In 1998, the Red Hat Society was founded by a woman “of a certain age” who was inspired by a poem by Jenny Joseph titled “Warning.”
It begins: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”
While I appreciate the “let’s thumb our nose at the world” spirit, I’ve never gotten into the Red Hats.
No offense to the legions of ladies who lunch in crimson-feathered chapeaus and aubergine pant suits, but, to me, going out in mismatched clothing isn’t much of a declaration of freedom.
Heck, I’ve been doing that since I was 5.
Besides, there’s a certain comfort in numbers. You can get away with looking outrageous if those surrounding you look equally odd. Take Shriner conventions. Or, Lady GaGa concerts.
What takes verve, and nerve — the courage that comes with age — is going to the grocery store in sweaty workout clothes and no makeup.
Now that’s thumbing your nose at the world. And, this week, I thumbed, baby!
It’s not like I always dress up to go to market. I’ll occasionally wear ratty shorts or a paint-splattered T-shirt, especially to the natural foods store where people will stop in — covered with dirt from their arugula patches — for more flaxseed granola in bulk.
But, I do doll myself up, if only for the inevitable run-in with someone I know in the produce aisle. (Has anyone ever escaped a trip to the store without bumping into someone who wanted to chat? It’s the blessing and curse of living in a small town.)
The last time I darkened the supermarket’s door without a layer of mascara and lipstick was in 1982.
That is, until last week.
There I was, exercising at the gym after a long, sedentary day at the office when that nagging, pressing question popped into my brain for the 10,855th time (I did the math): What will we have for dinner?
It was 5:30 p.m., and I had a half-circuit to complete my workout. Perspiration had melted whatever makeup was left on my face.
The ring of sweat around the collar of my Carpe’ Mañana T-shirt was expanding by the second.
It would be so easy, I thought, to dash into the grocery across the street, grab a roaster chicken and hit the salad bar. Except for one thing: I looked like an old gray mare who was rode hard and put away wet!
Then, something happened. Maybe it was the pulsating of my thighs in the abductor/adductor machine. Maybe it was “Into the Groove” blaring on the stereo. Whatever it was, suddenly, I felt empowered. Like Madonna, but with jiggly bits.
Finishing my workout, I hopped in my car, threw caution out the window and drove to the store.
Sitting in the parking lot, I watched as customers came and went in stylish work clothes or coordinated leisurewear. Everyone was annoyingly perspiration-free.
“Should have gone to the natural foods store,” I admonished myself.
To heck with it, I thought. I sprinted inside — sunglasses on, heart pounding, chin tucked to my chest — and made a mad dash for the roaster chickens.
Bird in hand, I made a b-line for the salad bar, suddenly aware of a second line of sweat down the middle of the back. As I passed a man wearing khaki pants and a crisp blue polo, he laughed. Guffawed, really.
“Oh, God,” I said to myself. “Is he laughing at me or my T-shirt’s clever slogan? Surely he realizes I’ve been exercising. Workout sweat is more acceptable than flop sweat or hot flash sweat.”
The man continued to giggle under his breath, so I hurriedly built my salad and hit the “express” self-checkout machine.
“Place the item on the scanner,” the voice blared. “Do you have any coupons?
“Place the item in the bag.”
Could she be any more conspicuous?
I swiped my card and bolted for the car.
Back in the driver’s seat, exhausted and humiliated, I thought about the Red Hat ladies and the comfort in numbers.
Maybe I’ll start my own club, I thought. The Sweaty T-Shirt and No Makeup Society. We’ll meet every day after the gym and storm the grocery store together, thumbing our noses at a dolled-up, perspiration-free world.
Or, maybe it’d be easier just to go out. I’ve got a red ball cap and purple T-shirt I could wear …