Why Donald Trump, Shinzo Abe and Justin Trudeau ditched suits and ties at Asean gala dinner in Manila

When world leaders wore barong tagalog on Sunday they were following Asean tradition of donning host country costumes, which often sparks memes about ‘silly Asean shirts’; more notable this time, though, was lack of women leaders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 11:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 1:20pm

At Sunday evening’s Asean gala dinner, held in Manila to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, US President Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and their fellow Asean leaders wore the barong tagalog, a long-sleeved white or off-white shirt that is considered the Philippines’ formal attire.

It’s become a tradition for Asean leaders to ditch their power suits and wear the traditional clothing of the host country at Asean and Apec summits. The barong tagalog, commonly worn at weddings and special occasions in the Philippines, is a lightweight, embroidered oversized shirt, normally worn untucked over an undershirt and paired with dress trousers.

Trump, Duterte meet in Manila at Asean gala dinner

Compared to the more colourful and flamboyant garments Asean leaders have worn at meetings in places such as Indonesia and Thailand, the barong tagalog is much subtler, and recalls the guayabera, a Latin-American shirt that in recent years has seen a revival in hipster circles.

From Canada’s Justin Trudeau to Japan’s Shinzo Abe, the 18 heads of state at Sunday night’s event wore a simple model in ivory, although some of them looked slightly awkward in the traditional garment.

Whereas at previous summits, leaders were often ridiculed for their “silly Asean shirts” as soon as the group photos of the attendees started circulating online, what should give people pause this year is the lack of female leaders in the picture, reflecting a lack of women in positions of power in the region.