Deciding what to wear to an evening wedding is challenging enough; imagine how daunting it is to choose proper attire for a papal audience.
Even the most seasoned president, prime minister and ambassador must struggle with deciphering proper protocol. But women, whether they are government leaders or the first lady, have to grapple with a lot more when they meet the pope.
While the men can usually do no wrong donning a dark suit and tie, women are more vulnerable to sartorial snafus.
The most famous fashion failure among first ladies was in December 1989 when Raisa Gorbachev showed up wearing "a bright red dress," as more than one veteran Vatican reporter recalled.
She must have been aware of the uproar her red skirt and jacket with a black collar had caused because when she and her husband, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, returned 11 months later, her outfit was considerably toned down.
For her second visit, Gorbachev wore a bright crimson blouse and bow knotted tightly under her chin that peeked out from under a gray wool jacket and long skirt.
To avoid any gaffes, dignitaries preparing for a papal audience usually contact their embassy to the Vatican for some pointers.
The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has a Vatican protocol primer that walks people through what is considered the proper dress code.
For men: black or dark suit, aka business attire, with a dark tie.
For women: black skirt or dress that reaches at least the knees, black top with mid- to long-sleeves, no pants, simple jewelry, dark closed-toe shoes, and a black hat or veil is optional.
Some blogs and news stories assumed U.S. first lady Michelle Obama wore a long black veil to her July 10 audience with the pope because she was required to do so.
But the Vatican does not mandate that women cover their heads. In fact, the pontifical household said there is no formal or specific dress protocol at all.
The household's regent, Msgr. Paolo De Nicolo, told Catholic News Service that as long as a person's outfit is "decent" and "in good taste," anything goes. . . . (continue reading)