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Hat society shows life goes red hot after 50

PUBLISHED: 11:57 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:56 07 September 2010

MAD hatters in Hampstead are bringing a splash of colour to the town s tea rooms. The Purple Orchids are a group of ladies who like to dress up in red hats and purple outfits before meeting up for a good gossip over a cuppa

MAD hatters in Hampstead are bringing a splash of colour to the town's tea rooms.

The Purple Orchids are a group of ladies who like to dress up in red hats and purple outfits before meeting up for a good gossip over a cuppa.

They are a chapter of the worldwide Red Hat Society and were set up by Marilyn Markham - aka Queen Mal Shopalotton.

She took her inspiration for the group from Jenny Jones' poem Warning, which includes the line 'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me'.

"Members over 50 have to dress in red hats with purple outfits, while members under 50 have to wear pink hats with lavender costumes," said Ms Markham, who lives in Westover Hill.

"The person who forms a chapter is called the 'queen' because

it is her idea. It's not really an organisation - it's more of a disorganisation."

On reaching the age of 50, members undergo a formal 'Reduation' ceremony where they cast off their lighter shades in favour of the bolder colours to mark their coming of age.

At 53, Ms Markham has already passed the milestone, although her chapter, which includes members with pseudonyms Baroness von Biggen-gobben, Lady Muck and Lady Buyalot, includes a couple of '49ers' who are due for their Reduations soon.

"This society is all about deciding not to fade into the background," she said. "Once I read about it I decided to form the Hampstead chapter. We are normally the forgotten people - once you reach 50, fashions are not made for you any more.

"The cosmetics industry preys on the fact that we want to get rid of our wrinkles, and you are expected to live out your days sitting down dressed in beige doing sewing.

"But we are not ready to do that - we want to have a laugh. It's not about going out and getting drunk, though - we are planning to visit Kew Gardens and have tea parties. It's a friendship."

Ms Markham discovered the Red Hat Society when she was doing a calligraphy course at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute, when she was asked to find a poem.

"I've always liked the poem Warning and I decided to do a bit of research online," she said.

"My daughter wanted me to illustrate the poem for her so I 'googled' a few suggestions and that's when I found the Red Hat Society."

Last month, on March 17, the chapter enjoyed its first formal meeting - a pudding party where all the members brought a dessert with them and enjoyed a spot of champagne.

Currently there are only eight members, including Ms Markham's daughters Princess Chelsea and Princess Nail Art, although they expect the group to grow quickly.

The society originated in the United States and globally there are now more than 76,000 chapters. The Purple Orchids are set to have their first line dancing party soon but it is first and foremost an event for the ladies - and certainly not for their husbands.

"We would like to meet up with some of the founding members of the society in the US at some point, but for now we are concentrating on local activities," said Ms Markham.

"The only rule is about the colour of the clothes - everything else is about having fun."

For more information visit www.redhatsociety.com - or to find out how to join the local chapter, email marilynmarkham@hotmail.com

tan.parsons@hamhigh.co.uk

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