KO OLINA, Hawaii — The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference may be best known to the public for the annual “Family Photo” in which the assembled world leaders wear clothing native to the host country.
Today’s photo, however, broke with that tradition. No shirts or costumes were worn. A senior administration officials says the White House was concerned that dressing in Hawaiian garb would distract from the serious issues being discussed here.
On their way to the Family Photo, President Obama had occasion to discuss this decision with Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Echenique — a conversation that reporters caught.
According to a pool report, Gillard mentioned grass skirts, prompting Obama to say, “it’s embarrassing enough … coconut bras.”
“Where are the Hawaiian shirts?” Pinera asked.
“We are ending that tradition,” Obama said.
Before the photo, Gillard was fixing her hair when Obama joked, “I have to worry about mine, too.”
The other world leaders laughed and adjusted their hair as well.
Obama later explained to reporters his decision to break with tradition. “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 had appeared previously and I thought this may be a tradition that we might want to break,” Obama said at a press conference.
“I suggested to leaders – we gave them a shirt and if they wanted to wear the shirt, I promise you it would have been fine but I didn’t hear a lot of complaints about us breaking precedent on that one,” he said.
– Jake Tapper