Avenue, Fullerton, CA 92831 or call (714) 728-0001