A new online survey on “Mormon underwear,” officially known as temple garments, may give women a chance to be heard in an institution where men make the final decisions. The two-piece garments, worn every day by faithful Mormons beneath their clothing, represent covenants made by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For years, Mormon women have complained -- privately -- about the fit, fabric choices and quality of the garments. The new survey conducted by their church gives them hope that meaningful changes can be made to their most intimate apparel.
“Women have expressed changes they would want for a long time now,” Kristy Money, a lifelong church member who lives in Athens, Georgia, told International Business Times. “[The survey] was very needed, and [I] am very glad the church released it.” Money, a 30-year-old mother of two, has already filled out the survey. She has long struggled with the garments -- not from a spiritual standpoint but from a physical one.
Although temple garments are considered a private matter not openly discussed, church members are asked on a yearly basis whether they have been wearing them. Their answer influences whether they will remain in “good standing,” a term used to describe members who follow Mormon codes allowing them to visit a temple, one of the most sacred places for Mormons. To be in “good standing” comes from an interview process conducted by the local bishop, who asks members about their faith, if they have been tithing and whether they have been following church doctrine, which includes wearing temple garments.
And that's where the problem can occur for many Mormon women.
While the garments are offered in maternity sizes, Money said they rubbed against her belly during both of her pregnancies. And she knows of other women who have had Caesarean-section deliveries whose surgery scars get irritated by the garments.
In Money’s case, the problem was exacerbated when she nursed. “It was an Easter egg hunt to find your breast,” Money said, describing how she would have to navigate through multiple layers of clothing to breast-feed, even with the garment made for nursing women.
Temple-garment bottoms, resembling long shorts, also present a host of problems for women. Some choose to wear their traditional underwear over the garments; others decide to wear them underneath. In either case, the layers can lead to health complications.
“On a personal note, I can say how frustrating infections were, caused by the garment, to the extent that my [obstetrician/gynecologist] told me not wear the bottom-half garment to prevent infections,” Money said. She has heard of some postpartum women abandoning the bottom garments altogether until their symptoms went away.
Talking to a male church leader about those issues is, for many females, a nonstarter, or at least very embarassing.
“The thought of telling my male local leader about my health problems and personal underwear to explain myself when they asked me if I wear them night and day made me really uncomfortable,” Money said, referring to the stipulation that requires members to wear the garments at all times except while swimming and showering, at the gym or during sex.
Money added that most women are given instructions on how to wear the garments by a woman when they are “endowed,” in ceremonies that take place when a woman is 19 years old, before she goes on a mission trip or after she is married. Men are endowed at 18. During the ceremony, the temple garments are given. A woman is instructed how to wear them by another woman. If she has any questions later on, however, she is directed to a church leader (i.e., a man).
“It’s uncomfortable for women to ask men about their underwear,” Money said.
Mormon women have also taken issue with the garments’ sizes and styles. Some women who wear their bras under the garments have problems with the sewn-on markings located on the chest. Depending on their top, these markings can show through, which defeats the garment’s purpose of being sacred and modest.
Mormon blogger Jana Riess said she has heard complaints from petite women who cannot find a bottom size small enough to fit them. “One tiny woman I know has to roll her waistbands over at least once, and sometimes twice, just to get them to approximate where her actual waist is located,” Riess wrote for Religion News.
On Reddit, Mormon women expressed similar concerns. One woman said she suggested incorporating bust sizes into the sizes for the women’s tops, as well as creating different fits for women who have apple, pear or ruler-shaped bodies. She added that using stain-resistant material, hiding seams and lighter fabrics would be helpful, too. Another Reddit user suggested having tops made of thick straps instead of short sleeves.
“I know they would probably never do that, but why not? You’d have to wear a sleeve to cover a thick strap, and I always had problems with the sleeves slipping off my shoulders,” Reddit user AvaDeer wrote.
Temple garments have been changed before. In the 1800s, they were one-piece garments that went down to women’s wrists and ankles. In the early 1900s, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body in the church, reportedly discussed making temple garments optional outside the temple. According to a second-hand account of a discussion with Apostle Melvin J. Ballard, the grandfather of current Apostle M. Russell Ballard, the idea came from Ballard’s wife, who said the garments were uncomfortable.
Over time, temple garments have been modernized to fit needs of modern society. Today, they are offered in cotton, a cotton-polyester blend, dry silk and mesh. They are offered in a variety of styles, but they only come in white, except for members of the military who can purchase them in green. The garments can be bought online or at distribution centers located next to most Mormon temples. They are made by the Beehive Manufacturing Co., based in American Fork, Utah.
For Money, the temple-garment survey is part of a larger issue about women’s equality within the church.
“In our doctrine, there’s amazing capacity for change and innovation,” she said, referring to the church’s belief in continuous revelation -- meaning there is a living prophet who can continue to receive word from God. Two of the most notable instances involve the practice of polygamy and allowing African-American men to be ordained to the priesthood. The former was ended officially in 1890; the latter happened in 1978.
“The church can be on forefront for women’s issues,” Money said. “The garment is just a subset of that.”