SELMA – If you’ve noticed a group of lavishly dressed women decked out in red hats, purple outfits, feathers and glam about town, you may think royalty has moved into Selma. Actually the group has existed since 2005 and now has a new queen at the helm, Maria Tafoya. She is also the senior pastor at First Christian Church of Selma.
This local chapter of the Red Hat Society is known as the Dazzling Divas. Over the years, members have moved away, fell into ill health or passed away and thus membership dwindled. Some thought it was time to disband, but not founding member Geneva Tuttrup.
“I didn’t want to disband. I really liked doing these things and dressing up in purple, but we just needed more people in it,” Tuttrup said.
Member Marilyn Tritle said after a trip to Maria Elena Silva’s Bead Central, more members were recruited and the group was reinvigorated.
“We told them we were going to keep getting together,” she said. “We want to do this so we include anybody and everybody who wants to be a Red Hat lady.”
Currently, there are 15 members listed in their brochure. There are no dues to be part of the local group. If women would like to sign up at the national level, queens pay $39 annually and supporting members pay $20.
The local chapter has been meeting since September. Most members are from Selma but some come from Parlier, Sanger or Clovis. They marched in the Selma Marching Band Festival, met for lunch at Denny’s in November and had a gift exchange Dec. 20 at Queen Tafoya’s home.
According to the organization’s website, www.redhatsociety.com, the purpose of the Red Hat Society isn’t typical of most women’s groups.
“Most women give their all to family, career and community and they enjoy it,” the website states. “But, along the way, sometimes our existing bonds of friendship gradually diminish. Membership in the Red Hat Society is a rewarding vehicle for reconnecting old friends, making new friends and rediscovering the joy of getting together with other woman for the express purpose of having fun.”
For the gift exchange occasion, Tafoya donned a red, jewel-encrusted crown, purple velvet dress and wore a sash reading ‘Queen Maria.’ She wore a similar outfit when she marched with the group in the Band Festival.
“I’m the queen until I don’t want to be queen anymore,” Tafoya said. She was a member of the Red Hat Society when she lived in Southern California in 2009 so when she relocated to serve in Selma, she found Tritle and the others who volunteered her to be the new queen.
“It wasn’t that easy,” Tritle teases.
“But how could I not want to be queen?” Tafoya said. “We have one rule and it’s that we all have fun. We don’t have secretaries and treasurers. If you look around, you’ll recognize members from women’s clubs, from all sorts of philanthropic efforts and chamber members. We work hard, but in Red Hats, we don’t do any of that. We just have fun. We dress outrageously and beautifully and sparkly and with feathers.”
One member, Leilani Niswander, said she happens to have a best friend who years ago attended high school with the Red Hats founder, Sue Ellen Cooper. Niswander said she’s always loved the color purple, lives life with bravado and thus being a Red Hatter was something she was born to do.
“I live my life with that philosophy. I enjoy every moment, take things as they come and support and encourage people.”
Previously, the Dazzling Divas have enjoyed tea parties at Niswander’s catering service, Taste of Heaven.
“It is fun to have no agenda and no other purpose but to laugh and get acquainted and go out in public and have strangers tell you how beautiful you are,” Niswander said. “There’s something about a hat that even men relate to. They love it. It takes attitude.”
According to the website, Red Hat members who are 50 and better get to wear red hats and purple attire. Those younger than 50 years of age wear pink hats and lavender.
“They changed it because so many younger women wanted to be a part of this,” Tafoya said. “When it’s your birthday month, then you wear a purple hat.”
What’s next for the women?
“There’s usually something every month,” Tafoya said, “But nothing’s carved in stone. Last month we went to Denny’s and we found a time that worked for everyone.” The women are thinking of joining in on some of the trips planned through the Selma Senior Center.
“It’s just to be outrageous like when we walked into Denny’s, people walked up and said, ‘Ladies, you’re amazing!’ All we're here for is to have a good time and laugh at each other and eat. We eat a lot and that’s good. We also encourage each other because all of us do so much in our communities and families and churches. This is where we all let go of that.”