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Jewish Journal

Hot Dresses for

by Rob Eshman

December 4, 1997 | 7:00 pm

Melanie Griffith and Annie Potts shop there. So do Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow. And so do dozens of Orthodox Jewish women.

At Janice McCarty, a small corner dress shop on a boutique-filled stretch of West Third Street, the strictly trendy meets the strictly observant.

The racks of slender dresses crafted of soft and forgiving fabrics have become a magnet for upscale Orthodox women from nearby Beverly Hills, Westwood and Pico-Robertson. "They have trouble finding fashionable clothes," said store manager Christine Allison. "Money isn't the issue. It's finding stuff they like."

Judging by sales, they like McCarty's clothes. Customers regularly walk out with several outfits, which range in price from $139 to $289. Recently, one Orthodox woman spent $5,000 in a single trip.

Like a great meal that happens to be low-fat, McCarty's clothes are truly stylish while, incidentally, being modest. Allison, who is not Jewish, has become something of an expert on the Jewish laws and traditions governing modesty in dress. "No collarbone, no elbows, knees covered whether standing or sitting," she said. Most of McCarty's designs fulfill these requirements. The 46-year-old San Francisco native, who started making clothes as a teen-ager, favors a classic, updated 1940s look. "We go for style rather than trend," said Allison.

In the beginning, when Orthodox buyers began trickling into McCarty's store, the conscientious Allison used to suggest pants that would match a particular top. "I don't wear pants" was the inevitable reply. When a Jewish friend of Allison's overheard one such exchange, she pulled the manager aside. "We have to talk," she said.

Over lunch, the woman explained that the Orthodox concept of tsnias, modesty, which, among other things, precluded pants as a fashion option.

Allison caught on, and so did the store. Word of mouth brought in dozens of customers. Because all the dresses are made in house (there is also a Pasadena location), Orthodox women can have a favorite style altered to lengthen sleeves or to raise necklines even more at a nominal cost. And when Allison points an Orthodox customer toward the same loose rayon dress with spaghetti straps that Paltrow favors wearing sans blouse, she'll suggest a top to go beneath it.

The customers appreciate the service. The trickle of Orthodox shoppers has become a torrent, accounting for close to 30 percent of the store's business. Allison, who keeps a card catalog on all her regular customers, notes the synagogue affiliation of her Orthodox ones. That way, she can help clients avoid showing up to shul wearing the same dress. "I'll tell them they might want to choose something different," she said.

Janice McCarty is located at 8361 W. Third St. Call (213) 651-4229.


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