Reclaiming My Garments

(art by Katherine Dunn)
Two weeks ago I wore my garments for the first time in a year. And I haven’t taken them off since.

Last year, it was a simple decision to stop wearing them – one that caused me very little guilt. I took them off last year at about this time when it became clear that maternity and/or oversized garments were just not going to work with my pregnant body.

Add to that living in Southern California during the summer with no AC in my home and I didn’t even hesitate. As it was, even without my garments, I was forced to drive around in my car for hours, blasting my AC at myself since being inside my home was so intolerable. I can’t even imagine how much sicker I would have felt with garments on.

And then, finally, after baby came I began breast feeding, and it was easy to justify not wearing them. My orthodox and stalwart LDS sister in law had even whispered to me once when I was pregnant to not even try to wear a garment top while breast feeding. I took her at her word and never looked back.

Taking off the garments was surprisingly easy for me, but deciding to put the garments back on has been more complicated… I had given myself permission to take this break from them because of my physical condition. And because I wanted some time and space to figure out my relationship with the Church. I had been wearing my garments out of habit for years, and I wanted to make sure that the next time I put them on, it would mean something to me. It would symbolize something. A renewed dedication perhaps. A newfound loyalty maybe.

After spending the last few months evaluating my future in this Church, I have decided that I can, with peace of mind, reclaim my garments as a symbol of my faith and dedication and loyalty.

Not loyalty towards Church policies about women that I find troubling. But instead loyalty towards a religion that helped form the best, most ethical, kindest man I have ever known. To a religion that has gifted me with this man for eternity.

Not loyalty towards an overwhelmingly patriarchal Church structure that I desperately plead with God to change. But towards a Savior who exemplified radical egalitarianism as he worked to lift up and empower all human beings, regardless of race, class, age, or gender. To a Savior whose ideals of kindness and service I often see reflected in the faces of my fellow ward members.

Not loyalty towards the angst-inducing portrayal of women in the temple. But instead towards Heavenly Parents who I now believe cry when I cry, suffer over the same things that I suffer over, and hope for change as I hope for change.

Wearing my garments again wasn’t a difficult adjustment physically. I had never struggled too much with them before – I kind of liked the fact that women were wearing ‘garments of the priesthood’ just as men were. And I had always allowed myself to tug and pull and adjust as I saw fit. So putting them back on again was kind of like returning to a comfortable old sweater – not all that attractive or exciting, but warm, reassuring, and familiar.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I doubt I’ll ever be the type to cling fastidiously to my garments. If I have some clean ones, great. If not, I’ll shrug my shoulders and find other underwear.

But from now on, I’m glad to know that I can happily put them on as a symbol of the ideals I most treasure.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women’s Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. Rusty says:

    This is great Caroline. I’m glad feel okay about wearing them again. One of the things that has increased my respect and love for garments are the ideas encapsulated in these two posts at BCC and Millennial Star (especially the M* one). To me they are perhaps the most beautiful symbol we have in our church.

  2. AmyB says:

    Caroline, I like seeing your thought process and ways in which you come to terms with some of the difficult issues in the church. I love that you’ve found a way to reclaim the garments, and that you’ve imbued them with something meaningful that works for you.

    I have a difficult time claiming my own meaning in the patriarchal system, and I have a strong pull to remove myself from it. I often wonder what the difference is for those who find a way to stay and make it work, while others feel the need to exit.

  3. Caroline says:

    Rusty, thanks for those links.

    AmyB,
    I candidly admit that my decision to stay is somewhat pragmatic. My husband is devout, and it would break his heart if I left. Also, perhaps I have a sense that I can help this organization become less patriarchal by speaking up, writing letters/emails, etc. about women’s issues. Also, I think part of my staying is because I want to be there for other LDS women who have similar questions. I also am able to stay because I have not rejected the possibility that Joseph Smith did restore Christ’s Church. I don’t have a rock solid testimony of it, but I also don’t disbelieve it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Without judging anybody else, part of the reason I continue to wear my garments is that I do not want to be found “mocking” my covenants with God.

  5. chronicler says:

    Interesting that you mention the heat and the largess of pregnancy that assisted in your choices. Flip side was me. In the late 70s and early 80s, we owned a small honda civic without air conditioning, lived near palm springs and every other year for six years I was pregnant and driving 40 minutes to work one way in the summer time. I wore my garments all the time. I was moist all the time, the heat was almost intolerable. I completely understand your decision. I didn’t make the same one and the benefit that I share is that being so hot and so sweaty all the time resulted in those three pregnancies without stretch marks. Not a one!

    I can’t imagine nursing a child with them at all.

    I’m glad you shared your story Caroline. Thanks.

  6. Alex says:

    interesting post and comments.

    From personal conversations my impression is that many church members, both male and female, and of all ranges of orthodoxy, struggle with the garments. A big deal is made about them in the temple, but outside of that space they’re rarely discussed or mentioned, in my experience. This makes it more difficult to understand why exactly we wear them.

