Obama in Hawaii: The end of a costume drama

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The US President and his Asian counterparts could have posed in Hawaiian shirts – but instead a two-decade fancy-dress tradition has ended. David Usborne wonders why

Political historians were left yesterday to ponder the implications of the final moments of last weekend's Asia-Pacific summit in Honolulu when President Barack Obama ruled that 21 leaders attending would not have to appear for the final "family photograph" dressed for the beach. Suits and ties were preferred.

Thus overturned was a nearly two-decade-old tradition of requiring the leaders of Apec – the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation community – to don the traditional costume of the host nation for the group snapshot before heading home.

While Aloha shirts, with their short sleeves and colourful print patterns, might have been the obvious dress code, Mr 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.) Yet, there the leaders were late Sunday with nary a lei – the traditional necklace of orchid flowers – between them. The man who started it all was Bill Clinton, who issued bomber jackets to each of the Pacific Rim leaders when they assembled for their annual summit in Seattle in 1993.

"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."

It could be that Mr Obama deemed that dressing up was particularly inappropriate this year when so much of the summit's agenda had turned to the economic turmoil in the world. Big smiles and loud shirts don't match well against a background of joblessness, poverty and depression.

The President also has personal reasons to be suspicious of fancy dress. A picture of him in white turban and wrap-around white robe during a 2006 visit to Kenya became fodder for his primary opponent in the 2008 elections, Hillary Clinton, and may have cemented the perception in the minds of his foes that he is a secret Muslim. Who knows what threat a snap of him in a grass skirt might have presented to his re-election effort next year?

Hands up if you feel overdressed

Click on the image at the top of this article to read Harriet Walker's assessment of the outfits of the last 20 years

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...