The question of what first lady Melania Trump would wear on her husband’s his first overseas trip as president was far from a trivial matter.
What Melania wore: why the first lady’s Saudi style is a big deal
The National staff
RIYADH // High profile women are accustomed to having their fashion choices scrutinised. But when the woman is an ex-model, married to the US president and accompanying him to Saudi Arabia, fashion becomes political.
The question of what first lady Melania Trump would wear on her husband’s first overseas trip as president was far from a trivial matter. Would she observe local custom and cover her hair? Would she cause offence if she didn’t? Would it cast a pall over a crucial milestone in her husband’s presidency?
Mrs Trump boarded Air Force One in Washington in a close-fitting, tomato-red leather skirt and sky-high stiletto heels. She emerged in Riyadh with her hair flowing free and wearing what appeared to be a full-length, long-sleeved black dress but was in fact a wide-legged jumpsuit, with a wide gold belt cinching in her waist — an outfit that succeeded on many levels, said The National’s fashion expert and stylist, Hafsa Lodi.
“It was clearly an ode to the abaya, in black, covering her to the wrist and ankles with a modest keyhole opening at the neckline. It’s a very classy, dignified outfit and the gold belt gives it a glamorous touch. This is the sort of outfit that many Middle Eastern women would wear.”
Lodi also praised the black and white full-length dress chosen by the president’s daughter, Ivanka, who is accompanying her father on his nine-day trip, which also takes in Israel, Rome, Brussels and the G7 summit in Sicily. But the Trump women are not only respecting local custom, they are also tapping into a current trend, Lodi added.
“Modesty in dress is currently very much on trend, especially in the West. It’s been very much in evidence on the catwalk, so the decision to wear high-necked, full-length outfits may not be as calculated as we think. The fact is that modest dressing is in style,” she said.
Neither Melania nor Ivanka wore head coverings, but then neither did British prime minister Theresa May nor German chancellor Angela Merkel on their recent visits to Riyadh. Nor did previous first ladies Laura Bush or Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton in 2012, when she was president Obama’s secretary of state. .
Mrs Obama’s decision to not cover her hair during the Obamas’ 2015 visit sparked some backlash on Saudi social media — and disapproval from Donald Trump. He tweeted, “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia. But they were insulted. We have enuf[sic] enemies.”
The US state department’s website advises women that they risk possible detention in Saudi Arabia or a confrontation with the country’s morality police, the mutawwa, if they do not conform and cover their heads. However, the Saudi foreign ministry was widely quoted this week as saying the country did not demand adherence to any specific dress regulations.
* additional reporting by Agence France-Presse