But Obama is far from the first prominent foreign woman to skip the headscarf during a visit to Saudi Arabia. Here are a few more:
Madeleine Albright in 1999
Laura Bush in 2007
Condoleezza Rice in 2007
Nancy Pelosi in 2007
Angela Merkel in 2010
Hillary Clinton in 2012
While it's true that Saudi women are expected to cover their heads in the country, female foreigners are held to different standards. As long as they wear loose clothes that cover their arms and legs, they are unlikely to be reprimanded, and in some parts of the country the sight of a foreign woman without a headscarf is not unusual. Because of that, Michelle Obama may not have expected the extraordinary reaction to her dress (other women in her party, including former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, also did not wear a headscarf).
Others, however, are pretty adamant that they won't change their dress. During one trip to Saudi Arabia as secretary of state, Rice was given what she described as a "full-length, beautifully embroidered abaya" by the Saudi crown prince. Rice has not been seen wearing the Islamic garment, which loosely covers the entire body, including the top of the head. She later described the abaya as a "sign of oppression."