Teens are following global trends and wearing sexier clothes – to the chagrin of the culture ministry, which calls them an affront to Cambodian culture
Girls in hot pants and sexy tops are an increasingly common sight on the streets of Phnom Penh.
FASHION-obsessed teenagers like to say style matters and what you wear doesn't hurt anyone.
The Kingdom has long been concerned with the suspected impact of modern customs and technology on traditional Cambodian culture and morality. In recent years it has banned adultery and mobile phone pornography in a crusade to rescue the Kingdom from moral decline.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last week also reiterated his opposition to the Miss Cambodia pageant, calling it a degrading waste of money which had a negative impact on traditional Cambodian culture.
But now, many young women are causing cultural controversy by abandoning traditional attire in favour of skimpy ensembles.
Sok Sothun, chief of culture development at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art, said that the sartorial choices of Cambodia's young women are undermining the Kingdom's traditional culture and morality.
"Our Khmer culture never had this before. People wore sexy or short clothes at home or to sleep but never in public places," he said. "Some girls go to the pagoda wearing short clothes. So what will happen when they kneel down to pray to the monk? It will not be suitable."
"We like wearing sexy clothes but we don't want to destroy Cambodian culture," said Srey Mon, a beautician at a Phnom Penh salon.
Srey Mon started following Thai actresses by wearing the same kind of clothes as them in 2001 but she now follows the style of South Korean actresses. But wearing mini skirts or fitted tops doesn't change her values, she says, adding that she still wants to get married in traditional Cambodian style.
"While we can't ban people from wearing modern clothes because our country is developing, we should do a spot on TV where young people will be able to see people wearing traditional clothes," admitted Sok Sothun.
The government needs to find ways of actively addressing the problem - but not through restrictive legislation, he said.
Sexy style doesn't hurt us
Many young Cambodian women excited by their new found freedom and independence have a very different idea on what is and what is not acceptable attire.
Cambodia is a modern country now and i hope that we don’t go back to the past.
Sophorn, 18, student at Santhoumok High School, said that wearing sexy or revealing clothes is "high calibre" and means that she can show off her slim body.
Sophorn says she is obsessed with keeping up with new trends and reads every beauty and fashion magazine she can.
"Wearing out-of-style clothes will show that I am not up to date and a peasant. I don't want my friends to look down on me," she said, adding that all her friends were just as concerned about staying abreast of the latest fashions - particularly if they happen not to conform with traditional sartorial norms.
"I am happy that we have stopped having to wear long skirts.... I hope that we don't go back to the past," she said, laughing.
Kim Vannara 17, student at Baktouk High School, said that she didn't believe wearing sexy clothes would impact on Cambodian tradition.
"We are only wearing modern clothes to fit in with the society around us, and Cambodia needs to go forward as a country instead of looking back to the past," she said.