Obama Ends APEC Silly Shirt Tradition

President Obama ended the tradition of native costumes for the APEC Summit.

In perhaps the most universally popular move of his presidency, President Obama ended the tradition of native costumes for the APEC Summit.

NYT (“Costume Shot Unnecessary, Obama Says“):

Is the “silly shirts” photo of Asia-Pacific leaders now history?

To the chagrin of White House photographers but the relief of the 21 leaders at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that took place over the weekend, President Obama, as the host this year, packed away for good the two-decade tradition of having the group pose for a “family photo” in some garb representative of the host country.

“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 said during a news conference Sunday. “I suggested to leaders, we gave them a shirt and I promise you if they wanted to wear it that would have been fine, but I didn’t hear a lot of complaints about breaking precedent.”

There was speculation in recent weeks that Mr. Obama had provided Hawaiian shirts, grass hula skirts or even surfer-dude wet suits representative of his childhood home. That might seem implausible but for the precedents of past summit meetings — which have included ponchos and what looked like gowns for pregnant bridesmaids.


The tradition started innocently enough in 1993, when the United States last hosted the gathering, in Seattle, and President Bill Clinton distributed bomber jackets for the group shot. Subsequent sartorial highlights included two ponchos — colorfully striped in Chile and brown in Peru; pastel “hanboks” in South Korea with bow-like trim that resembled (female) wedding wear; and silk tunics in Vietnam.

While the so-called “silly shirts” photos became the defining highlight of APEC meetings, many leaders came to dread them as lending a comic aspect to the proceedings at their expense.

Obama has thus ended at least three Clinton legacies: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; failed healthcare initiatives; and this.

Chile, 2004:

Vietnam, 2006:

FILED UNDER: World Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Peabody says:

    The President clearly ignores the plight of the tropical apparel garment workers! They’re made in Ohio, right? By union workers?

  2. Loviatar says:

    @John Peabody:

    Obama has thus ended at least three Clinton legacies: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; failed healthcare initiatives; and this.

    But he kept one Clinton legacy; Pissing off Republicans, even so called “moderates” who will take any opportunity to write snarky comments.

    Ahhh, tradition.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    He also called out the fools on the republican debate stage for their illegal and immoral endorsements of torture.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @John Peabody: Actually, he gave them all Aloha shirts; he just made them optional for the photo.

    @Loviatar: If anything, it’s a jab at Clinton.

  5. Franklin says:

    I think Hawaiian shirts might have been more comfortable in that heat.

    I had forgotten or not seen that Vietnamese one – wow!!!

  6. mattatat says:

    It doesn’t matter what Putin is wearing he always looks like he’s about to kill someone.

  7. Gustopher says:

    This is a tradition he should have kept. The ridiculous photos were always the best thing to come out of this conference.

    Also, he shouldn’t have just done Hawaiian shirts, he should have upped the ante with some horrific hats and made them all hold pineapples.

  8. Jack says:

    Obama ends APEC cultural garment tradtition, Why not, he already ended the follow the constitution “tradition”.