Saturday, January 22, 2011

Life in Cambodia - Part 2 - Clothing

Cambodia is hardly what one might call a fashion Mecca, certainly not in the districts we’ve visited.  The fact is, most locals might have one or two outfits at best.  It’s a poor country.

No fashion police here.  Most people are just happy to have something to wear.  It’s quite common to see small children running around naked - Out of need or out of fun?  I still don’t know enough to answer that one.  One of the things I’ve noticed is that what we think of as ‘pajamas’, the Cambodians wear as street clothes – both men and women.  They also mix and match wild prints.      
Lady in PJ's waiting for her child outside a school

Two women in PJ's on a moto

The all-purpose garment of Cambodia is a krama.  Out in the countryside, men often wear kramas wrapped around their waist instead of pants.   This scarf-like piece of fabric, comes in almost any colour and is usually a gingham weave.  It comes in either a large or small size, and each size has many purposes.  It can be used as a scarf, a mask to keep the road dust out of your lungs, a sling to carry a baby, a skirt, a shawl, a bandana, a cushion to help balance a load carried on the head, a towel to dry yourself after a bath, an evening wrap, a head covering…you get the idea.

Worn as a man's 'skirt'

As a head covering

As a cushion to carry something on your head

As a scarf

As a dust mask

To keep your head extra warm

To keep your hat from blowing off

In North America, most men wouldn’t be caught dead wearing pink, but that’s not the case here.  Pink is not considered a sissy colour, and it’s quite common to see a man with a pink shirt or pink moto helmet.

With both

Weddings are where the Cambodian women strut their stuff.  No matter how poor, a woman will have one really fancy outfit to wear to a wedding.  This usually consists of the traditional ‘sarong’ skirt and a glittery, lacy, showy top, often with lots of ruffles and/or puffy sleeves. (They must love the 80’s fashions, because most tops are reminiscent of that era.)  Surprisingly, the men do not dress up to attend a wedding, other than put on a clean shirt and pants….no jackets or ties here.  We will be attending a wedding in mid February, so I’ll have lots of pics then, including at least one of me in my Cambodian ‘go-to-wedding’ outfit that I had custom made last year while we were here.  You’ll have to wait until then to see what the bride and groom wear, but just to whet your appetite, weddings are a 2 or 3 day affair, and they will probably change outfits about 8 times or more.  Fortunately, their outfits are rented.
All dressed up for a wedding

Here, almost everybody wears flip-flops or sandals on their feet, usually several sizes too large, which allows for easy on & off, since it’s customary to remove the shoes before entering a home.  Our guesthouse has cubby-holes in the lobby for guests to put their shoes.  Can you imagine if all the shoes for guests staying in these 26 rooms were lined up outside the front door?  Total chaos!
I find it quite humourous to see foreigners wearing “Cambodian” clothing (or what is being sold as Cambodian clothing, since I’ve never seen a Cambodian wearing any of it).  These are either ‘wrap-around’ pants, pants with the crotch squared off and drooping between the knees, skirts with big beads or sequins dangling from the waist, or ‘Cambodian pants’ which look like a very full skirt that has the hem sewn together between the two ankles, so that this tremendously baggy fabric drapes down between your legs.  I suppose these clothes are fairly inexpensive to buy at the Old Market, (they’re all made in China or India) but I can’t imagine myself ever wearing them here, even less when I got back home.  No matter, the tourists think they look cool, and the vendors smile when they count their money.

Cambodia Pants

Skirts with baubles

Foreigner wearing Cambodia Pants

You’ll also see a lot of knock-off clothing at the market.  Almost everything is labeled with designer labels (even underwear) and most of them look quite authentic.   Occasionally they get the spelling wrong… or maybe they purposely spell it wrong, so that at a distance it looks like a designer name.
Designer underwear, anyone?
Get them at your 'general store'.

Looks like Gucci from a distance

If you wear anything bigger than a size 2, you’ll have fun buying clothing in Cambodia, because all the people here are so small.  Buying large sizes used to be impossible, but since the influx of larger tourists, the Chinese/India manufacturers are now producing large(r) sizes.  Well, in most things.  You can get shirts and T-shirts in XL, XXL, and higher, but even those will be two sizes smaller than what we know in North America.  (I normally wear size S or M, but had to buy shirts in size ‘L’ last year, and even then they were snug.   Gordon has a big head, and had to look a LONG time to find a hat to fit.  Flip flops are available in bigger sizes, but I never did find nice sandals.  One lady I know who wears a size 10 was told she had ‘demon feet’.
Weather here in January to March is lovely and warm for us, but we’re not surprised to see Cambodians wearing parkas, especially when the temperature at night has been dropping well below 25C.  Right now, for Cambodians it’s winter, and they’re very COLD!
Brrrr.....It's only 25C today!

One of the nice things about Cambodia is that children must wear uniforms in government schools - white shirts and navy pants or skirts.  It’s also a ‘not-so-nice’ thing.  How sad to think if you can’t afford a uniform, you’re not allowed to go to school.   And a mere $20/year is enough to provide one child with a uniform, books and shoes for an entire school year.  Twenty dollars….and so many just don’t have it.

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