Austerity Victim: APEC Leaders' Fancy Dress Party

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/15/2011 09:08:00 AM
Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do...

Those were the days, indeed, as Mary Hopkin once sang. Remember in bygone years when Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders would show unity by wearing national costumes that made Western heads of state in particular look ridiculous? I am afraid that we may have moved on from that tradition when the world was younger and somewhat more innocent. In a twisted form of hegemony, it appears that our American friends started and have now done away this tradition--at least for now. According to the UK Independent, Clinton started this gimmick in 1993 after giving each APEC leader a bomber jacket to be photographed in what has become known as the "APEC leaders' family photo."

I hope that you immediately noticed what was very conspicuously missing in the group photo above at the completion of the APEC leaders' meeting in Honolulu this year. Instead of your traditional jaunty outfits alike in the photo below taken from the 2006 gathering in Vietnam, they have apparently reverted to bog-standard business formal attire. Talk about a disappointment! Admittedly, though, Obama has never looked out of place the way Bush used to while wearing traditional garb.

So, why did Obama allegedly ditch the fancy dress when the hosting city was Honolulu--certainly a rich source of sartorial possibilities? For what it's worth...
Obama seemed content to play the stuffed shirt. Never mind that he is a native of the islands and having the Pacific Rim leaders show off the shirts might have provided a nice boost to tourism. A braver host might have offered the leaders other fashion options: grass skirts perhaps, or surfer-dude attire. Even the famously dour Richard Nixon once sported an Aloha shirt when campaigning for the White House on the archipelago. (His was of lurid hibiscus design...)

[Obama said:] "I got rid of the Hawaiian shirts because I looked at pictures of some of the previous Apec meetings and some of the garb that appeared previously and I thought this might be a tradition that we might want to break," Mr Obama told reporters. "I didn't hear a lot of complaints about breaking precedent."
Well the region is all the poorer for it, I say. The explanation going around for this decision was that, during these difficult times, leaders are wary of looking frivolous. While the White House did commission special outfits beforehand, there was some kind of consensus around not wearing them this time:
Honolulu clothing company Tori Richard, Ltd., designed both the APEC shirts worn by organizers and volunteers and a special APEC-themed shirt for the 21 world leaders, said Josh Feldman, company president and chief executive officer. Feldman said Tori Richard was contacted directly by the White House earlier this year and commissioned to design the shirt.

"We produced 21 shirts in the design that at the White House's request, we not show to the public until the leaders were given the shirt as a gift," Feldman said in an email. "While we are disappointed a decision was made not to wear them for the iconic photo, we were still honored to be selected."
Once again demonstrating how Bill Clinton understands politics more than Barack Obama, here's the former's take on the tradition he helped establish:
In her autobiography, Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, revealed some of the political calculations that could lie behind even the simple act of donning a fancy outfit overseas. She said that her husband was given a lesson in international politics at a summit in Japan where she said Clinton chose the most hideous shirt offered to world leaders.

“Why on earth did you do that?” Tony Blair asked Clinton, according to the book written by the wife of the British leader then. “Take it from an old-timer,” Clinton told the British prime minister before explaining to the latter that his less offensive shirt was a naive political choice.

“Now you, Tony, wearing that particular shirt, people at home might conceivably think that you chose to wear it,” Clinton was quoted as saying. “Me, wearing this shirt, everybody at home is going to think, Boy is that Clinton diplomatic, being so nice to those foreigners. There’s no way he would have chosen to wear that. What a good man he is.”
IMHO, Obama lost a chance to "humanize" himself and his peers at a time when political elites are increasingly becoming seen as a homogeneous suit-wearing class. Not a very good show--take it from the big dog Clinton himself.

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days.