Clothing in Cambodia is one of the most important aspects of the culture. Cambodian fashion is divided by the people’s differing castes and social classes. Cambodians traditionally wear a checkered scarf called a “Krama”. The “krama” is what distinctly separates the Khmer (Cambodians) from their neighbors the Thai, the Vietnamese, and the Laotians. The scarf is used for many purposes including for style, protection from the sun, an aid (for your feet) when climbing trees, a hammock for infants, a towel, or as a “sarong”. A “krama” can also be easily shaped into a small child’s doll for play. Under the Khmer Rouge, krama of various patterns were part of standard clothing.
Sampot is the national garment of Cambodia, dating back to the Funan era when important Chinese diplomats asked the Cambodian king to order the people to cover themselves. Still commonly worn today in rural areas, the sampot is worn by both men and women as a form of sarong. There are several variations depending on social class. The sampot measures between five and six feet long, with both ends sewn together. It is then worn on the bottom half of the body, with excess material knotted in front to hold it up.
Sampot Chang Kben
The sampot chang kben is usually reserved for upper and middle class women and resembles trousers rather than a skirt. It measures more than nine feet long and three feet wide. It is worn by wrapping the material around the waist and pulling away from the body. A knot is then drawn between the legs and held in place by a belt. In modern Cambodia, it is worn by women at special occasions.
Cambodia has a great tradition of silk weaving, with the ancient art stretching back over centuries. Many items of clothing are traditionally made from silk, with the intricate patterns indigenous to Cambodia. Golden silk is Cambodia’s national silk and there are various projects to retrain artisans that are open to visitors.