Notes From Hairenik
September 9, 2005
After trying on a few suits in shops around Yerevan and realizing that I could not find anything to fit me properly, I decided to have a suit custom made instead. It seemed like a better option since in order to have a fairly well-made suit, you would need to pay at a minimum $300 or more (at least in the US). From what I saw here, suits are either cheap, made in Turkey, or are expensive samples of European clothing lines. The suits in between are simply too small. I wear the apparently European size of 54, drop 8, which translates to about a US 44 long. At one boutique in the new Tashir mall down the ways from St. Gregory the Illuminator cathedral on Dikran Medz Street, I found the suits that I wanted—earth-toned wool-based fabrics with subtle contrasting, widely spaced pin stripes, and so forth—but nothing fit me. Unfortunately I have a wide upper torso and also ape-like arms, plus legs that are too long for Armenian anatomical standards. Many of the suits I saw look like they fit a 16-year-old boy, but then again, many Armenian men, if not most, are under 5 feet 10 inches in height and I would say are under 180 pounds. There are exceptions, however, when you consider the infamous Armenian pot belly, but for the most part, Armenian men are by no means tall. Thus, there are no decent off-the-rack options for men in my case here.

Thus the first hurdle to overcome was choosing the right fabric that would best meet my expectations. Since Ariga and I are having a small wedding with about 50 guests, and since tuxedos are not available here for some reason, we decided to go with a suit that was not the standard black with white shirt ceremonial uniform for the groom. I prefer autumn-like colors in general when picking out clothes, and I figured that my wedding suit should be no exception.

The fabric stores in central Yerevan are lined up along a short stretch of Abovyan Street in the area near the “Youth” metro station. There are about a dozen stores or more seemingly chained together. Many of them have the same fabrics, and most of those being standard blues and blacks, some with pin stripes. In fact, most of the fabrics I saw suitable for men’s suits were drab and boring. The non-dark colored textiles were neutral, or taupe, and had zero pizzazz. We found some things that were promising but just not right.

Finally, we found an excellent store near Friendship Square that had more or less what I was looking for. We settled on two candidates, but finally chose a light cocoa-colored material. The clerks told us that the cloth was English, as are many of the materials that are available. Along the hem of most fabrics, information is printed about what the base threads are, where the fabric is made, and so forth. Our material had such printed information, but I did not bother reading it for some reason, having examined so many hems and trusting the woman helping us. We went two days in a row, and she told us, and confirmed by another clerk, that the material was English. That night after we had purchased the cloth and brought it home, I realized that it was made in Turkey. The text was written in latin characters but the words were foreign, and a online Turkish-English dictionary confirmed what I had believed.

When shopping in Armenia it is becoming increasingly difficult to find non-Turkish goods, especially domestic supplies, including those for cleaning, tableware, cooking ware, things for the bathroom, and so forth. Turkish canned goods abound in most grocery stores, and now even sunflower seeds. Importers are now proudly advertising Turkish consumer goods on television. The fact that there are such ever-strengthening trade bonds with Turkey while a closed border has persisted for nearly 15 years has always perplexed me. It does not sink into my brain why an open border with Turkey is so essential for Armenia’s economic prosperity, when Turkish goods—even fresh, easily perishable tomatoes—are everywhere. Of course, Armenian businessmen are to blame for importing the stuff, cheap but mostly poor quality, but no one seems to complain.

I always make a point of refusing to buy Turkish goods for various reasons, namely because the Turkish Ottoman state was responsible for the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1918 and modern Turkey continues to deny that such a thing ever happened, Turkey insists that Nagorno-Karabagh forfeit its self-declared independence before it forms diplomatic relations with Armenia, and so forth. Plus I am vehemently opposed to the influx of Turkish culture in modern Armenian society. Armenian “rabiz” is basically a rip-off of Turkish pop music, using the same melodies with Armenian lyric translations and even mimicking Turkish wailing and highly irritating vocal styles. There are at least four Turkish television stations that can be tuned in on different frequencies in Armenia, and thus the Turk’s omnipresence is acutely felt.

