Sugaring the rims of martini glasses and passing a blue concoction around to her guests, Mary Ellen Wiegand announced to the women gathered in her Lutz home: "It's not about wearing a thong; it's about a state of mind."
She knows. The Blue Thong Society, an up-and-coming women's club dedicated to "fighting frump," is a state of mind she helped create.
The Blue Thong Society, which Wiegand, 57, helped start in California in 2005, has nearly 4,000 members in 200 chapters across 30 states, and continues growing.
The first "Meet & Martini" gathering in November at the Columbia restaurant in Ybor City drew 80 women, some already members, others eager to learn more.
Only six women, most in their 40s, showed up for the first Lutz chapter meeting in January, but Wiegand was confident the group would reel members in quickly, just as groups in Riverview, Carrollwood, Temple Terrace and South Tampa have.
"I thought the concept was great," said Aurora Sanchez-Anguiano, an assistant professor of epidemiology at USF, who attended the Lutz meeting.
"This is exactly the type of thing I was looking for. My social life is limited, and the whole idea of meeting others and expanding my horizons caught my attention."
Wiegand co-founded the Blue Thong Society because of a chance conversation at friend and co-founder Mary Jo Wallo's 50th birthday party in Encitas, Calif., in 2005.
On a lark, she'd given Wallo several "Red Hat Society"-type gifts, a reference to the 50-and-older women's group devoted to having a good time in older age.
Someone joked: "Mary Jo's more red thong than red hat!"
The idea stuck, and soon Blue Thong was born. With the slogan "Fight Frump!" and the Blue Martini as the signature drink, the group caught the imagination and interest of women of all ages who want to stay "hip, chic and fabulous" forever.
In 2006, a year after the first unofficial meeting, the Blue Thong Society drew 250 people to a nationwide kickoff.
The Blue Thong members set themselves apart from the Red Hat Society by instituting the requirement that each chapter support a neighborhood charity — and they studiously avoided purple and red.
The group has three categories of members: Baby Blues for those in their 20s, Powder Blues for 30- to 40-year-olds, and True Blues for those 50 and up.
Blue thongs, on your feet or elsewhere, are optional. (Although members like to say, "Whether between the toes or between the cheeks, it matters not from where it peeks!")
Rita Rodriguez, the president of her own interior decorating firm, was looking forward to being part of the Blue Thong Society.
"I haven't been in a group in a while," she said. "I just joined a krewe recently, and I wanted a social network. I'm a goer and a doer. I get frustrated without anyone to do things with."
If things go the way they usually do with a Blue Thong group, Wiegand said, Rodriguez will soon have plenty of women to do things with.
Wiegand — who works in health care management by day and doesn't make a penny from the Blue Thong Society — is excited about the Lutz group because this one, she said, is for her. She doesn't even have to run it.
Lisa Corrao, who joined for "something fun and to meet new people," agreed to be chapter director for the new group.
For her, the community service aspect of the group was important.
"Having a social group is good," she said. "Giving service is better."