Unlike in Saudi Arabia, Melania Trump covered her hair at the Vatican

The Trumps arrive at the Vatican
(Image credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at the Vatican on Wednesday morning for their meeting with Pope Francis, and the first lady was wearing a mantilla, or lace head scarf covering her hair.

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Fussing over the fashion choices of presidential wives is pretty silly, but it is worth noting — as Trump did with Michelle Obama — that women in Saudi Arabia are legally required to cover their heads, and neither Obama nor Melania and Ivanka Trump did so on their visits to the Muslim kingdom. Ivanka, a convert to Orthodox Judaism, wore a head-scarf at the Vatican, too. Women are not required or generally encouraged to cover their head in the Catholic Church.

The Vatican has loosened up a bit, Italy's La Stampa said in 2011. "Since the 1980s," explained Giacomo Galeazzi, "the dress code (tailcoat for men, black dress and veil for women) has become far less rigid. Only in private hearings with the pope are women required to cover their heads and wear mourning clothes. In hearings with the Holy Father, women are required to wear a dress with a sober cut and color, which should preferably be black." Catholic queens are allowed to wear white — Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, caused a minor scandal when she wore white to an audience with Pope Benedict in 2006, and Russian first lady Raissa Gorbaciova wore a red dress to a papal audience. Female leaders often don't wear black with the pope, either, and apparently mantillas are optional, too — here's German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a private audience with Pope Francis in 2016:

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Update 8:03 a.m.: "Per Vatican protocol, women who have an audience with the pope are required to wear long sleeves, formal black clothing, and a veil to cover the head," Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump's communications director, told CNN, noting that Michelle Obama wore a similar outfit when she had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. The first lady did not cover her head in Saudi Arabia, Grisham added, because Saudi Arabia did not request any particular attire.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.