DRACUT — A scarlet hat adorned with purple tulle, sparkling garland and a plethora of red feathers was perched precisely in the center of her head. The tips of the feathers bobbed gently up and down as she laughed then took a bite of a blueberry muffin.
Debi Farnsworth, 55, is the founder of one of two Red Hat Society chapters in Dracut and holds the distinguished title of Queen Mother for her group. Her job is to create as much fun and mischief as possible.
Like the 45 other members, Farnsworth is done raising her children. Now, she is focusing on her own needs, which on this particular Saturday morning meant dressing in pajamas, eating loads of yummy food and sharing a hearty laugh with about 25 fellow Red Hatters during a pajama-breakfast social at a member’s Dracut home.
Distinguished women, wearing pajamas in all shapes, sizes and colors, gathered on all-season porch. From Eyore feetie pajamas to bath robes, each proudly displayed their sleep-time attire. But with all of the variety, the women had one piece of clothing in common — hats. Each head displayed a piece of artwork with a personal flair. There were tall, pointy witch hats, head wraps made with tulle, and even feathered caps, but all were red.
The Red Hat Society, a social club created specifically for women older than 50, was founded in 1998 by Sue Elllen Cooper, who was inspired by the poem, Warning, which is about an older woman in purple clothing and a red hat. The Jenny Joseph poem begins, “When I am a old woman…”
“The poem talks about a woman wearing a red hat and a purple outfit,” said Farnsworth. “Sue Ellen gave a red hat and a copy of the poem as a birthday gift to her friend who was turning 50; they went out on the town dressed in their red hats as a quirky way of greeting middle age, and the idea kind of exploded from there.”
The spirit of the society forbids rules, but each group does follow a few basic guidelines.
“There are no rules with this group, only that members over 50 wear red hats with purple outfits and anyone under 50 wears a pink hat with a lavender outfit, said Aline Paquette, 68, of Dracut.
In Farnsworth’s Dracut chapter, the women gather once a month in a member’s house to plan various activities and trips. And with a variety of regional, national and international events to choose from, members can always find something fun to do.
“This is strictly a social club as a way to meet new people and have a lot of fun,” said Sharon Piendak, a veteran Red Hatter from Dracut. “It’s all about having fun and being silly.”
The Red Hat Society hosts several events throughout the year, including cruises and dinner functions. Red Hat members receive discount prices for some of the travel expenses.
According to Farnsworth, Red Hats put a lot of time and effort into their outfits, which is are sometimes crazy and often outlandish.
“You see some insane outfits at the larger events. One lady bought a second-hand bridal gown, dyed it bright purple and decorated with sequins and big feathers,” said Farnsworth. “The crazier the better.”
The ladies take turns coming up with ideas for creative social activities. To keep everyone involved, each member is asked to come up with at least one idea during meetings. If an idea is chosen, the creator becomes the Diva of the Month, responsible for organizing and implementing the entire project for the group.
Piendak and Farnsworth came up with the idea of a pajama breakfast party while attending a regional event.
“Everyone, I need your attention,” said Farnsworth in a giddy voice. She pointed to a window in the sun room, and asked, “Do you all see how beautiful that tree is outside? … It’s time to go out and have our group picture taken.”
The room erupted with the sound of laughter and excited conversation as the stream of red hats flowed through a double doors into the sunny back yard. The ladies giggled as they lined up in a series of silly poses, teasing each other as they took turns snapping photos.
“The other day I left a meeting and went into into the bank wearing my big red hat and I ran into a friend, she just started laughing,” said Farnsworth. “That’s the whole point though isn’t it, to have fun.”
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