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Study: Hey, Fashion Plate

 

Some little girls say they enjoy dressing up. Some older women say they do, too. Now a new study has found that opportunities to play dress-up can be a boon for older women.

Researchers led by Dr. Careen Yarnal of Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., analyzed data from an online survey, completed by 153 members of the Red Hat Society (RHS). According to the study, the society’s dress code provided women with a creative outlet, boosting their self-confidence and enhancing their public profile.

The Red Hat Society

The Red Hat Society is an international social organization of women aged 50 years and older. These "hot and spicy ladyz" pride themselves on having fun. The society has more than one million members today spread across 30 countries, including Canada. "Red Hatters" show up at public events sporting purple outfits with eye-catching red hats and glitzy jewelry.

The findings appeared in the Journal of Aging Studies (In Press, Available online August 25, 2010).

Self-expression

The study found that members enjoyed dressing up in their Red Hat regalia to attend public events.

I have always been a so-called fashion plate and LOVE dressing up in my regalia. My closet is so full I can’t buy any more purple clothing. I have every imaginable scarf, purple furs, jackets, etc. I am the inspiration to my chapter to really go all out in dressing up.

Some women said they liked shopping for inexpensive pieces to create unique outfits:

I am the "funky" member of our chapter. I enjoy being creative in my outfits and my hats. I cannot afford the official Red Hat clothing so I do the next best thing; I cannot sew so I visit all the local thrift stores for items to create my outfits. I also shop on eBay for unusual red hat items, which are usually handmade . . . I do not do this to impress anyone but I don’t want to look just like everyone else.

And for some women, dress-up provided an opportunity to re-capture their youth:

I believe that so much is expected of women that in those "busy" years the "12-year-old" in us is forced inside. As a member of the RHS, this 12-year-old gets to "come alive" again. Many of my Red Hat sisters agree that one of the greatest things is dressing up. . . . strutting in front of the mirror … truly feeling like a 12-year-old again . . .

New outlook on life

According to the study, some women credited the society with giving them a brand new outlook on life.

As one woman explained:

I became disabled almost five years ago and, little by little, lost more and more of myself to depression. . . . Then I happened to hear from my sister of a group of ladies in her area that strut around in their red hats and purple dresses . . . . In the interest of expediency, just let me say, joining this group has given me back my sense of humour as well as my sense of dignity. I feel special when I don my red hat, and accepted.

Enhanced public image

But wearing red and purple not only made some women "feel special," it also boosted their public profile:

I love to wear my "colours" wherever I go. It is such fun to have people ask questions and be able to share with them how much fun I have. I have some very difficult medical problems and have found that being able to just have fun and laugh has made them easier to deal with. The RHS has definitely given me many opportunities for fun and laughter!

Perhaps most surprising, 10 of the women referred to the positive impact of RHS dress at funerals. "When a mate dies we attend the funeral together in our Red Hat colours. It means so much to the remaining spouse. It is a show of support," one member explained.

"I love my group and hope they put a red hat on my coffin, since I doubt my family would think of it," another woman said.

Fighting ageism

The study also found dress-up activities helped women cope with ageism.

I always feel good about being older after I have attended a Red Hat event with other mature women who are so full of life. Ageing is difficult in a youth-oriented society and the RHS allows you to be proud of your mature status. I have noticed that when I am in my Red Hat Regalia, people treat me with more respect and interest.

Another member remarked:

Almost every time we go anywhere as a group, we get attention and at least one person will ask about the group and say that we look like we are having fun. It’s very refreshing as usually a group of women of "a certain age" get NO attention, good or bad.

Dressing up is fun to do

According to researchers, the study highlights the potential of dress-up to reshape a positive outlook on life and the power of leisure-based social groups to enhance women’s lives.