Helen (heleninwales) wrote,
Helen
heleninwales

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This started as a comment to [personal profile] readthisandweep's post here in which she quoted a poem about growing old as a woman. No, not the one about wearing "purple with a red hat which doesn't go", a completely different poem. Anyway, the comment got a bit long and I thought it deserved its own post.

I quite liked the Jenny Joseph poem when I first came across it in the 1980s, but -- and I hate to say this because it makes me sound like an intellectual snob! -- it became too popular. What is more, some women in the US actually formed themselves into the Red Hat Society and met up to be loud and outrageous in groups, all wearing purple with red hats.

I mean, did they not read and understand the poem? How could they have so totally missed the point?

The poem is about longing for a day when the writer will no longer be constrained by the demands of her family, a day when she will be free to do her own thing and be eccentric and no longer have to worry about what people think. It is NOT about adopting a uniform and forming a society and conforming to a set of rules!

Interestingly, reading the poem again after listening to an item on Laurie Taylor's radio programme Thinking Allowed about the different attitudes working-class and middle-class women have to fashion, it could also be read as a desire to escape from middle-class respectability into (a perceived) working-class freedom to be outrageous. (If you want to listen, the fashion and class item starts at 1:40.) It hadn't really occurred to me before, but in the UK, class and fashion are inextricably linked. Dressing up to go out at night is something working class people do; middle-class people dress down.

Red hats got another mention on Radio 4 yesterday too on You And Yours. The item started out being about red shoes, prompted by the news that the Pope will give up wearing red shoes on his retirement. People had been emailing in with items about red shoes that had featured in their lives and it was pointed out that in the East End of London, red shoes (worn by a woman) were supposed to signify no knickers. Someone else emailed in to say that in the Midlands, it was a red hat that was supposed to signify no knickers, which led to great merriment at royal occasions when posh people were spotted wearing red hats. :)

[Cross-posted from Dreamwidth by way of a backup http://heleninwales.dreamwidth.org/87600.html. If you want to leave a comment, please use whichever site you find most convenient. Comments so far: comment count unavailable.]
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