"When we first started the chapter, there were only four of us, and we'd get all dressed up in purple outfits and great big red hats and go out and try not to be too embarrassed," said Brenda Vaughn, also known as Lady Grace. "Then people started glomming on to us and asking us what we were all about, and asking how they could come play."
That interest soon grew into a successful Red Hat Society chapter, which now numbers more than 65 e-mail members from all walks of life.
"When we first started the Fabulous Fireweed Femmes, there was only one other chapter in Alaska in Anchorage," Vaughn said. "Now there are more than 20 chapters in the Anchorage area alone, as well as chapters in Skagway, Haines, Yakutat, Cordova and Fairbanks."
Juneau also boasts three other Red Hat Society chapters, including the Tumultuous Taku Terrors, Maid-en America and the Northern Queens.
The Red Hat Society, which got its start in California, is geared toward women age 50 and over who just want to have fun.
"The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan," said founder and Queen Mother Sue Ellen Cooper on the group's Web site. "We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together."
Since its inception, the Red Hat Society has grown to include more than 40,000 chapters in the U.S. and in 30 foreign countries.
The group's outfits are based on the poem "Warning," by Jenny Joseph, which begins, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."
And though the look might not suit everyone, it certainly garners attention.
"When we're in full red hat regalia, which includes feather boas, gloves, and 6-inch brimmed hats, we're hard to miss," Vaughn said. "And it certainly encourages people to have a sense of humor."
Celebration, joy and friendship are the key tenets of the Red Hatters, who gather to celebrate regular occasions like birthdays, as well as less planned events.
"Red Hatters are known for being pretty disorganized, so we rarely have more than one or two week's notice for an event," Vaughn said. "Someone will come up with an idea that sounds like a Red Hat function, and we'll just go from there.
"The best thing about the Red Hatters is that we celebrate everything, In this day and age, we all need more joy. And what's wrong with hugging each other for no reason?"
It is this joie de vivre that encouraged Judy Haffner and Cindy Chapman to become members of the Femmes.
"I joined last summer after Brenda spoke to another group I was in, and it just sounded great-it sounded like they had so much fun," Haffner said. "At the first activity I attended, we all went down to meet a cruise ship full of Red Hatters from Vancouver, and we spent the afternoon at the Red Dog Saloon, laughing, taking pictures, and having fun. It's just a neat group of ladies."
Chapman, who works with Vaughn, decided to join even though she is not yet 50. As a younger member, she is known as a Pink Hatter, and wears lavender. "I thought it would be fun and would get me out of the house," said Chapman, who was born and raised in Juneau. "It also enables me to see a lot of the old-timers I know-my first grade teacher is a member!"
In addition to meeting more of Juneau's most fun gals, Alaska Red Hat Society chapters also get together with other Red Hat members from all over the world.
"I've met members from Florida, Minnesota, Alberta, Manitoba and Utah, and I still stay in touch with them," Vaughn said. "This is a wonderful way to make lifelong friends."
"It's all about friendship and joy," Vaughn said. "There's such camaraderie among members-you always know someone will be there for you. And we make everything exciting-with us, just walking down the street is fun."