TRAVERSE CITY — Wherever they go, The Black Diamond Lillies are sure to be followed — by curious glances and camera flashes.
Dressed ostentatiously in black, from their floor-length gowns and slippers to their wide-brimmed hats bedecked with flowers, feathers and faux jewels, the women — make that ladies — create an unmistakable fashion statement.
Tying it all together: gloves, furs, scarves and bags, and lots and lots of bling.
“We’re full of glitz and glamour,” said Joan Julin, who heads the Lillies, a registered group of the international Ladies of the Hats organization. “At the City Opera House, it was like paparazzi (when we walked in). We couldn’t sit down for half an hour.”
One of three area hatted groups organized and led by Julin, the Lillies get together about once a month to socialize and flaunt their elegance among polite society. Favorite outings include attending plays, musicals, concerts and tea parties at places like the City Opera House and Black Star Farms, whose lavish settings provide the perfect foil.
“I want to go where there’s a lot of ambiance, so when you get all dressed up, it feels like you’re in the right place,” said Julin, whose rhinestone-framed glasses and fur-trimmed hat are among the first things observers notice. “This isn’t a group for women who just like to plop a hat on their head. It’s for ladies who really like to dress up and don’t get a chance to.”
Turning heads is half the fun, said Marge Panek, of Cedar.
“We like to be elegant, we like to be noticed. The more bling we can put on our hats, the better,” said Panek, 68, who often decorates her own with finds from craft stores.
Notice came early during a recent group luncheon at Copper Falls Steakhouse in Traverse City.
“I love the hats; they’re awesome,” said head hostess Clare Chanda, after the group was seated. “I saw the first lady and I thought, ‘This is going to be fun.’”
For Christine Schoech, drawing attention takes a back seat to enjoying cultural events with like-minded friends.
“It’s more fun with a group,” said Schoech, 65, of Traverse City. “But it’s not one of those raucous groups like the groups of women you sometimes see laughing and being loud.”
Elly Cosgrove of Traverse City found her way to the Lillies after joining another of Julin’s groups as a respite from caring for her now late husband.
“I am not a joiner. But I have been with this group longer than any other social group,” said Cosgrove, 82, who sported vintage-style rhinestone-studded sleevelet gloves. “If we didn’t do this kind of thing, we’d do little to nothing at all. This offers us the opportunity to do things.
“We go to the opera, to the theater. You could go with a spouse, but you probably wouldn’t.”
Gentlemen who do wish to accompany their ladies to events are welcome, provided they dress in appropriate black attire — from top hats to tuxedo tails.
But most leave the costuming to the women.
“This is our time,” said Kathie Fralick, 61, of Lake Leelanau. “When we were little girls, we dressed up; now we’re big girls and we dress up. A lot of the hats were made by some of the ladies. Some things we get at garage sales, rummage sales and the Internet.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Grace Boyd joined the group almost by accident after taking her elderly client to an introductory event. Now she’s also a member of Julin’s two other groups, the Red Diva Lunch Bunch and the “Kaleidoscope” group, Aurora Borealis, also registered as Ladies of the Hat.
“I joined all three so I could pick and choose which events I want to do,” said Boyd, 68, of Traverse City, who wore a black dress with sheer lace bell sleeves, set off by matching rhinestone “peacock” jewelry.
Coordinating the three groups is a full-time job for Julin, a retired Traverse Area District Library employee who assisted patrons in the Public Computing System. Besides handling memberships and communications, she creates themed and other events, makes necessary reservations and arranges convention trips as far away as New York and North Carolina.
Up next: a Red Diva trip to Dearborn in August for a “Here’s Hollywood” party organized by another Red Hats chapter. The fun includes a celebrity lookalike contest, a talent show and a Chinese auction.
Julin said her three groups are separate and distinct, from their dress — the Kaleidescopes wear the rainbow of colors; the Red Divas, red and purple — to what they like to do.
“The Kaleidescopes pretty much like to do what the Black Hats do. The Red Hats love to eat lunch,” she said.
All three groups are accepting new members. For more information, call Julin at 360-7698.