“I grew up in New York. The shoes, purse and hat always had to match,” she said. “You could wear funky dungarees with holes in them; as long as you had nice shoes, a nice purse [and] a nice hat, you were in.”
Born in Paris and raised in Brooklyn, Carp, owner of The Hat People, began crafting hats as a hobby. She said it was never her intention to make a living selling hats, but when she sold out at her first folk festival—much to the surprise of Carp and her husband, Alan—the couple began selling hats all over the U.S.
After gaining a following in the early 1970s at art shows across the country, Carp said her hats came across the radar of Texas Renaissance Festival founder George Coulam, who invited her to Texas to partake in the inaugural Texas Renaissance Festival in 1974.
“He said, ‘If you come and do my show, I’ll give you one of the best spots in the festival,’ and he did,” Carp said. “We learned so much from him. He was our mentor.”
Being a vendor in the festival’s early days allowed the Carps to see it grow from humble beginnings to becoming one of the largest renaissance festivals in the country, Carp said.
“Back in 1974, there was nothing ... and, my God, look what happened,” she said.
As an extension of their festival shop, The Hat People expanded into a brick-and-mortar store in Old Town Spring in the late 1990s. The shop provides the same variety of hats showcased during the Texas Renaissance Festival, except year-round, Carp said. Some of the headwear options include feathered Cavaliers, leather Gatsbys and wool berets.
According to Carp, her hats can be found around the globe, whether they are on the heads of famous musicians like Willie Nelson or in competition at the Kentucky Derby.
“Our hats are everywhere,” Carp said. “It’s an oxymoron, but we are locally world famous.”
After 45 years of selling hats at the Texas Renaissance Festival, the Carps said they will retire from the festival at the conclusion of the 2019 season, turning their attention solely to their Old Town Spring storefront. According to Carp, hosting a spot at the festival became too laborious to maintain.
“It’s fun for all the people that come to play, but ... it’s not all fun and games,” she said. “I never sit, from the time I’m there to the time I go home.”
She said it would take two months prior to the festival to set up shop and 14 hours each following week to get ready for the festival weekend.
Still, Carp said their final year at the festival was bittersweet.
“I’m sad because [after] 45 years—it’s like watching your children grow up and sending them off,” she said. “There’s a hole there. ... Part of me is relieved because it’s so much work, but it was also a lot of fun, a lot of happiness.”
The Hat People offers a variety of hats, including:
Cavalier: Popular in the 17th century, this wide-brimmed hat was traditionally decorated with ostrich feathers. Some hats have a lifted side along its base.
Panama: This straw hat of Ecuadorian origin was made to be lightweight for hot and humid weather.
Beret: Soft, flat and round, the European hat from the 19th century can be made from fabrics such as wool, cotton or felt.
The Hat People
213 Main St., Spring
Hours: Wed.-Fri. and Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Mon., Tue. appointment only