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For those looking for light-hearted fun after 50 (and indeed before the big five-oh) with other like-minded women, try the Red Hat Society. Two of its chapters — the Marco Rubies and the Royal Marco Cats — have "Hatquarters" right here on Marco Island.

"We're all facing old age together," says Doreen Hertel, "Queen" of the Royal Marco Cats. "Red Hatters share beautiful and special friendships with one another," forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes them.

Red Hatters are easy to spot. The one and only rule of membership is that women wear purple clothing and red hats: a wide-brimmed sun bonnets — the more flamboyant the better — a demure "hatinator," the miniature version of millinery favored by the British, or a red baseball cap are acceptable.

Those under 50 years of age wear lavender with pink hats until they reach that fateful birthday, and during their birthday month, members switch colors, wearing red clothing with lavender hats. Yes, these colors clash but that's the fun of it, according to Jan Martin, "Queen" of the Marco Rubies. "We believe in silliness and a light-hearted approach to life."

The Red Hat Society was started in 1995 by a California woman named Sue Ellen Cooper, now referred to as the Exalted Queen Mother. It began with a simple gift and an invitation to tea for a friend who was celebrating her 55th birthday.

The gift was a red fedora accompanied by a copy of a poem entitled Warning by Jenny Joseph. Warning talks about facing old age with humor and doing the unexpected, like picking flowers in other people's gardens, learning how to spit, or wearing purple with a red hat.

Word of Cooper's unusual birthday gift spread. The concept of the Red Hat Society was born and immediately became an international phenomena. There are currently more than 20,000 chapters of Red Hatters, run by "queens," here in the United States and in 30 foreign countries. And in 2011, the Society's first red hat and purple boa went on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

While some Red Hat chapters get involved in charity work, the Marco Rubies and the Royal Marco Cats are strictly social clubs. There are no regular meetings. Members take turns planning events so that no one person gets stuck with the "job." The only objective is to get together with friends, whether for lunch, the theater or a movie, and to find new joy in life. As the Red Hat Society theme song puts it: "All my life, I've done for you. Now it's my turn to do for me."

The Red Hatters' next event is a Kentucky Derby party on May 2 at the Elks' Naples Lodge on 11250 Tamiami Trial in East Naples. The party will include food, drinks, a hat contest for the ladies and a betting pool (Karaoke will follow at 7 p.m.). For more information call Jan Martin at 642-8082, or visit Red Hat Society "Hatquarters" at www.redhatsociety.com.

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