IIAS Newsletter 46 Winter 2008

Transnational flows and the politics of dress in Asia

Mina RocesLouise Edwards

The carnival of colour that accompanies the annual summits of Asia Pacific Rim leaders in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group is a unique event of political fancy dress. This invented tradition recorded in the annual formal photographs requires all participating political leaders to wear clothing deemed typical of the host nation. The public sharing of fashion across cultures suggests a willingness to consider the world from an alternative perspective - walking in another’s shoes - even if only for a very short period. If indeed official photographs capture self-representations, then the pageant of leaders from different countries all attired in one ‘national dress’is a visual display of group solidarity. But it is also a contemporary example of the political uses of dress - the sea of smiling faces adorned in a ‘uniform’ obscures differences between the economies and geo-politics of the many nation-states that are members of APEC. For one photo moment, ‘national dress’ (often reinvented for the occasion) pays homage to the host nation and is symbolic of the transnational ‘nation’ of APEC.

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