By Liane Grunberg
The Jerusalem Post
This story was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on July 29, 2019.
Devora Golan, a Torah-savvy stylist from Beit Shemesh, Israel, is changing fashion in this frum corner of the world – one Instagram post at a time.
“Modesty doesn’t have to equal ugly or boring,” Golan’s Instagram tagline reads.
Devora Golan is the daughter of Mark and Miriam Deutch. Born and raised in Cincinnati, she made aliyah 12 years ago with her husband, her young son and daughter. Since then, she’s added three more boys to the family.
Living up to her fashion credo, Golan takes pictures of herself in various poses and outfits that are as entertaining as they are gutsy.
In one post, the Orthodox mother of five kicks off her red high heels and takes up a meditative pose on urban pavement wearing a snakeskin dress.
In another sassy post, Golan brandishes the strap of a navy velvet pouch with the words emblazoned: “I don’t do casual.”
“I put up on Instagram what I call ‘modest fashion inspiration,’” she says. “It’s mostly me in different clothing and includes photo shoots and collaborations.”
“I feel like I could give a whole shiur on this topic of looking one’s best, but because I serve all types of women – religious and non-religious – I’ll just say this,” Golan continues. “A lot of Orthodox women don’t know how to look their best. The Torah describes three-quarters of the matriarchs as ‘beautiful’ and the Gemara talks about certain jewelry that women would use to beautify themselves.”
Golan informally dressed women for 20 years before turning what she did into a business called Modstylista, a nod as much to the modest fashion as to the Mod fashion trend of the 1960s, defined by designers who traded couture for bright simple colors, and body-hugging outfits – just as 37-year-old Golan tends to do.
“The first thing people see is your appearance,” she says. “It’s not the most important thing, but it’s the first thing people see. Fashion is a personal expression of who you are. It reflects what you want to portray to the world through your story.”
Last year, Golan brought to Beit Shemesh’s frum community a fashion show and private sale of dresses by eight of her favorite up-and-coming Israeli fashion designers. Models could be seen wearing long-sleeved dresses, sequined jackets, high heels, red nail polish, glittering gowns, elegant jewelry and wigs. Perhaps the most daring message Golan delivered was in her choice of models representing the spectrum of body types.
“I wanted women to could see that you didn’t have to wear a size 2 and still look beautiful,” she says. “My favorite thing to do is to push women outside of their comfort zone and do things they wouldn’t necessarily do on their own.”
For some women, a modest fashion show was enough of a push. For others, Golan recognized, a personal nudge from the other side of a dressing room curtain was something else that she could offer. Her fashion tours in Jerusalem introduce her favorite designers and boutiques to fit a client’s taste and budget.
“The tour is like a tasting menu,” she says. “I send prospective clients a short questionnaire before the tour to get a sense of what they’re looking for. I can help them choose things they may not have thought to try on that I think would look good on them. Not that there’s any obligation to buy. It’s always nice when I can help people find pieces they love, but if they don’t buy anything that’s fine, too.”
“I want to make a client completely comfortable,” she says. “My clients are secular and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and everything in between. They’re safe with me. I’m nonjudgmental. Sometimes it becomes a therapy session. They don’t like things about themselves – and it comes out in how they dress.”
“They don’t want to put the effort in,” she continues. “They think it takes time, effort and money – which most don’t have. So when I’m with a client, I like to teach them how to dress for themselves.
Another service Golan offers is what she calls wardrobe editing.
Jamie Geller, the popular cookbook author became one of Golan’s clients after stumbling upon her Instagram posts and soon after invited Golan to rummage around her closet and help her prepare for photo shoots.
“Devora has saved me so much time and money by both shopping for me in stores and shopping in my closet – pairing and creating great outfits for me that I never would have thought of on my own,” Geller says. “I also love how she gets my style, both personal and professional, depending on the assignment. She dresses me like ‘me’ while also gently encouraging me to take baby steps out of comfort zone every once in a while.”
Besides fashion tours, personal styling and wardrobe editing, Golan offers lectures about how important you look comes from Jewish values.
“It’s a custom for husbands to buy their wives a piece of jewelry or a new outfit before every chag,” she says.
“Looking and dressing a nice way is very much a part of religious Judaism.”
But Golan knows the conundrum well – even when a woman wants to look her best, besides chag and Shabbat, she may find she has little time to focus on her appearance.
“Moms with little kids often don’t care at all, especially when they’re staying at home most of the day,” Golan says. “They don’t necessarily give any thought when they race their kids to school.”
Golan describes the first 10 years in Israel as consumed with pregnancies, nursing and, when her youngest turned 3, she finally fulfilled a dream to take her love of fashion to the next level. She had been accompanying friends and family on shopping trips and putting outfits together since high school. An online course from London called “3 Colors Rule” helped her turn a personal styling passion into a business.
Not that the communications degree hasn’t come in handy. Golan is an articulate voice for the perusal styling and fashion tour services she offers: “If you feel confident, you’ll feel better about yourself and do your best in work and in life. That’s the positive vibe we’re aiming to give off.”