Visiting the Vatican on Wednesday, first lady Melania Trump and first daughter and presidential advisor Ivanka Trump wore long-sleeve black dresses with veils, in accordance with the traditional dress code for women at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
The fact that the Trump women decided to conform to the fashion policies for a private papal audience meeting is somewhat surprising. Pope Francis himself has actually been vocal regarding his desire to see the Vatican’s dress code eased.
And the sartorial protocols — which have for centuries asked women to wear a long-sleeve black dress and a black veil for meeting privately with the pope — have been as of late. Case in point: When the Duchess of Cornwall visited last month, she wore a pale gold dress with a hemline that covered her knees, and no veil. While this was at first seen as a faux pas, a spokesperson explained at the time that “Things have become more relaxed over the last few years there are no hard and fast rules.”
Previously, the only deviation from the dress code was allowed for those given a “privilège du blanc” — or “privilege of white” — in which certain royal women from certain Catholic countries are required to wear white dresses and veils for meeting His Holiness. There are now only seven women who technically qualify: Queen Sofia of Spain; Queen Paula of Belgium; Maria Teresa, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg; Charlene, Princess of Monaco; Queen Mathilde of Belgium; Queen Letizia of Spain, and Marina, Princess of Naples.
In the past, first ladies have adhered to the all-black rule; Melania Trump’s predecessor, Michelle Obama, wore a black dress and black veil to meet Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in 2009. During his time in the papacy, Benedict made no indications that he wished to see the Vatican dress code amended.
Melania and Ivanka Trump’s decision to follow to a now-relaxed convention is an interesting move after both opted to not wear veils while visiting Saudi Arabia last week, despite the fact that the country’s Islamic citizens are required by law to veil in public. (It should be noted that the women did not visit any specifically religious landmarks while in the kingdom; however, it is governed by Sharia law.)
And at Yad v’Shem in Israel, while Melania and Ivanka Trump wore white dresses to visit the Holocaust memorial — considered by many to be a sacred site — the first lady’s dress was sleeveless and showed her shoulders, something many considered inappropriate.
Also while in Israel, Ivanka opted to cover her head to visit the Western Wall, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism. Ivanka, who converted to Judaism before marrying Jared Kushner in 2009 and is raising her three children in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, also covered her shoulders and knees with every outfit change throughout the trip. Melania Trump, on the other hand, left her head bare for the visit to the holy site and wore a white suit with a low neckline and a skirt with a slit up the front.
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