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Lucy in Disguise owner Jenna Radtke poses with her employees, surrounded by the hundreds of costumes the famed store has to offer. Offering students and Austinites an immense array of costuming choices, Lucy in Disguise has become a staple of the South Congress landmark (Costume Designer: Walter Young). Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez
The walls are covered with swatches of old fabric, creating an endless checkerboard effect surrounding the thousands of costumes that suffocate the store. Customers squeeze through throngs of tutus, masks and vintage pieces new to both the store and its 64-year-old owner, Jenna Radtke, as they shop through the collection that has amassed over the past 28 years.
“You’ll do things in a costume that you would never normally do,” Radtke said. “You’ll dance crazier, and like no one’s watching. It’s in all of us. All anyone needs to know is just to be who you are and see if we have anything that can decorate it.”
Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez
Lucy in Disguise, a costume emporium named after Radtke’s border collie she dressed in rhinestones, was originally two stores. Over the years, the dividing wall was removed creating the nearly 8,000 square foot space costume haven that has occupied the land since its opening April 1, 1984.
Radtke recalls being unable to stop her tears that day, as the collection she opened the store with, a combination of vintage costumes and accessories, was her own and she didn’t want to sell any of it.
“I was a very organized hoarder,” Radtke said. “They say you’re not a hoarder if you can find everything you have, and I’ve always been able to find everything I have. I’ve always organized the chaos. I’m a hoarder of great things. I still am, and I still can’t leave it alone.”
Radtke was forced to move with her family every six months beginning in the third grade for her father’s business. Consequently, the only child had to learn to adapt over and over again to the culture of her homes across the southwest. She was driven to be popular and one of her ways of being cool was the way she dressed and her carefree attitude.
Halloween was always a favorite holiday of hers, a night she remembers as weeks worth of effort that would culminate in up to $9,000 worth of cash after entering as many costume contests as she could in one night.
“That’s what Halloween was to me, getting the best costume and then trying to make it pay me back for all of my time,” Radtke said.
Clad in her typical attire of a gold embroidered robe she had cut into a blouse, jeweled peace earrings and a light smoke banana clip hairpiece that blended into her smoky curls, Radtke fits the mold of the girl she said she had grown into during the “hippie, psychedelic times,” even with age.
When she first started the store she wanted to make all of the costumes herself, or at a minimum, only have one-of-a-kind costumes available. However, the creative costumes she still pines after in garage sales and attics just aren’t what her clients come to her store for. Currently her store is comprised of 25 percent unique pieces while the rest of the costumes are mass-produced.
“I think the world is less creative, not all of the world, but the straight world, the housewife world, and that’s a lot of our business,” Radtke said.
Two of Radtke’s longtime employees and current managers, married couple Rio Jennings and Fernie Renteria, help keep her business model in check and facilitate the everyday workings of the store.
“She’s a very savvy business woman,” Jennings said. “I can’t even begin to see the vision she sees — the way she put’s the panels on the walls and the things you learn from her.”
Jennings and Renteria have been working for Radtke for more than seven years and have seen first-hand the way she has adapted over time to accept more mainstream costumes in her store to allow for the store’s continued growth. They characterize her as an Austin icon with a signature hippie look.
“I think she lets you know who she is right off of the bat,” Renteria said. “She’s very much a what-you-see-is-what-you’re-going-to-get kind of person.”
Radtke strongly believes trends and those who try to create them are tasteless. She has always encouraged having an open mind, especially when searching for the perfect costume.
“I do this for love, the love of the junk. You would have to love it to pick through it in an old attic filled of dirt and usually someplace un-air conditioned. It’s like what they say, dig through the shit to find the pony. That’s what I love to do,” Radtke said.
Currently Radtke spends a majority of her time doing her other two jobs: flipping houses and hosting weddings at her venue Casa Rio De Colores in Williamson county. She still enjoys going on the hunt for great stuff, wherever that may lead her, and continuing the legacy she began back when her hair was of the colorful variety and she wore red cowboy boots and short shorts, a “typical south Austin crazy.”
“The same things still inspire me, and that’s what your mother never tells you, that when you get to be almost 65-years-old you’re still exactly the same person you were,” Radtke said. “Maybe you give your time to different things, but basically you don’t change. You have a few more aches and pains. I just had to figure out how to dress.”
Special thanks to Cara Shaffer and Gabby Belzer.