Written by Cesca Janece Waterfield. Photographed by Thomas Roberts.
For Mia Jones, turning 50 was a milestone.
But the day after her birthday is what she remembers most. “The first thing I did was go to the Red Hat Society website, ” Mia says. “I’d been aware of them for a long time. I was like, when I turn 50, I’m there. That was the first thing I did the day after I turned 50.”
The Red Hat Society is a social organization of women over 50 who gather to celebrate entering another stage of life, to laugh, and to do pretty much just what their members want to. Its name comes from the tradition among members of wearing red hats and very often, purple dresses; a vibrant combination that represents humor and gusto for life. The Society has about 300,000 members internationally, with around 60 local chapters in the Richmond area. April 25 was Red Hat Society Day nationwide, and several local chapters gathered for a luncheon at a Richmond restaurant.
A lesser-known part of the Society is its group of Pink Hatters, women under 50 who wear pink and lavender. Today Mia is part of a Sandston-area Society chapter started by three Pink Hatters, LaTangela Light, Michelle Bray and Nicole Pompey. Their chapter celebrates its third anniversary May 9.
“We did research on it because initially we thought it was only for women 50 and older,” LaTangela remembers. “We decided we were going to start our own chapter.” For the first year, the three women were the chapter’s only members. Today, this chapter also includes Gerena Smith, Patrice Minor, Sherrie Brown and Sheila Johnson.
LaTangela says, “I would love to get the word out there to both women of color and younger women that we can take part in such a lovely organization. Usually when I tell people that I am affiliated with this organization, they are immediately surprised because many do not see African American women or women under 50 linked with the organization. But there are a few us in other chapters within the Richmond area. There can never be too many.”
LaTangela thinks the Society is an ideal activity for mothers and daughters. She ought to know. Her mother, Gerena, is a Red Hatter.
Gerena says, “I really enjoy being with the young girls. They look up to me and they respect me. It always lets me know I once did the things that they do. It’s fun. They’re a really nice group of Red Hatters and Pink Hatters, too.” Sheila and Nicole are also mother-daughter members.
Gerena and LaTangela, who is this chapter’s “Queen,” enjoy a close relationship. “But when it comes to the group, she respects me as being the overseer,” LaTangela says. “When we’re together in the chapter, it’s not really mom and daughter. It’s more like a sister. So in addition to having that mom-daughter relationship already, we have that sisterly relationship when it comes to the organization.”
As a hair stylist at Nu Look Hair Design on Nine Mile Rd., Mia is surrounded by women all day. But being a Red Hatter fulfills something she doesn’t get anywhere else: “These ladies are great. I’m a spiritual person. For some reason I was drawn to this particular chapter. In October they had a bus trip. I went and it was sealed for me then.”
This chapter meets once a month. In June, they’re going to Virginia Beach. In May, chapter events could double as college graduation celebrations since four members are graduating. Mother-daughter members Sheila and Nicole both graduate this month from Strayer University while Sherrie graduates from University of Phoenix. Michelle just earned her Bachelor’s in Accounting.
LaTangela says, “When people want to join the group, the first thing I tell them is for the most part, everybody in the group is like-minded. Everybody is school-focused, business-focused. It helps in this environment when you have that common bond of school and wanting to better ourselves and our careers. Our Red Hatters definitely support the younger women in doing those things. We all push everybody to complete their goals once we know what they are.”
Anyone can join the Society, and if you don’t have a chapter yet, that just means you’ll get a colorful nickname: A member who hasn’t settled on a chapter is known as a “Ruby Rambler.”
“A mother and daughter, sisters, and aunts could start their own chapter,” LaTangela says. “It can be another outlet for you to do something outside of your normal family things. Me and my mom, this gives us something extra to do outside of our normal routine, and we’re doing it with other women that share the same passion for fun that we do.”
So what do children and husbands think of all this colorful recreation?
“They are supportive,” Michelle, the chapter’s Vice Queen, says. “We had our Christmas gathering and Patrice’s husband cooked for us. He fried turkey and made sure we were taken care of.”
LaTangela sums up the Society’s philosophy, or at least this chapter’s, and it’s one with which few could disagree: “Live well, love much, laugh often!”