Why Melania Trump covers her head one day and not the next

WASHINGTON – To cover-up or not to cover up?

Melania Trump wore a veil at the Vatican on Wednesday to meet the pope, but no headscarf a few days earlier to meet the king of Saudi Arabia, a religiously conservative country where most women cover themselves from head to toe.

Why the difference? The answer is a complicated mix of personal preference, diplomatic protocol and religious dictates.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said Mrs. Trump’s decision to wear a black lace veil known as a mantilla followed Vatican protocol that women who have an audience with the pope must wear long-sleeved, formal black garments and a veil to cover their head. In Saudi Arabia, however, the government has not to Mrs. Trump wearing a headscarf known as a hijab, or a headscarf, Grisham said.

The Vatican lines of the clothing are not strictly enforced. Many women, including a high ranking dignitaries, visited the pope with their head uncovered, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015, and Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s top civilian leader, this month.

Many women wear head scarves out of respect. Mrs. Trump is Catholic, which probably made accompanying President Donald Trump for a meeting with the leader of the world more than 1 billion Roman Catholics more meaning for her.

When an official Vatican gave her a rosary, the first lady immediately and gave it to the pope to bless. She spent time in front of a statue of the Madonna in the Vatican’s children’s hospital, and laid flowers at its feet. They also prayed in the hospital chapel.

Every woman in the U.S. delegation wore a veil, including Ivanka Trump, the chairman’s daughter, who converted to Judaism before the marriage.

In Saudi Arabia, the first lady dressed conservatively for her arrival on Saturday in the capital Riyadh. She wore a long sleeve, high neck, black pantsuit that did the loose, black robes, or abayas that Saudi women and female residents wearing. Her clothes during the visit of two days and cut down to the protocol for the high level of female visitors: a modest dress, long sleeves, higher necklines, long pants and long dresses.

Ivanka Trump also decently dressed, and left her head uncovered.

The most Western VIP women that a visit to Saudi Arabia not to cover their heads, including the British Prime Minister, Theresa May and angela Merkel. Laura Bush and Michelle Obama also left their heads bare if she visited as first the ladies. Then citizen Donald Trump criticized Mrs. Obama for doing in 2015.

In Riyadh, Ms. Trump is not an Islamic holy places or mosques where head coverings and other steps, such as the removal of one of the shoes would have been required.

In Israel, the Trumps visit to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. Donald Trump, who became the first AMERICAN president to visit the wall, while in the office, pulled out a yarmulke — a skullcap — that is usual; the site will be stacks of them for visitors to wear.

The president also wore a yarmulke at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, where it is not needed. Trump probably wore one out of respect.

In accordance with the Orthodox Jewish tradition, men and women pray separately at the wall. Ivanka Trump wore a black headscarf to the wall, while Melania Trump wore no headscarf. Many Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair as a sign of modesty.

In the Vatican, as Mrs. Trump strictly followed tradition and protocol by wearing black and a mantilla, the other high-profile visitors have taken liberties with their clothing.

In 2006, Cherie Blair, a practicing Catholic and the wife of the then British Prime minister Tony Blair, violated the protocol outright when she wore a white for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. Only royals are allowed the “privilege du blanc” — the so-called white privilege that dictates white robes and white head coverings for women and other royals during his meeting with the pope.

In 1989, during the landmark public between mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was the Soviet leader’s wife, Raisa Gorbachev, who stole the headlines: She wore a bright red dress.


Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome, Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.


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