Sailing or not sailing? Why Melania Trump wore a mantilla in the Vatican

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In a meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday, U.S. First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump dressed in black with headscarves.

Yet a few days earlier, as they met the King of Saudi Arabia, the Trump women left their heads uncovered.

So why cover yourself in one country and not in the other?

The answer lies in a complicated mix of personal preferences, diplomatic protocol and religious dictates.

Pope Francis walks past Ivanka Trump, left, and Melania Trump.Alessandra Tarantino / Pool via AP

The lace veil – technically called a mantilla – was worn in the presence of a pope by many former first ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, according to historian Carl Anthony of the National Library of First Ladies.

But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the same first ladies wore no headscarves or blankets.

PHOTOS: Trump family visits Vatican and meets Pope

“In contrast, none of those outgoing first ladies who visited Saudi Arabia wore headgear, as they did not meet the sole and recognized leader of the global Islamic faith, but rather political leaders where a cultural custom of Women’s headgear is not ‘required’ by visitors from other countries, ”Anthony told NBC News in an email.

Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet with Pope Benedict XVI, Friday July 10, 2009, at the Vatican.Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP File

In Saudi Arabia, although women are required to cover their heads, female foreign dignitaries are not absolutely required to wear headscarves.

But Anthony said many of those same first ladies who did not wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia at one point wore a headscarf when entering mosques or churches that were active places of worship.

Regarding Vatican rules, women are also not technically required to wear the mantilla. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Duchess Camilla were not both wearing the mantilla when they met the Pope.

Merkel, however, wore black, which is the traditional color women wear when coming face to face with the pontiff. Some Catholic queens and princesses are allowed to wear white.

When Camilla met the Pope in April 2017, she dressed in white.

Former President Bill Clinton (2nd left) and Pope John Paul II Hillary Rodham Clinton (right) and Dorothy Rodham (left) seen exchanging gifts at the Vatican on June 2, 1994.Luciano Mellace / Reuters file

However, Melania and Ivanka Trump have stuck to the tradition, wearing black, conservative outfits with the mantilla attached to their heads.

First Lady spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told The Associated Press that Melania Trump’s decision to wear a mantilla followed Vatican protocol that women who have an audience with the Pope wear long sleeves, formal black clothes and a veil to cover the head.

She added that in Saudi Arabia, the government had not asked Ms. Trump to wear a head covering known as a hijab or headscarf, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the tradition, a Vatican spokesperson told The Telegraph that Pope Francis has relaxed the dress code and that there are no “hard and fast” rules for women to follow.


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