Veil or no veil? Why Melania Trump wore a Mantilla at the Vatican

During a meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday, U.S. first lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump dressed in all black with veils covering their heads.

Yet only days before, while meeting the king of Saudi Arabia, the Trump women left their heads uncovered.

So why cover up in one country, and not in the other?

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Melania Trump visits Pope Francis at Vatican
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Melania Trump visits Pope Francis at Vatican
Pope Francis talks with U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24: US First Lady Melania Trump arrives at the Apostolic Palace for an audience with Pope Francis on May 24, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican. The president will return to Italy on Friday, attending the Group of 7 summit in Sicily. Trump will also visit American troops stationed in at a US air base in Sicily. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania are greeted by Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool
US First Lady Melania Trump shakes hands with officials as she arrives at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) walks along with US President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Evan Vucci (Photo credit should read EVAN VUCCI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) walks past US First Lady Melania Trump (R) and the daughter of US President Donald Trump Ivanka Trump (L) at the end of a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican today in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Alessandra Tarantino (Photo credit should read ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24 : U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and his wife Melania (L) are welcomed by Monsignor Georg Gaenswein as they arrive at the Vatican for their audience with Pope Francis, on May 24, 2017. (Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24: US First Lady Melania Trump arrives at the Apostolic Palace for an audience with Pope Francis on May 24, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican. The president will return to Italy on Friday, attending the Group of 7 summit in Sicily. Trump will also visit American troops stationed in at a US air base in Sicily. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
A girl takes a selfie with U.S. first lady Melania Trump at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
U.S. first lady Melania Trump visits the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
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The answer lies in a complicated mix of personal preference, diplomatic protocol and religious dictates.

The lace veil — technically called a mantilla — has been 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 First Ladies' Library.

But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the same first ladies didn't wear a headscarf or covering.

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Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in Saudi Arabia, Israel
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Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in Saudi Arabia, Israel
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump listen to U.S. President Donald Trump speak to the media at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Debbie Hill/Pool
Ivanka Trump looks on during her visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Heidi Levine/Pool
Ivanka Trump stands in for her father U.S. President Donald Trump by speaking in his place at a social media conference called Tweeps in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. first lady Melania Trump (2nd R), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R), Ivanka Trump (L) and her husband, White House senior advisor, Jared Kushner (2nd L) take their seats before U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his remarks to the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (C) and his wife Ivanka Trump walk on the tarmac after arriving with U.S. President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One at King Khalid Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (C) talks to his wife Ivanka Trump during a welcoming ceremony for her father U.S. President Donald Trump at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Ivanka Trump looks on during her visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (C) and his wife Ivanka Trump (R) arrive to tour the new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology with U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (not pictured) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump arrive together with U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania to a farewell ceremony upon their departure on Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod near Tel Aviv, Israel May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Ivanka Trump is seen at a ceremony where her father US President Donald Trump received the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (top L) and his wife Ivanka Trump (top C) look on as U.S. President Donald Trump and the first lady Melania Trump participate in a wreath-laying at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump make their way to board Air Force One before departing from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(From L-R) White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, daughter of US president Ivanka Trump, cantor Shay Abramson and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau attend a wreath laying ceremony during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum, commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II, on May 23, 2017, in Jerusalem. / AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)
US president's senior advisor Jared Kushner is seen during a press conference by the US president and Palestinian leader at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MAY 22: (ISRAEL OUT) In this handout photo provided by the Israel Government Press Office (GPO), US President Donald J Trump (L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at the King David Hotel May 22, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. Trump arrived for a 28-hour visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas on his first foreign trip since taking office in January. (Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images)
(From L to R) White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump listen to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch (R) during a visit the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalems Old City on May 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN (Photo credit should read RONEN ZVULUN/AFP/Getty Images)
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PHOTOS: Trump Family Tours Vatican, Meets With Pope

"In contrast, none of those incumbent first ladies who visited Saudi Arabia wore head coverings, since they were not meeting the single, recognized leader of the global Islamic faith, but rather political leaders where a cultural custom of head coverings by women is not 'required' by those visiting from other nations," Anthony told NBC News in an email.

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

But Anthony said many of those same first ladies who didn't wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia, did at some point wear a headscarf when entering mosques or churches that were active places of worship.

When it comes to the Vatican's rules, women aren't technically forced to wear the mantilla, either. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Duchess Camilla both did not wear the mantilla when they met with the pope.

Merkel, however, wore black, which is the traditional color women wear when having a 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.

However, Melania and Ivanka Trump both stuck with tradition, wearing black, conservative outfits with the mantilla affixed to their head.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, 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 clothing and a veil to cover their head.

She added that in Saudi Arabia, the government did not request that Mrs. Trump wear a head covering known as a hijab, or a headscarf, the Associated Press reported.

Despite tradition, a Vatican spokesman told the Telegraph that Pope Francis has been relaxing the dress code and that there are no "hard and fast" rules women must follow.

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