It has been said by wise people that dressing well is important. Young women in Armenia, a small country in the Caucasus Mountains, take this to heart with a passion. The result of their efforts is stunning, especially so among the young and the restless – the unmarried, fashionable princesses in Yerevan, the capital. Okay, contemporary Armenia has no royalty, but these girls can pretend, can’t they? They’re in the market for a husband and need to show their wares.
Bridal shop in Yerevan. Photo courtesy of Ani Melikyan.
During the years I lived in Yerevan I loved watching these girls, happy I’d found my prince already and could wear flat shoes and go easy on the make-up. Here’s the show I watched one lovely morning:
Stars of the Pavement
Advertising is the most fun of anything you can do with your clothes on. –Mary Wells
It’s spring and every morning young women hungry for love emerge like butterflies from the dark, claustrophobic cocoons of their Soviet-era apartments. But not before ten or eleven; they were up late and it takes time to get ready. I watch them with hypnotic fascination as I walk the streets of Yerevan running errands, or while I laze on the terrace of the Marriott Hotel at Republic Square drinking a cappuccino and taking notes. Hemingway had his café in Paris, Somerset Maugham the Raffles in Singapore, and I have the Marriott terrace in Yerevan.
Today I have one of my favorite tables, right at the edge of the terrace. It is June. The flowers are blooming, the sun is gentle and golden and my cappuccino took only half an hour to arrive.
People walk by – middle-aged matrons with shopping bags, old women wearing woolly socks and slippers, men in spiffy suits, teenage boys all in black, children in primary colors, and young girls and women in everything imaginable. The princesses are the most gawk-worthy.
They are tall and painfully skinny and their clothes fit them like satin paint. Pink or white pants hug their thin frames and tight tops strain to show off their ample (surgically beautified) breasts. Very high heels help to enhance the shape of their legs and butts. Their faces are made up with care and attention, but no blush, please. White skin is in.
God has blessed the Armenian woman with thick, black, lustrous hair that most often is worn long by the young and shines in the sun with health and beauty. But, as the sisters worldwide know, God’s work can be improved upon. So, as I sip my coffee, I observe among the glossy dark crowns sashaying past a number of heads blossoming in luscious shades of tangerine orange, cherry red, strawberry blonde and cabbage purple.
Nails are always perfectly manicured. Acrylic, often. Never a chip. This is easy. These beautiful babes, at age eighteen, twenty, twenty-four, live at home with their long-suffering mothers who scrub the toilets and peel the potatoes. And everywhere small beauty salons are available to aid their cause of looking glamorous like models. Success, of course, is not always guaranteed and proof of that wanders the streets as well. Not all have mastered the art of being glamorous. Not all care.
A young woman crosses the street, luscious in a leather pantsuit of baby pink. Her hair is carrot red, flaming hotly in the sun. It’s a striking color combination. I watch her as she briefly totters on her pink stiletto heels, then my attention is drawn to another skinny girl whose breasts are straining energetically against the fabric of a strapless purple top. White cropped pants hug her bony frame. She’s teamed her outfit with high-heeled Jesus sandals, divinely adorned with sparkles and glitter and wobbly bits, the silver straps artfully draped up her shapely ankles and calves. She’s a precious sight.
Designer handbags, sunglasses, shoes and clothes bloom everywhere with knock-off abandon. These are not the streets of Paris or Rome, but in Yerevan imitation is a sacred art.
Photo by onkelwart /cc
It is not easy being green, a famous frog once said, and it is not easy being a fabulous femme in Armenia. It takes courage to face the day, to wake up every morning to the struggle of assembling yourself into a picture of sexy loveliness before you can hit the streets to join the fashion parade in search of a soul mate.
I’m in awe of the willpower and tenacity it takes to glam up every morning of every day. I admire these girls and wish I had their stamina, their courage, their time. It’s not that I haven’t tried, mind you, but I have failed miserably. Sadly, I have a problem with looking in the mirror: I get bored. Fortunately, I already have the man of my dreams, and he thinks I’m gorgeous no matter what.
So, as I watch the pretty babes while I sip my cappuccino, I know I am the lucky one.
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What does it take to find a mate in your corner of the globe? What do women have to do? Or what have you observed in other countries?
