It was 1991. The USSR was on life support, the heads of the last three republics – Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus – gathered to put a final nail into the coffin of the socialist dream that turned into a nightmare. I was only 8, just a kid, yet old enough to understand that the world around me was changing forever. At that age, everything dissolves into the children’s game. Those years, our daily life around that dramatic turning point, and the emotions my parents felt and inevitably passed onto me, shaped the memories which are dear to me. One of my dearest is of my mother’s dress, I’d call it her Soviet dress. It has been in her wardrobe since the early 1980s.
There is a magic aura around inheriting a pair of trousers, or a dress, or a bag; you cannot compare it to buying a new item, which by the way, today seems to come all from Turkey or China. Or, you wear these pieces for so long that you feel they have become part of you. We Armenians are fond of keeping old goods, then comparing them with new ones.
Not that the USSR had a thriving and creative clothing industry - the Soviets aimed at constructing a people’s society brick-by-brick and were too practical for something as frivolous and diverse as fashion. Soviet fashion was then a sea of simple clothes in pale colors, manufactured in the USSR; as Western-produced items were forbidden. Women usually wore dresses and skirts, very few ventured into trousers. Men sticked to uniform-like grey, dark blue or brown suits. Clothes had to be functional, and lasted for a long time. Even better, forever. Gone with the USSR, some people today treasure those apparently unappealing items, charged with memories.
Laura Malyan, 81, linguist
“My mother always took this bag with her when she travelled. She bought it in ‘70s. After she died I started carrying it. Maybe after my death it can be used by my daughter. I keep my pension, medicine, and several personal belongings in it. Shopping was such an excitement-charged experience during the USSR. Now we are not excited anymore, and the goods are of bad quality.”
Karo Antonyan, 71, engineer
“I used to have a job related to my profession. I was in a high position. But when the USSR broke up, I ended up working in theatres. A lot of things changed in my life... the quality of Soviet goods were good. I have been wearing this scarf for 30 years. The same of my trousers. My wife constantly thinks to throw them away, but she never does. They are still good.”
Piruza Khalapyan, 33, photographer
“My dress is the last relic of my mother’s Soviet wardrobe. Now it is in my wardrobe. For me it is more than just a Soviet dress. It has an age, memory, mood, maternal warmth, and connects me with my childhood.”
Rozalia Abgaryan, 93, teacher
“I used to go to the tailor very often in Soviet times. My dress always had to be unique. Now it is the opposite, not many people go to tailors, everyone prefers to buy goods from the shop. And I have an impression that everyone just wears similar stuff. I wear this dress very rarely. But I can’t throw it away, I’m sure there will be other occasions to put it on.”
Nazik Sargsyan, 60, nurse
“I bought my jacket in Moscow. Back in Soviet times I used to travel fairly often to Moscow and I would always come back with gifts. Since the 1990s I have not had a business trip. I don’t even have a job.”
Seda Arakelyan, 84, teacher
“My husband sewed this coat. The first time I wore it was at my daughter’s wedding in 1979. It still is like new. Why do I need to buy a new one? Now everything is of bad quality. Also it’s a memory from my husband, who died.”
Gagik Hovsepyan, 69, mechanic engineer
“I bought these sunglasses in the 1970s, I was a student. Since then I have changed the lenses only twice. But I don’t want to change the frame. With them I feel myself younger and fashionable as I was in student years.”
Rima Dabaghyan, 58, engineer hydro-technician
“I used to save every coin to go and buy the clothes I liked. Now I can’t afford that luxury, and I wear the ones I have with pride. I bought this fur hat and collar in 1984 by 210 and 240 roubles respectively. I remember exactly when I purchased this shirt, it was the 30th of December, 1979. I paid for it with 35 roubles.”
Hripsime Yeremyan, 87-years-old, cook
“My sister sewed this dress for me in 1979. I had to attend a wedding and needed to wear a new and a beautiful dress. You know, I have never worn trousers. Now I look at our girls and I’m ashamed to see them wearing thorn trousers. What is this?! And yes, these flowers are a present from my son on my birthday. It is already two weeks but they are not weathering. What is this, I don’t understand?”