What We Wear

We’ve all watched President Trump and the First Lady make their inaugural trip abroad. No matter your political opinions about him, the impression he makes abroad is important for our country and our objectives on the world stage. But many media outlets have focused more on the clothes worn by our First Lady than on the politics of foreign affairs. Most everyone has reported on her stylish beauty, but two stops in particular generated a lot of discussion and even controversy.

During their visit to Saudi Arabia, Mrs. Trump did not cover her hair with a headscarf. In many Muslim countries, women cover their hair (or even their entire bodies) when in public. This is not required of non-Muslim women in Saudi Arabia, so Mrs. Trump was following the accepted custom. On their visit to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis, Mrs. Trump and Ivanka both wore black dresses and hats with veils. This is the accepted custom for women when meeting the Pope. The contrast between what they wore and why they wore it in these two countries generated a lot of chatter on social media.

Some saw Mrs. Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia as somehow disrespectful since she didn’t wear a headscarf. Some saw her visit with the Pope as an affront to women’s rights and freedoms because she chose to wear a veil. In truth, neither of these viewpoints reflect reality. As a non-Muslim, she’s not bound by Muslim tradition. The Saudis didn’t expect her to wear a headscarf. On the other hand, women are expected to cover their hair when meeting with the Pope. It has nothing to do with oppressing women. This has been customary for many decades and reflects the tradition of women veiling in Church as a sign of respect and humility. Remember Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s funeral? Today, many Catholic women are again choosing to wear veils in Mass. But the reasons for women covering themselves in Muslim countries and in Catholic Churches come from two very different understandings of the feminine.  

Muslim culture is protective of women from the eyes of men to whom the woman is not related. She covers herself to remain unobserved by other men. She may not have a choice in wearing a covering. To leave her home with being properly veiled would be unacceptable..  

In Catholic culture, a woman may choose to wear a veil out of respect for the Lord. In our tradition, beautiful things like the tabernacle which contains the Blessed Sacrament, the sacred vessels used in Mass, and the altar are all covered. Like Moses, who covered his face in the presence of God, a woman may choose to cover her beauty in the presence of the Great Beauty of God in the Mass. We veil, not from the eyes of men, but for the glory of God. It’s an external sign of our desire to humble ourselves before Him. 

So the Trump ladies respected their hosts both in Saudi Arabia and the Vatican by the way they dressed. There’s no controversy in either case. Just as it was proper for the President to cover his head when he prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. We live in a casual culture where folks don’t pay much attention to what they wear anymore, even what they wear to Church. Seeing our first family observe the customs and traditions of different religions reminds us that what we wear matters and has more meaning than simple clothing. Maybe we’ll think twice when we dress for Church this weekend and leave the shorts and tank tops at home. That would be both respectful and refreshing.  

“When you honor and value yourself, you are honoring God because you are His creation: a beautiful reflection of Him.”



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jay Toups
    May 28, 2017 @ 21:50:54

    Judy, excellent post. It highlights the differences between our Catholic faith, Islam and the blindness of the secular media. As always, I enjoy your blog.


  2. Brian H. Gill
    May 29, 2017 @ 17:47:50

    I don’t expect media “chatter,” social or otherwise, to make sense: except as an expression of personal or cultural preference.

    It’s nice to read informed commentary. Maybe that’ll catch on. 😉


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