What party first brought you to Old Gold? Back in my not-so-distant college days, friends and I would trek to the vintage-and-costume mainstay in downtown Burlington on Friday afternoons to snag last-minute weekend wear: wigs, corsets, sequined leggings, things with feathers.
Since it first opened on Burlington's Main Street in 1973, Old Gold has been a one-stop shop for prom queens, drag queens, festivalgoers, downtown darlings and sloppy undergrads. "I have a hard time defining our clientele," says current owner Kari Eisenberg. "Most people assume we cater to college and younger, but it is in no way unusual for me to help a mom and her 15-year-old ... and then turn around and help a 75-year-old man get a tuxedo for somebody's retirement party."
Put simply: If you've been festive in northern Vermont any time over the past four decades, you've probably been there. And if you haven't, you're really missing out.
For refined affairs, Old Gold offers velvet smoking jackets, European-cut suits, hand-beaded 1920s reproduction dresses, contemporary formal wear and the aforementioned tuxedos. For the bold, there are bullet bras, pasties, bodysuits, neon-hued ruffled undies and leather harnesses. For holiday parties, there are racks of ugly Christmas sweaters and sequined shift dresses.
Most people enter Old Gold with a mission. "I get a lot of people at their wits' end," Eisenberg admits. They might be searching for a dress from a particular era (the store's warehouse has options from the '20s to the present); an adjustable leather harness at a low price point (just google it); a costume-party mask; an outfit for burlesque class; even a perfectly worn-in Brooks Brothers dress shirt to wear to Grandma's.
"It's really an eclectic mix," Eisenberg says. "I wouldn't say that one category outweighs another in any way, and we love that. It keeps it fresh."
Walking into Old Gold can be a bewildering — or bedazzling — experience. Shelves are lined with go-go boots in a range of colors. There's a wall of wigs, a funky magnet collection and an assortment of cozy knitwear. But the primary focus is clothing. Eisenberg, who took over the store in the mid-'90s from its original owner, regularly visits trade shows for new apparel (only small labels, mostly American-made) and vintage. She picks every piece of the inventory herself.
"We've always been apparel with, like, side notes in accessory," Eisenberg says. "Though accessory is really good when retail business in general isn't doing so well."
Accessory is also really good when customers want to doll up an outfit. That might be suspenders, a bow tie, fishnet stockings, a boa, sunglasses or costume jewelry. Should your occasion call for them, you'll even find handcuffs.
Old Gold also stocks quality basics such as knit hats, comfy flannel, warm stockings and a variety of denim at reasonable prices.
"I don't look at how much other people charge for things," Eisenberg admits. "I base my price on how much I paid for it. Jacking prices makes me feel like a real jerk."
In addition to Old Gold's unique inventory, that ethos has kept customers coming back through the years, Eisenberg says.
"People expect Old Gold to be here and to have a familiarity," she observes. "I have people come in during UVM alumni weekend and say, 'I was shopping here in the '80s and it still feels and looks the same; it's so reassuring.' Or somebody who lived here in their twenties and moved away, but comes back to visit Mom and Dad, will say, 'It's such a relief that you're still here; it makes me feel like I'm home.'
"I hope our reputation is that we're so tried and true," Eisenberg says. "And that we'll be here, no matter what. No matter how big and corporate things get, we're here. We're not going down!"