The Turks have been repeatedly screwing over the Armenians in one way or another ever since their Seljuk ancestors finally made their way to this neck of the mountains over 800 years ago, and they have now issued their ultimate ploy by making the Armenian consumer wholly dependent on them. I finally fell into the Turkish materialism trap laid especially for Armenians and I was stuck. The concept of returning goods by unsatisfied customers for credit or cash does not apply to business in Armenia. For the most part all sales are final.

Then there was the problem with finding a tailor. I’ve noticed quite a few of them working in funky, tiny shops on side-streets or in back alleys, but I would not trust any of them with making a suit. I asked around and learned that there is a renowned tailor located far up on Gomidas Street, a block or two up from the open market and across from the old public bath house. Ariga and I went in there and saw that the place was gigantic, like a small clothing factory. The tailor’s name is Misha, and he’s assisted by his daughter as well as at least three or four assistant tailors. When you walk into his shop on the left there is a huge cutting table which he uses to lay out material and figure out how he’s going to cut it up to make a dress or whatever. On the right is a lounge-type area, and there are a few plants and so forth. Apparently all the “mucky mucks” as my mother says, or all the rich, influential people of Yerevan, go to Misha to have something custom-tailored.

When we went I brought along a black suit as a sample of what I expected. He told me to put it on and I heard the all-too-familiar line when requesting a good or service in Armenia: “Why do you want to do it that way?” He then asked me why I liked what I had, what was so special about it, and so forth. I explained I wanted a classic two-button suit, with no vent in the back, and the lapel to be high, just a few inches down from the shoulder. I’ve noticed from the suits that people wear on the street, many undoubtedly custom made judging from the material and the fit, that nearly all are baggy, have three buttons, are too long, and generally don’t fit quite right. Brooks Brothers suits are more or less tailored the same way, with little to no shape to them. I told him I did not want anything baggy or square shaped, with sleeves extending down just past my thumb (he confessed that was the standard for measuring sleeves). He told me he would do what I wanted, with a few variations here and there, like stitching one front pleat in the pants instead of the two that were in my black suit pants. Yesterday I went for a fitting and it seemed to be coming along okay, although there wasn’t much to wear apart from a prototype that looked more like a vest than a jacket. He remeasured the sleeves, the length of the jacket, the width of the lapel and the length of its location from the neck and so forth, whereby I approved or disputed his determinations accordingly. Then he wanted me to read a little poem written in Armenian that is an ode to a tailor, so I did so and he let me go.

Finding properly fitting shoes in Armenia is another adventure. I remember when trying to find shoes for Karen Minasian’s wedding (he insisted that he, his father and I, as the Godfather, wear dress boots) I could not find anything that was wide enough for my feet, which resemble the bill of a platypus in terms of width and flexibility. For some reason all the dress boots here have fake fur linings, which also added to the discomfort. Basically if the little toe on my right foot feels any kind of pressure against it, after a few minutes I am in extreme agony.

In men’s shoe fashion there are primarily two styles that are extremely popular and in plentiful supply: the long style, which is also narrow and comes to a point reminiscent to that of a samurai sword, and the long style with a squared-off toe. Sometimes, depending on the shoe model, the toe curls upwards, which resembles something you see worn by an elf in a cartoon.

Only one place that I know of in Yerevan on Abovyan Street has what I look for in footwear, conveniently located about a three minute walk from my front door. The place is called—for some bizarre reason as the name can be considered derogatory— Shoes by Armo Group. This store features well-crafted, classic European designs, and all the shoes are handmade in Armenia from imported leathers. If you can’t find the color or size of a displayed model that you want, you can have it custom made at no extra charge. Most shoes are under $80, and many similar styles would sell for at least three times more in the West. I tried on three pairs of shoes sized 44 or 45 and nothing would fit. They were so narrow that I could barely place my foot into a shoe that normally my foot would swim in. It makes me wonder how men in this country that have wide feet are able to walk in most shoes available here, many of which look great but are totally uncomfortable.

In any case, we found a model that looked nice, was wide enough for my feet, but the wrong color. We wanted brown shoes to match my suit, so we gave the order to have them made. The shoes and the suit will be ready on the same day, conveniently enough, on September 14. I just hope both will fit properly, never mind the dress shirt and tie I have yet to purchase.

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