Red Hat Lemmings

Posted by psa on Jul 27th, 2008
Jul 27

It seems quite obvious to me.  Despite the fact that you might consider yourself an intrepid individualist, if you are doing anything with a herd of people doing exactly the same thing, you are not an individualist of any stripe.  You are a lemming, a herd.

I used to love this poem by Jenny Joseph.  It captured my rebellious side, captured my desire to be even odder than I truly am, then to flaunt that oddness in face of all those who worship fitting in.  Of which, as I live in Los Angeles, there are quite a few.  Alas, the Red Hat Lemmings (ladies) have ruined the poem for me.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

by Jenny Joseph

I own a red hat.  I have owned it for far longer than the Red Hat Society has existed, but alas I have relegated it to the back of my closet.  If I wear my red hat I am asked “Are you one of them, those ladies with that poem.”  So, black hats with huge brims, white hats, bush hats, feathered hats are all worn with dash and aplomb, but the red hat carries too much baggage.  It no longer signals a certain verve, an intrepidly independent streak.  Instead red hats have degenerated to the status of a fashion cliché.  Red Hat Society teas, conventions, cruises, tours all filled with noxious ladies in red hats and purple dresses.  I cannot conceive of anything more antithetical to the sentiments expressed in Jenny Joseph’s “Warning” than to have it associated with a herd of women all doing the same thing, looking the same way.

I guess I am going to have to stick to wearing other hats, at least until all the Red Hat Lemmings have found their cliff.