    I (as a male) personally struggle wearing them, though I’m a devout and practicing LDS. Some of my reasons are:

    –they’re just plain ugly, the women’s more so than the man’s. Seeing my wife in them is a real turn-off. Why can’t someone (preferably a woman with training in clothing design) design a new line of aesthetically appealing garments? My wife’s biker-shorts-style garments are frankly hideous. I don’t understand why wearing ugly undergarments, ones designed for certain body shapes and with very limited alternative designs/fabrics, has to be part of our religion. I’d feel better about being LDS if I enjoyed wearing the sacred garment.

    –another reason is (sorry to be graphic) that male garments (aside from the stuffy cotton ones) provide practically no absorption in the front. Which means the pee keeps trickling down your leg after taking a leak. Which is gross and uncomfortable.

    I’ll leave it at that for now, though there are other issues as well.

  7. Ana says:

    Caroline, I’m glad you’re in a comfortable place right now. I like a lot of the things you said about what you are accepting and hoping for. Here’s to another California summer …

  8. madhousewife says:

    I’ve always found garments perfectly comfortable, except in the summer, when they are Misery Itself.

    I’ve nursed four children while wearing garments–the nursing variety, which don’t fit right and are ugly (like the regular kind), but I’ve only found it mildly troublesome (yet another layer to go through before one can feed a crying baby). Perhaps my standards of comfort are low.

    Or perhaps I am the ideal body type the garment designers have in mind. 🙂

    Even though I don’t consider wearing the garment to be a huge trial (except when it’s really, really hot, of course), I realized recently that if I were to leave the church, I would not be remotely interested in drinking coffee or any alcoholic beverage, or really even seeing any R-rated movies–but I would be relieved to not worry about wearing garments. It would be wonderful to wear whatever clothes I wanted. Especially during the summer. But I digress. Right now the garment is a symbol of my own commitment–not even to the church, necessarily, but to seeking God’s will. I’ve chosen to live with a religion that frequently perplexes me. I’m not always sure what I believe, but this is my way of saying to God, “Look, I’m trying. Can you see me trying here?” It’s oddly comforting.

  9. a random John says:

    Alex,

    I saw this via Trash Calls. You need to visit a urologist. Get your prostate checked along with the rest of the plumbing. Seriously. Let us know how is goes.

  10. Caroline says:

    Chronicler,
    That sounds like absolute hell. Palms Springs, no AC. Ugh. But no stretch marks is a nice silver lining. (wish I could say the same for myself.)

    Alex,
    Yes, I’ve heard a lot of discussions on how garments could be designed better. What you describe reminds me of some problems we women face at certain times of the month, when most of us have to wear regular underwear under our garments.

    Thanks, Ana. 🙂

    Madhousewife,
    I like the way you describe your decision to wear garments – as your way of saying to God that you’re doing your best. Very cool. I think a part of me also thinks of it as a small good will gesture towards God.

  11. Vada says:

    Caroline,

    Thanks for this post. It’s nice to see your decision making process in choosing to wear the garment again.

    I personally wear garments through most of my pregnancies (except about the last month) and while I’m nursing. I wear chemise tops for nursing, and either pull the bottom up or the neckline down (depending on what type of shirt I’m wearing). It’s not the greatest, but it works. Also, the only place I got stretch marks with either baby was where the top of my garment bottoms were (where the waist cuts in way too much). I’m a little bitter about that. But if I didn’t wear garments while pregnant or nursing I would only have been wearing them 3 months out of the last 3 years.

    A large part of the reason I keep wearing them is that I’m pretty sure if I gave myself an excuse not to wear them I’d never be able to make myself do so again. And like you, my husband is very orthodox, and it would kill him for me to just not wear them. So I keep doing it mostly for his sake. And because I’m not really ready to give up that temple recommend, even if I have major problems with the endowment.

    Though really my problem with wearing garments doesn’t stem from my problems with the temple. It’s because they’re the most uncomfortable clothing I’ve ever worn. The chemise tops aren’t bad, but I’ve tried 4 or 5 sizes in 4 or 5 different fabrics for the bottoms, and they’re all awful. I really, really hate them. And I agree with Alex that they’re just not at all cute.

    But enough of my garment rant. I’m glad you found your way back to wearing them, and a way of making it mean something (rather than just out of habit, which is where I’m at). I wish I had confidence that if I stopped wearing them I would be able to follow a similar path back.

  12. bigbrownhouse says:

    Being hot, damp and sweaty during pregnancy has nothing to do with stretch marks. I’m living proof. Either you’re genetically inclined to get them or you’re not.

  13. Paula says:

    Hmm Alex, I’m no expert in this, but it does seem to me that you need to see a urologist, and just ask about that.

    We did have a discussion about garments here earlier, which mentioned a lot of the problems,
    http://tinyurl.com/36mcgh

    Also feministmormonhousewives.org tried to have a letter writing campaign a year or so ago about what changes would be good, but I don’t know if anything came of it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Well I believe that how/when a person wears their garments is between them and that entity they are making the covenant. Like with many aspects of mormon culture there’s a tendency for members to insist that there is only one very intense and serious way things should be done. That this is they way they do it and it’s their job to set you straight. But this is a human weakness not a church weakness. You should continue to be present to set an example of acceptence and love of all people in their good bad and ugly. Diversity is essential in the church. Both the diversity you offer and the diversity of the “loud and proud”. Just try to grin and bear it. p.s. If it matters… I wear my garments daily.

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