Did Melania Trump Break the Rules by Showing Her Legs in Saudi Arabia?


First lady Melania Trump visited an all-women business service center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo: AP)

Quite a few commenters from the political peanut gallery pointed out how disrespectful it was for former first lady Michelle Obama to skip the headscarf upon her visit to Saudi Arabia in 2015. One of those critics was the current president of the United States, in fact:

Michelle Obama dressed modestly and covered her arms and legs — albeit without a headscarf — on her visit to Saudi Arabia in 2015. (Photo: AP)

As far as the current first lady goes, she has approached this official visit to the Mideast American ally with similar style — sans headscarf, abaya, niqab, or hijab. For the most part, she has dressed modestly, and covered much of what could be deemed inappropriate by the conservative Saudi regime and its customs. Yet Melania Trump was seen today visiting the American International School in Riyadh in a safari style dress, legs partially exposed.

The first lady visited the school early Sunday as well as a technology center where all the employees are women, where the contrast between her wardrobe and those of the Saudi nationals couldn’t have been more stark.

Did she break the rules? According to a number of etiquette and dress code sources, she may have, indeed. As the Economist details, according to sharia law in Saudi Arabia, “Saudi Arabia is one of the only Muslim-majority countries that legally imposes a dress code (Iran is another). Women, foreign and local, must wear an abaya (a few get away with long coats) in public places.” Of course, the same article goes on to describe that actual practice varies widely, depending on where in the country you expect to see such dress codes. Women freely wear bikinis on the Red Sea coast, for example.

And business travel advice from USA Today also describes appropriate dress customs for Western women in the Muslim country as “long dresses which reach to the ankles and have full long-length sleeves,” and further explains how “Your Saudi Arabian hosts may also appreciate your wearing a a head scarf although this is not compulsory for non-Muslims. Wear any kind of smart business shoes you deem appropriate, with either an open or closed- toe. When traveling between business events you will find that wearing a full-length traditional robe and a headscarf makes you stand out less and receive less attention.”

Melania Trump certainly chose to stand out on her visit — being the first lady of the United States makes it rather difficult not to — whether it was her safari dress and zebra stripe shoes, the magenta gown she wore at the royal banquet on Saturday night, or the bright white pantsuit she wore for the Arab Islamic American Summit on Sunday.

Melania Trump wore a pantsuit to Sunday’s summit, despite the taboo against women in trousers in Saudi Arabia (Photo: AP)

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