THE clothes we wear can be pointers to our identity, our culture, our religion, our social status or the ceremony we are participating in.
In the past, Cambodian people have always placed great value on traditional clothes made from Hol and Pamoung silk.
Most people wear such clothes whenever they go to a pagoda, as it’s a way of preserving our nation’s culture.
Because of globalisation, however, our style of dressing is changing. The habit of wearing traditional clothes seems to be fading away, and we have noticed some women wearing trendy or sexy clothes in pagodas.
Preung Sokun Osakphea, 17, a second-year student at the Institute of Foreign Language, says she doesn’t like wearing traditional Khmer clothing.
“I like wearing short jeans or simple clothes, but if I join in a Khmer ceremony at a pagoda, I always wear long jeans and a T-shirt,” she says.
Preung Sokun Osakphea says she cannot afford to buy traditional silk clothing because it is expensive and she would wear it only once or twice a year.
“At 17, wearing short clothes is comfortable and a good look for me,” she says.
Siek Bunneth, 26, a history teacher at Hun Sen Sereipheap High School, says Cambodia has had its own culture for a long time, and each generat-ion has a responsibility to preserve it.
“It’s not acceptable for women to wear jeans or sexy clothes in a pagoda. It’s a place of worship, not a fashion show. Parents or guardians should advise young people how to dress appropriately.”
Ky Srey Mom, a third-year student at the National University of Management, says she loves wearing traditional clothes because they look good and it helps preserve the Khmer identity.
“Each outfit costs around $100, but if I have enough money, I will buy it.
“Sometimes, if money is tight, I consider whether the event I am attending requires traditional clothing. If not, I will keep that money to buy other stuff.”
Pov Sokha, 29, a silk seller at the Oreussey Market, says the price of silk garments ranges from $30 to $150, depending on their quality.
“I sell between one and six items a day, but only a few teenagers buy silk clothes from me,” she says.
Pov Sokha says the cost of traditional garments discourages some customers, but there are some other factors that make buyers hesitate.
“Silk is difficult to take care of, it is easily damaged, and people wear it only on special occasions such as Khmer New Year or Pchom Ben day,” she says.
Bantey Meanchey resident Lim Cheng, 76, says most women of her generation wear traditional clothing to pagodas.
“Nowadays, I see teenagers wearing simple clothes in pagodas because some of them are poor or have to travel a long distance. I don’t criticise them for that,” she says.
But Lim Cheng worries that inappropriately wearing sexy clothes is destroying not only Khmer tradition but also respect for women.
To help preserve and promote Cambodian culture, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art broadcasts educational television programs featuring traditional Khmer clothing.
“The ministry has strategies and methods to overcome these problems by using the media as a communication tool to educate people and by featuring artists dressed in Pamoung and Hol silk clothing,” His Excellency Thay Norak Satya says.
“Because of the influence of globalisation, however, the response has not been as good as we expected.”