National Costume Naught

Does this Mister International Singapore contestant’s near nakedness prove that the emperor’s new clothes equal our “national costume”? Or, the other obsession, “national dress”?

Mr International Sean Nicholas Sutiono in our “National Costume”. Photo: officialmisterinternatinoal/Instagram

No costume is the costume! You can’t say that is not genius. By now, you’d have seen this picture. The male beauty competition Mister International has shared it on social media, and Netizens have decried the clothing of choice as “nothing”, not the touted “national costume”. This is such an apt look to announce that we are still searching—even in vain—for one. Bare chest (and muscles) can take the place of a set of clothing. And we are in line with trends in fashion. This year’s winner to represent our nation at the finals in Manila this Sunday is Sean Nicholas Sutiono, an accounts associate and The Straits Times’s ‘Hot Bods’ honoree last October. Mr Sutiono also shared this photo on Instagram, adding the comment: “If you’d understand, it was a statement I had to make and the only thing I had.” Many people were confused—did he mistake the swimwear round for the national costume segment? That would make a statement! And what was he referring to by saying that that was the only thing he had? Did he mean the Singaporean flag?

If Mister International can pass that off as national costume, then Mr Sutiono is often wearing one on his IG page. Responding to the sharp comments on their IG post of Mr Sutiono in the brief-as-boxers shorts posing as if he has just won a medal at some global games, Mister International wrote, “Sean’s National Costume is in the works”. So close to the competition day and not completed? Does it not sound like last year’s Miss Universe Bernadette Belle Wu Ong with her last-minute national costume? But at least she had someone in Manila to whip something up for her. Mr Sutiono, as it appears, had to assemble one for himself. Do pageant organisers not learn from each other? Mister International then explained why the costume was still in the works on the day of the photo shoot: “Due to the unfortunate tragic passing of our Singaporean owned National Director (sic) – the late Alan Sim. This was fitting at the time.” Fitting! Someone dies and the man strips? Our national costume is now apropos salute to guys who run shirtless on Holland Road outside the Botanic Gardens on any given day.

Sean’s National Costume is in the works”

Mister International

The passing of Singaporean Alan Sim was announced by Mister International on 16 October. The cause of death is not known. Mr Sim, 50, founded Mister International Organization (MIO) in 2006. A 23-year male beauty contest veteran, he considered himself “a great fan of the Miss Universe Pageants” and counted Miss Columbia 1986, Patricia Lopez Ruiz, a favourite. With his unmistakable, tattooed, arched eyebrows, Mr Sim was himself also a frequent contestant of the pageant circuit—most of the competitions regular guys won’t know if they are not pageant fanatics: Mister Young Singapore and Mister Young International. His passing has not deterred MIO from carrying on with the staging of their latest edition—the 14th—“as a tribute to our founder”, the company announced on IG. It is not known when Mr Sim became ill and why he was singularly responsible for Mr Sutiono’s costume. Or, why, given the urgency of the matter, something could not be found or stitched up for the SG rep to wear, more than a week after Mr Sim’s demise was publicly made known.

At the 2019 Mister International, also held in the Philippines, Singaporean rep Famy Ashary wore a pale green baju Melayu that his mother would likely find too tight for Hari Raya, but it was a baju—an outfit, modest to boot, although, to be sure, as with Miss Universe, national costumes can be and often are scanty affairs. They are, however, not quite like the afterthought that the unfortunate Mr Sutiono, also last year’s Mr World participant (he’s an experienced pageant boy!), had to pull off in what Mister International had described as “National Costume portrait”. How is Singapore really depicted? Or the Singaporean male? Lazy oafs? One New York-based Singaporean designer wondered why, till today, we cannot get this right. He told SOTD: “Enough. It’s so ridiculous. Or, when designers try to mesh cultures together to create a national dress.”

Mr Sutiono’s no-clothes national costume, in fact, appeared just a few days after the newly-named Singapore Fashion Council (SFC, the former TaFF or Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore) sent out a guide to attendees of the upcoming Singapore Stories 2022 presentation with suggestions of what they could wear to go with the dress code of the evening, Singapore Glamour: Black Tie or National Dress. SFC helpfully informed that black tie is “semi-formal attire convention” while national dress is an “alternative to black tie and entails formal attire from diverse cultures”. National dress and national costume are often used interchangeably. If Sean Nicholas Sutiono’s pageant-worthy national costume of shorts and boots can make the cut, male guests gracing Singapore Stories 2022 can take inspiration from him. As SFC also suggested, ”feel free to bring your own interpretation”. How about free of clothes?

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