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

Pope Francis walks past Ivanka Trump, left, and First Lady Melania Trump during a private audience with President Donald Trump at the Vatican Monday.

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

The meeting was cordial. But First Lady Trump's clothing choices — specifically her decision around whether to cover at the Vatican versus 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 in Saudi Arabia, seeing the move as a nod to women's empowerment which she promoted on the trip.

Despite the criticism, First Lady Trump'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.

Queen Elizabeth 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.

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

"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 first lady and daughter Ivanka went to the women's area, Haaretz reported.

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

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

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

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

"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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