Suit ability: ASEAN unity

Unified (Left to Right): Laos Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Philippines President Gloria Arroyo, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Brunei Sultan Hassanul Bolkiah, Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

It was interesting to note that on Thursday, at the opening of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Hanoi, as the participants grasped hands for their launch photo op, a certain unity of colour, if not political agenda, governed the stage.

Presumably, the assorted heads of state and their representatives had not had their aides coordinate their wardrobes beforehand, so the decision of all the men present to wear what appeared to be single-breasted two-button grey suits was perhaps more meaningful than coincidental (Philippines President Gloria Arroyo being an exception to the rule in both gender and her choice of bright red jacket – though her dark trousers fit right in with the theme).

Indeed, if the aim of the summit is, as stated, to “build a regional community of nations”, it is possible to see the clothing as a metaphor for how the dream might play out: united in broad outline (choice of suit!), the member states would still retain the ability to act individually against that background (different ties! A hankerchief if desired!).

As for how everyone settled on grey, odds are it was chosen as the most neutral option, and thus the one most likely to fade into the background in order to focus attention on the words of the speakers, as opposed to their look – not to mention sending a certain sub-conscious message.

Pin-stripes, after all, can be showy; a black or dark navy suit can look sinister; and beige is, well . . . beige. But grey? Grey is about nuance, it suggests the wearer does not see the world in shades of black and white, and indeed, understands that when it comes to geopolitical agreement, negotiation is pretty much always necessary.

That’s what their clothes say, anyway. Everything could change depending on what comes out of their mouths.

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