What changes? Culture changes.
When I was first preparing for my move to Cambodia, people told me I was over-reacting on how I felt it was necessary for me to take a more conservative perspective when it came to the way I dressed. It's true, there are people in Cambodia who wear shorts, show their knees and only wear bras under a sheer-shirt but what does that allude to when you're now in Khmer culture and not New York City culture. Just because no one directly tells you their feelings about it does not mean that you're not being disrespectful towards them. "It's okay, you're a foreigner" — does not fly with me.
My teaching clothes include skirts that cover my knees, flats and a shirt that covers my shoulders. I own a stack of cardigans to cover-up shoulders whenever necessary. Wearing shorter skirts that meet at your knee is also appropriate in the teaching environment but they are the worst to ride your bike in! I prefer wearing maxi shirts the most — they're easy, comfortable and cover a lot!
At the same time, all my female students are required to wear school uniforms of blue button down shirts and black skirts. Like in New York City, some female students will always find ways to "follow" the rules while making sure their outfits are noticed — as many take the option of wearing pencil skirts that hit mid-thigh to button downs, where the buttons are holding to dear-life to do its job right. As someone standing in front of the classroom for three-hours, I want to make sure my students aren't staring at that one button on my shirt and wondering when it would pop — as I am constantly doing for them.
Saturday clothes consist of two shirts — Khmer Pride and Bananananannananannaaa. I bought these two shirts when I first came to Cambodia at the Night Market. The Night Market is only open on Friday and Saturday. It's a lot like Lady's Market in Hong Kong. You bargain and bargain some more for the desired merchandise. I left with these two shirts, each costing me $3. My Khmer friends said it was a good deal but I hate bargaining.
Despite it not being a teaching day, I still follow the general rule of making sure the shorts and skirts I wear at least touch my knee. I bare shoulders sometimes depending on the setting I am in. There's nothing worse than making the people around you feel uncomfortable because of what you are not wearing.
So, why bargain when you can go to a store with fixed prices! Michelle said that the clothes at our local thrift shop looked like old ex-pat ladies' clothes they left behind before leaving Cambodia. Either way, my household loves that place. I scored a really cute skirt (for less than $3!) that I wear to Sunday meetings sometimes.
I brought almost every pair of shoes I owned to Cambodia with me. It made sense to since it would just build dust if I didn't. Since being here, I only wear two pairs of shoes. I wear my flats to teach and my American Eagle flip-flops on all the other days. Everyone here wears flip-flops. The side of the roads are filled with them because people tend to loose one or two when speeding away on their bikes and motos. I was once biking to school at 6AM and dropped a flip-flop too! Due to the fact that it was still early in the day, I was able to get off my bike and pick it up without worrying about people running me over. A Khmer gentlemen saw the whole event — so we laughed together.
I own sunglasses but I rarely wear them. I enjoy seeing things in the color they actually. Riding my bike in Cambodia, there are moments when rocks, dust, pebbles and things...fly into my eye. Rubbing your eye while riding your bike is probably one of the worse ideas ever, especially while wearing contacts. Those things fall out like apples from trees. For the past week or so, I began wearing my sunglasses while biking. My eyes feel a lot better because of it but it also distinguishes me as a foreigner. I tend to get away as a native — which I love! — but the sunglasses are giving me unnecessary attention. I need to now find myself a pair of fake glasses (those things that people once found cool to wear...that has lens with no prescription...).
I wear a helmet when I bike. My hair is never done.
In the end, no matter how you dress or whether you feel like you are 100% able to express yourself through it — remember that satisfying your desire to express individuality is never more important than being mindful of others.