Three summers ago, Denise Goldhagen and her daughter sold the majority of their personal belongings and moved from Montana to Boston with a couch, a mattress and 16,000 pounds of vintage clothing. Soon after arriving, Goldhagen opened Vintage Revenge, a vintage clothing store along Massachusetts Avenue near Central Square, and quickly earned a reputation for her vast collection of mint-condition garments and dedication to customer service.
On a recent Sunday afternoon visit, the store was buzzing with activity. A string of bells on the downstairs door jingled persistently as customers entered from the sidewalk and headed up to the lofted second floor, where born-again fashions from decades past hung with pride, their enduring fabrics spotless – all clothing is organically dry-cleaned – and threads intact.
Wide-brimmed women’s hats sat perched atop multiple-arm floor racks, inundated with beaded purses, straw-woven pocketbooks and smooth vinyl handbags dangling in disarray.
Strappy sandals, saddle shoes, boots and loafers could be found in haphazard rows under almost every overflowing rack of clothing. Narrow pathways – some of which required caution when squeezing past other shoppers – led wide-eyed browsers through a mix of the ‘40’s, ‘50’s, ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s and eventually to the back of the store, where men’s three-piece suits gathered together in abundance and Stetson fedoras and bowler hats occupied open shelf space. Most items in the store ranged in price from $40 to $80, with the high-end designer labels, such as Burberry and Dior, a bit more.
Beside the cash register, colorful jewelry sparkled from beneath a glass case enclosure, including costume pieces and fine stones. Goldhagen’s 24-year-old daughter, Sheena, hurried by with an armful of clothing, swinging her blond hair as she called, “This is the busiest day of my life.”
Two women had just dropped off a number of boxes and plastic bags brimming with vintage labels. Sheena, who was the only one working at the store, began sorting through the clothes with a sharp eye, closely inspecting each piece, holding it up to the light, ensuring that the item would meet her mother’s standards: no rips, no stains, no smells.
Goldhagen, who is used to running the store singlehandedly seven days a week from noon-7 p.m., suffered a broken pelvis in August after her Great Dane, Yentzer, suddenly “whip-lashed” her into a car while out for a walk. Now, forced to stay home and recover, Goldhagen relies on her daughter, who is a student at UMass Boston, to fill in and take care of day-to-day operations.
Taking a moment to relax during a lull in foot traffic, Sheena, who’s been helping her mom since she was 10 years old, said, even though her mom calls “every five minutes,” she has a new found appreciation for all that her mother does.
“I really respect her beyond more than I would have ever thought,” said Sheena. “It’s nuts. I can’t believe the stuff she does in here and how often. And she works every day, even after she gets home, repairing, tailoring things for people. If a cuff’s too long, you don’t want to go all the way to Newbury. She’ll fix it. She does everything.”
Vintage Revenge is Goldhagen’s first store in Boston but her fourth vintage store overall, having previously set up shop in Montana, Idaho and Washington, never settling in one place for too long.
“It’s like we’re Jewish gypsies,” said Sheena, who has lived with her mother in five different states. “It’s insane.”
When Sheena was in junior high, she recalls skipping school to accompany her mother on antique road trips, which is how Goldhagen, who was selling mid-century kitchenware at the time, first became acquainted with the world of vintage.
In a phone interview from her home, Goldhagen, who will only close the store on Christmas, Thanksgiving and, since moving to Boston, the Fourth of July, said she doesn’t know what she would’ve done without Sheena.
“She’s been with me from beginning to end,” said Goldhagen. “She worked at the shows with me. We did all those antique shows outside and inside. We pumped up our tent, we slept in the van – I mean we worked together. So a lot of times I’ll bring stuff home and am like,
“Look what I bought!” Because I still get excited.”
Having taught herself how to identify the era, even year, during which a garment was made by looking at the style, the cut, the stitching, the zipper, the fabric and other small details,
Goldhagen possesses a true appreciation for the clothing she sells and views every piece in her store’s collection as lucky.
“People who buy vintage are not looking for a house dress that Lucille Ball wore in the kitchen that’s some schlumpy schmocka,” said Goldhagen. “You want something that has character, has real pizzazz.”
With a slew of stores offering vintage clothing in the area – The Garment District, Raspberry Beret, and Oona’s, to name a few – Goldhagen aims to set herself apart by focusing on style and quality, making sure her clothing is clean, mending ripped seams and resoling shoes.
Her efforts have not been lost on patrons. Allston resident Melanie Bernier, 26, who has been coming to Vintage Revenge for more than two years, said, “I think the quality of the pieces here is really top-notch compared to other stores. And I think the price reflects that, but it’s, again, items that you wear and items that you’re confident in.”
To have customers leave the store feeling good and looking great is Goldhagen’s number one goal.
“I do enjoy putting women together in outfits and making them look right,” said Goldhagen. “But my thing is I have a big mouth of honesty. If they have something on that looks bad, I’ll tell them.”
Cambridge resident Bradley Benedetti, 29, a regular at Vintage Revenge, can attest to that.
“I’d try something on and she’d be like, don’t get that, it doesn’t look good. So it’s nice to have someone be honest,” said Benedetti. “One thing she always said was, I don’t want you to look like a fool walking around the street or something and then have people ask where you got that and tell them it was here. So it makes sense.”
Goldhagen said she hopes to be back on her feet and in the store within the next couple weeks.
“I just miss, mostly, having my freedom, going out to shop, because I love to shop for the store,” said Goldhagen. “And now I don’t have to worry if it fits me, or if I even love it, I just get to shop.”