Why Did Melania Trump Cover Her Hair At The Vatican But Not In Saudi Arabia? | WBEZ
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Why Did Melania Trump Cover Her Hair At The Vatican But Not In Saudi Arabia?

Melania Trump accompanied the president to the Vatican on Wednesday, wearing a black veil and a long-sleeved Dolce & Gabbana black dress.

The meeting was cordial. But the first lady's clothing choices — specifically her decision to cover her head at the Vatican in contrast to visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel — attracted commentary from both sides of the aisle.

Some criticized her for not covering her hair during a visit to the Western Wall, part of a destroyed Jewish temple complex, or while in Saudi Arabia.

Others praised Trump for not covering up in Saudi Arabia, seeing the move as a nod to women's empowerment, which she promoted on the trip.

Despite the criticism, the first lady's attire was in keeping with protocol of the countries she visited and the precedents set by other foreign leaders who have visited them.

Vatican protocol dictates that women should wear long sleeves, formal black clothing and a black veil during private audiences with the pope.

The United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II attracted attention in 2014 for wearing a lilac suit to meet Pope Francis. That acceptance was seen as an effort by the pope to relax some rules of the Vatican. There is also an exception to black granted to Catholic queens or Catholic spouses of kings, according to Vatican Insider.

Queen Elizabeth II's decision to wear a lilac suit to meet with Francis in 2014 was seen as an effort by the pope to relax some Vatican rules. (WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, wore cream and did not cover her head when meeting Francis last month, though she had worn black and a veil at a 2009 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

Francis exchanges gifts with Britain's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during a private audience at the Vatican last month. (AP)

"Things have become more relaxed over the last few years. There are no hard and fast rules," a Vatican spokesperson told The Express.

At the Western Wall, the first family did follow Jewish religious custom. The men (President Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner) went to the men's prayer plaza while the the president's daughter Ivanka and the first lady went to the women's area, Haaretz reported.

Ivanka Trump wore a hat during a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem with the first lady, as it is customary for observant Jewish women to cover their hair. (Heidi Levine/AFP/Getty Images)

Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judiaism, wore a hat at the Western Wall as it is customary for observant women to cover their hair.

Saudi Arabia, where Melania Trump went veil-less, has a strict dress code for women — Muslim women are to wear a full-length abaya robe and headscarf. However, foreigners are considered exempt from that rule, according to the Economist.

As Fox News noted, in 2015, Donald Trump criticized former first lady Michelle Obama on Twitter for not wearing a headscarf on a trip to Saudi Arabia.

President Trump had criticized then-first lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf while in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2015. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Theresa May visited Saudi Arabia last month sans headscarf as well.

British Prime Minister Theresa May chats with Saudi girls during a basketball class while on a visit to Riyadh last month. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

Melania Trump's spokeswoman told CNN that a black dress with long, flowing sleeves she wore in Saudi Arabia was chosen to resemble the country's abayas.

A spokeswoman for Melania Trump said that she chose a flowing black dress for her arrival with the president at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh because it resembles an abaya. (Evan Vucci/AP)

"If you look at her style, it's still very much her and her style of dress but being sensitive to the place and host nation for sure," Stephanie Grisham said.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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