I am increasingly bothered by the Red Hat Society. Here on Cape Cod, where the average age is pleistocene at least, there are a lot of these lovely ladies sallying forth in similar garb, festive and often wonderfully rowdy gangs of older women who are standing up for their rights to be non-conformist, wacky old broads and having a ball doing it. The only beef I have is that they are voicing their right to be wacky nonconformists… by all wearing the same color hats and clothes.
It all started because of that rather nice poem by Jenny Joseph that you used to see in dorm rooms, titled Warning, When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple. I am entirely down with the sentiment of this poem, and I’m totally hip to women of any age getting their schwerve on, but it’s become this thing where now they have to wear a red hat and purple clothes to show they are wacky. Or, that is the only acceptable form their wackiness takes, which makes it, ipso facto, not wacky.
It’s just like any lifestyle uniform, like Goth or Hippie or Preppie or Hip Hop. People advertising their cultural affinities through dress and hairstyle. But if the impulse behind it all is to show your individuality and countercultural elan, why does it then result in massive flocks of identically dressed people wandering around?
In fact, I think the Red Hatters are worse than those other lifestyle clans, because these ladies don’t just go about their daily lives dressed in red and purple, they don these special uniforms for sanctioned Red Hat gatherings only. At least practitioners of the Goth, Punk, or Hippie thang venture forth into the greater world flying their freak flag twenty-four-seven. It takes guts, and not a little patience and forbearance.
For instance, my husband has dreads. Pretty long dreads. There are some places in this country where nobody blinks at his hair, like some of the nifty progressive college towns dotting the northeast and elsewhere, but we don’t live in one of those hotspots. Instead, he gets asked on a daily basis if they are real, if people can touch them, if he bathes, if they smell, if he smells, what it means. Even worse are the people who don’t ask, who are NOT curious, who just assume that their ideas about dreadlocks are true, and act accordingly.
He’s been fired from at least one job I know of because some folks were convinced that having dreads meant you didn’t bathe, ever, or that it meant he was a drug dealer. Neither of these are true. Having dreads means, um, he has dreads. He showers daily. He is — how do you say — a legitimate businessman. He has his reasons for wearing his hair the way he does, and actually they are remarkably similar to those cited by the wonderful Anne Lamott for her decision to go dread.
My point is that he doesn’t just put on a dready wig when he’s feelin’ irie. It’s something he lives with every day, and no matter where he goes. Thanksgiving dinner? Dreads. Job interview? Dreads. Grocery store? Dreads. The same is true for those friends I have had of the Goth persuasion — they wear it all the time. Sure, it’s a uniform with its own rules, and often very rigid ones at that. I’ve heard that the punk movement back in the late 70s had a similar ethos of How To Be Punk. As if there was some sort of method to anarchy. Still, all these folks made a choice to broadcast their worldviews, be it Spooky Alienation, Creepy Malaise, or Anarchic Fuck You-ishness and they go with it. Every day, every where.
I say to the Red Hat Ladies, do it! Be crazy! Get your funk on! Be unruly, disobedient, wacky women of a certain age! But my God! Not just on certain days of the year, when it’s safe, and all your friends are around! Read the poem again. Eschew the herd. Choose your own damn adventure.