There were no “silly shirts” for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit’s “silly shirt photo” this afternoon — just 20 APEC leaders and representatives in dark suits and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a white jacket.
The leaders and representatives from 21 APEC countries posed for what is officially known as the “APEC Leaders’ Family Photo” while standing behind a horizontal blue APEC 2011 sign that said, “APEC USA 2011. … Leaders Week Honolulu, Hawai’i.”
They stood in front of a grove of nine palm trees at the Ko Olina resort, about 50 yards from the ocean along the Leeward Coast of Oahu.
The wind played havoc for the nearly 100 news photographers trying to capture the moment when all of the APEC leaders either waived or stood still at the same moment.
At one point, Gillard swiped at her hair and made an undecipherable comment. Obama then gestured toward his own head of hair and said, “Me, too,” to laughter from the other APEC dignitaries.
A conversation between Obama and Gillard could be overheard with talk of grass skirts and coconut bras before Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Echenique asked, "Where are the Hawaiian shirts?"
Obama replied: "We are ending that tradition."
There had been some speculation that the aloha shirts were scrapped to avoid the appearance of world leaders acting frivolous during a time of economic austerity. Asked about the decision, Obama said leaders were given an aloha shirt, "And if they wanted to wear the shirt I promise you it would’ve been fine. But I didn’t hear a lot of complains about us breaking precedent on that one."
He said he had looked at past family photos, "and some of the garb that had appeared previously, and I thought: this may be a tradition that we might want to break."
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."
Since President Bill Clinton began these yearly summits in 1993, APEC chiefs have donned local garb for their official photo — except for last year, when Japan hosted APEC in Yokohama.
The subject of whether the leaders would wear the colorful island-print “aloha shirts” was a hot topic as the summit drew toward today’s group photo.
Obama hinted the previous night that he would not hold them to a promise he made two years ago. At a cultural dinner Saturday night, Obama recalled the 2009 APEC meetings in Singapore, when Hawaii was awarded this year’s conference.
“I promised that you would all have to wear aloha shirts or grass skirts,” Obama said to some laughs.
He hinted that leaders were given aloha shirts, but he was not going to force them to wear them for the photo.
“I was persuaded by our team to perhaps break tradition, so we have not required you to wear your aloha shirts, although I understand a few of you have tried them on for size and we may yet see you in them in the next several days,” he said.
Organizers and volunteers working the conference have been easily recognizable throughout the conference wearing blue shirts featuring a print that includes the APEC logo and flowers representing each of the nation’s economies.