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APEC fashion hits and misses

By Chuck Thompson and Katie Hunt, CNN
updated 10:39 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama poses with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan as they arrive for the APEC summit banquet November 10, 2014. Each year, APEC leaders dress up in the the host country's traditional garb for a "family photo" -- it's also been called the "silly shirts photo." U.S. President Barack Obama poses with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan as they arrive for the APEC summit banquet November 10, 2014. Each year, APEC leaders dress up in the the host country's traditional garb for a "family photo" -- it's also been called the "silly shirts photo."
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Gallery: APEC fashion hits and misses
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 last year's APEC summit, on the sun-kissed Indonesian island of Bali, it was back on - leaders looked reasonably resplendent in Balinese-designed shirts.

On Monday, this year's host China continued the custom.

Leaders donned high-collared, "Mao-style" jackets in shades of burgundy, teal and brown to attend a gala dinner at in Beijing.

But as the photos spread around the world, many thought they were attending a Star Trek convention rather than a state banquet, with the outfits resembling those sported by Spock or Captain Kirk.

Host Chinese President Xi Jinping worked his silky tunic but the awkward expressions of U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin suggested many guests wished they could be transported away from the pomp and protocol by using the hit show's immortal catchphrase: "Beam me up, Scotty."

This story was first published on October 8, 2013 and updated on November 11, 2014.

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