APEC’s Silly Shirt Day, The Bizarre Tradition That Refuses To Die
Yesterday’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting was marked by the return of odd tradition that has seemed to define these international conferences, a day that can only be called Silly Shirt Day:
Every year at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting, leaders from 21 Pacific Rim member states meet to discuss the big issues. This year, for instance, huge trade deals and geopolitical rivalries are among the major topics of conversation.
These are some of the most important leaders in the world, together representing more than half of the world’s GDP and encompassing heavyweights such as the United States, China and Russia. But each year, it’s often the guests’ attire that captivates the world more than any political talk.
That’s because APEC has an unusual tradition. At the summit, the leaders gather to take a “family photo,” and for more than a decade these leaders have often been photographed wearing clothing that represents the country hosting the event. For example, this year the event is being held in Beijing, and the leaders wore some bright colored silk outfits, which look like they might be modeled on the famous Zhongshan suit.
The event sometimes earns the nickname of the “silly shirts” photo, and various world leaders (including Americans) have tried to do away with it. But American readers might need to be reminded that they started this tradition with their own traditional clothing: And it actually wasn’t a shirt.
The tradition began in 1993 on Washington state’s Blake Island, site of the first APEC meeting to be attended by heads of state rather than ministerial-level officials. The world leaders were asked to not wear ties; an attempt to cut down down on the formality that high-level meetings usually involve. APEC, which is about working together to improve relationships, had no time for formality.
Clinton gave the world leaders leather bombardier jackets as a gift, like those worn by American pilots. Judging from photos, the world leaders may not have actually worn their jackets publicly at the time — most featured only Clinton clad in leather, and many news stories from the time made no mention of it.
A nice idea I suppose, and it did lend a less formal feel to the conference:
Things went native when the conference was held in Indonesia in 1994, but not alarmingly so:
It didn’t take long for things to get out of control, though. Consider the ponchos from Chile in 2004:
The ensemble donned in South Korea in 2005:
Or similar vestments when the conference was held in Vietnam in 2006:
The tradition came to an end in 2011, but quickly reappeared last year in Indonesia, which Secretary of State Kerry attended in President Obama’s place due to the President needing to stay home to deal with the ongoing government shutdown:
One wonders what next year, when the conference will be held in The Philippines, will bring. I’m sure it will be colorful, though.