You’re extremely talented! I love how you described each outfit. I felt like I was sitting next to you in the Marriott Hotel Terrace. I, too, like observe how women dress themselves with their imagination and creativity. Work with colo(u)rs, favo(u)r a style or fashion, dress to express; these small parts of my day that I can’t go without. There is part of my heart for fashion, and there will always be. I love your post! Keep posting!
Debbie, I am glad you enjoy my stories!
@ Madame DeFarge: Maybe hairdye is a (former) communist issue 😉 As in Slovenia, in Armenia even the old grannies would dye their hair. Black as night or bright orange, and then the gray roots started showing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I will say no more. @ MartyrMom: It really does take time, patience and money to primp. It is nice to know we don’t always have to do it, or even ever, in the US, land of the free. This does mean that the US surely wins the gold for sloppy dressing 😉 @… Read more »
I had no knowledge of that corner of the world prior to reading this post. You paint a wonderful picture with your words and the photo is great. I love fashion and fashion magazines are like gazing into the window of a candy shop, but I only buy maybe one or two things a year. Living in a rural area in America, jeans and boots are pretty much the standard. But I do love dressing up and when I do, it’s to please myself.
Eek — those pink high heels look like instruments of torture! Another wonderful, funny post. If I had the kind of time those girls have, I would do so much more with it than gilding my lily, but then I look like a horse’s ass in make up and I’ve never been able to bear high heels. In Cyprus, looking good is VERY important for women. I watched in amazement when my young female colleagues showed up for work in skin tight polyester (in the summer when it’s upwards of 44 degrees), rat-stabber high heeled shoes, and trousers they could… Read more »
OH gosh – how I loved this! I’d never fit in in Armenia as I being glam and make-up at all costs…
Just be yourself is the best way of getting a perfect partner.
I found mine on the internet! I shopped in my jammies!!!
Terrific post; I loved sitting next to you on that Marriott terrace. I don’t mind the wait for my coffee, but was it at least warm? Parts of this post reminds me of Southern California, where augmented body parts and extreme physical fitness regiments are de rigueur. Here in Northern California it is much more casual (I’ll echo your kindness), however I do find that if I feel like dressing to the nines, no one will judge me. So tell me, will these life-sized Barbies overcome their mother’s lot in life or will they scrub toilets and peel potatoes as… Read more »
I’m the character, Rose, “In Her Shoes” by Jennifer Weiner. No matter how much trying I did, there never seemed to be the perfect look for me, or should I say…one I was comfortable with. Always jeans and flops for me. Make up felt too artificial and heavy on my face. Nails and hair styles took time away from what I might miss, eg. no patience. All this added up to money that I had better uses for. soooo……. I found my man 30+ years ago ………so there is a guy/girl/partner out there for all of us. Live life to… Read more »
I am always surprised by women in Eastern European countries. Some of the ones we saw in Slovenia seemed to have a thing about a particular hair dye. Every one had it. Old and young alike. I was most perplexed.
@ Karen: American women, and people in general, are definitely more relaxed about their appearance. Recently I’d been in Europe and South America for a while and when I got off the plane in the US, my first trip was to the supermarket on Sunday. It really struck me again: People were dressed . . . well, let’s call it casual and be nice 😉 @ Gutsy Writer: Thanks for the compliment! I’ve read Nick Hornby, a while ago, and like his writing style. Fun to read. Try Extra Virgin by British writer Annie Hawes. I love her writing. I… Read more »
In the West Indies, girls place a lot of emphasis on looking good, I think, for the sake of looking good…even when they have Mr. Right or Mr. Who They Think is Right. I waver between sloppy and sometimes-dressy. I once when through a phase where I polished, dressed, went often to the hair-dresser because I was working in the ad world. I’m so glad that time is over. To find a mate here, it all depends on which cultural group one belongs to. There are match-making family members who can help, then there are those girls who’d stop at… Read more »
I don’t know what would work on men in my area. Probably not the way I have been going about it for the last few years, since the bridal shop is still out of reach…
I had to read your post as I love your writing. I had no idea women were like this in Armenia. Poor moms scrubbing toilets. I am listening to a book on CD right now that is so YOU, as far as great writing and humo(u)r and British. “How to be Good,” by Nick Hornby.
I think compared to women in many other countries, American women are very much more relaxed about what they look like and wear (wearing sweats and flip flops outside for example). I try to put time into my image but waking up at 4:45AM for work pretty much makes it impossible. Sleep or nice hair?? Hmmm….sleep please!