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APEC fashion hits and misses

By Chuck Thompson, CNN
updated 10:36 AM EDT, Tue October 8, 2013
For their get-together in Bali this year, APEC leaders and their partners were given clothing made from traditional Balinese woven endek, stitched together by a Chinese tailor in Jakarta. For their get-together in Bali this year, APEC leaders and their partners were given clothing made from traditional Balinese woven endek, stitched together by a Chinese tailor in Jakarta.
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Gallery: APEC fashion hits and misses
Indonesia, 1994: Batik statement
Canada, 1997: Cool crew
New Zealand, 1999: Cold shoulders
China, 2001: Chinese style
Mexico, 2002: Fiestawear
Thailand, 2003: Spun gold
APEC 2004, Santiago, Chile
South Korea, 2005: High drama
Vietnam, 2006: Robe ready
Australia, 2007: Dryzabone does it
Peru, 2008: Classic browns
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gallery looks back at some of the more memorable APEC triumphs and fashion fails
  • The first APEC "family photo" dates to first APEC summit near Seattle in 1993
  • Like group tour t-shirts, they run the risk of never being worn again
  • Tradition brought back to life in Bali after a three-year hiatus

(CNN) -- Being a world leader doesn't necessarily mean being a fashion leader.

It also doesn't make you immune to that awkward part of the international travel deal -- occasionally giving in to the demands of your local hosts and doing something you wouldn't normally do, all in the name of cross-cultural comity.

Taken each year (with some exemptions) in the traditional or often jazzed-up garb of the host country, the famed Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) "family photo" (it's also been called the "silly shirts" photo) dates to the first APEC summit held near Seattle in 1993.

To foster a sense of informal exchange, participants at that summit were asked not to wear ties.

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At the same meeting, then U.S. President Bill Clinton presented bomber jackets to participants. (Very cool move.)

Since then it's been all on -- and all in -- with everything from South American ponchos to Vietnamese ao dai.

Like group tour t-shirts and other travel-inspired clothing purchases, these may look OK at the time and generate a sense of unity. But they later run the risk of mixing with mothballs at the back of the closet and only seeing the light of day, or night, during a bout of nostalgia or for a themed party.

Perhaps inspired by Japan in 2010 deciding to buck short tradition, the APEC group dress code has been shelved in recent years.

But at this year's APEC summit, on the sun-kissed Indonesian island of Bali, it was back on. In blues, reds, purples and greens, APEC leaders headed to a gala dinner on Monday looking reasonably resplendent, and occasionally awkward, in Balinese-designed shirts.

The shirts were made of a local silk-like fabric called endek. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott didn't look terribly comfy, Russian leader Vladimir Putin seemed a bit stiff in his green shirt, Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping sported red and purple was chosen for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, filling in for the absent U.S. president.

Wonder if President Obama will get his shirt in the post?

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