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Why Schlep All Over for Clothes?

Catalogs: Tired of hunting for appropriate garments, Karen Bogoratt, an Orthodox Jew, is selling mail-order clothes that conform to her religion's laws.

August 01, 1996|ANDREA HEIMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As an Orthodox Jew, Karen Bogoratt watches her neckline. She also steers clear of skirts with slits and anything clingy or sheer. In other words, shopping can be a real chore.

"I was tired of wasting hours searching for clothes that weren't there," says Bogoratt, 36, a busy mother of two kids younger than 3. Having worked in design and merchandising in the fashion industry since the early '80s, she recognized that her clothing needs fell within a "whole missing market." About 8% of this country's 5.5 million Jews are Orthodox.

So she and husband Marty, who has a background in sales, recently sunk their entire savings into a mail-order venture. Any Wear You're Frum (a Yiddish word for religious) features clothing that conforms to Jewish law's modesty standards: Skirts fall below the knee, necklines cloak the collarbone, sleeves cover the elbows. The catalog's headquarters is the couple's three-car garage in Calabasas.

Women of all shapes and sizes from the Calabasas Shul served as the inaugural catalog's models. On the cover, Karen herself wears a swingy checked dress in black and white. In its original form, as sold at Nordstrom, the design by Karen Alexander exposed both cleavage and leg. The modified version zips up to the neck and down past the knees.

"But it maintains the same flow and balance," says Bogoratt, who persuaded Alexander, Barbara Lesser and other designers to tweak their patterns for the catalog. Prices range from about $40 for crinkle pull-on skirt to $230 for a dress.

The Bogoratts hired veteran J. Crew photographer Jim Pait to shoot the clothing, but they wrote the blurbs sprinkled among the color layouts: "Not to be a yenta, but aren't these conversational!" Or, "You'll be styling in seersucker while you schlep the kids!"

Despite the slant toward a Jewish clientele, Karen Bogoratt sees a broader market for the modest clothes. Many Christian fundamentalists appreciate loose-fitting garments. And, Bogoratt notes, "a lot of older women are becoming mothers, and it's not appropriate to wear miniskirts when you're lifting up kids."

The catalog also features a wide array of hats (under Jewish law, married women cover their hair), as well as children's clothes.

Ellen Ginsburg of Woodland Hills says it's among the first places she turns when shopping for her 10-year-old granddaughter. "In L.A., it's very hard to find things that cover her elbows and knees," Ginsburg says. "We always had to buy her a size or two bigger, so she would be covered. She looked like she was walking around in sacks. Now she can be covered, wear her real size, and look like any other little girl."

Only a few months old and relying on word-of-mouth, Any Wear You're Frum ([888] 4-Modesty) has received more than 7,500 requests for catalogs, the Bogoratts say, and nearly 400 orders. They expect to offer a fresh collection of merchandise for fall and winter.

"When I try to shop at Bloomingdale's or Saks, I can never find anything--it's all revealing," says Helene Storch, a happy customer from Elizabeth, N.J. "The catalog is really a godsend."

For Karen Bogoratt, who began exploring Orthodoxy 10 years ago, it's important to have clothes that look good and fit. But they shouldn't devalue the wearer.

"The idea in dressing modestly is to emphasize who you are as a person, not your body, or your hair," she says. "It's to present yourself as a whole person."

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