The Mormon Underwear Monopoly

Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Body | 69 comments

“When you go home, can I have your garments?” a local woman asked my senior companion.

It was common for American missionaries serving in my mission to throw away their garments and buy all new ones when they went home. Life in this tropical third world country was hard on garments—the hot, sticky climate invoked constant perspiration as we biked or walked for miles daily. (It would also be accurate to say that garments were hard on us, in all that heat.) There were no washing machines.  We hired local women to clean the garments; their rigorous hand-washing methods were pretty effective at cleaning the soiled garments but also stretched them until they were even more shapeless than how they began.

This local woman knew that American missionaries liked to buy new garments when they went home. She was also a returned missionary. But she had not thrown her missionary garments away. A few years after her mission, she was still wearing them. Unlike the American missionaries, she would never leave this tropical land for a place with cooler weather and washing machines with gentle cycles.

And unlike the American missionaries, she could not afford to replace her garments.

She had considered sewing her own, she explained, but that was against Church rules. So she chose to wear my companion’s disgusting, used underwear. She was nowhere near my companion’s size, by the way, but what else could she do?

Retro Garments Ad

Retro Garments Ad

Wearing garments is mandatory among endowed church members and enforced through regular temple recommend interviews, which invoke additional rules for garment-wearing that go well beyond the scripted temple ceremonies.  Reference 1  Until at least the 1940’s, a variety of entrepreneurs made and sold garments for the Mormon market. Reference 2  By 1977, however, the Church had forbidden the sale of garments by any retailer other than Beehive Clothing, the underwear-producing arm of the church itself. Back then, individuals were still allowed to make their own garments, but under current policy, this is also forbidden. Reference 3 Reference 4

These Church-made rules grant the Church a monopoly on Mormon undergarments.

By definition, monopoly is characterized by an absence of competition, which often results in high prices and inferior products. Reference 5

High Prices

My Underwear Budget

I do not believe that Beehive Clothing engages in price-fixing, a common sin of monopolistic firms.  However, garments are more expensive than underwear bought in the competitive market, at least in part due to the fact that they are made from much more fabric.  I do not consider the additional fabric to be added value, since most women I know, including me, would be much more comfortable if our underwear were less bulky.

One set of women’s 100% cotton, knee-length, two piece  garments retails for $6.65, while a 10-pack of Fruit-of-the-Loom cotton women’s briefs from K-mart costs $12.99.

Garments are ineffective at accomplishing one of the most basic functions of modern female underwear—they do not hold a sanitary napkin in place, especially the kind with wings.  As a result, most women who wear garments will need to buy that pack of Fruit-of-the-Looms in addition to their Beehive Clothing underwear purchase, increasing their personal cost.

Legged underwear was swell back when women handled menstruation like this...

Legged underwear was swell back when women handled menstruation like this…

sanitary napkin

…but modern women use these. Legless panties are required so that the wings can be folded around the underwear and attached.

During an online discussion of this issue, I brought up my Dominican friend’s plight and other commenters immediately dismissed it, confident that the church would provide free garments to such needy members.  I am interested to know if this assumption is correct.  There is no mention of any avenues to obtain free garments or reduced price garments at the Beehive Clothing website or in the section about garments in Church Handbook of Instruction Volume 2.  Even if such assistance exists, how would a woman find out about it?

Poor Customer Service

As a monopoly, it is not necessary for the Church to maintain consumer-friendly business practices in order to retain its customers. At Beehive Clothing stores, customers are not allowed to try on or even handle the merchandise before they buy it.  All garments are hidden in sealed plastic packaging.  No sample merchandise is available for consumers to view before they buy.  Rather, customers must make decisions based on small, square fabric samples and cartoonish line drawings.

Customers are instructed to purchase garments, sight unseen, and then open the packaging at home to try them on.  Then, they may return unopened packages to the store, but are forced to retain the pair they opened even if it doesn’t fit. I have been pregnant four times in the past decade, so my size has fluctuated frequently.  Likewise, Beehive Clothing makes frequent changes to the sizing of its garments. Reference 6 Almost every time I make a purchase at Beehive Clothing, my first blind guess is wrong and I am forced to buy at least one set of garments that does not fit.

The online Beehive Clothing Store Q and A offers this helpful tidbit:

Q. Where should I go with questions about garments and other sacred clothing?

A. All questions about wearing sacred clothing should be directed to your local priesthood leader or to a member of a temple presidency.

Did you catch that?  If a woman has questions about underwear from Beehive Clothing, Beehive Clothing directs her to ask a male person who does not sell female underwear.

This is not the kind of company I would choose to do business with, if I had a choice.

Inferior Products

Monopolies tend to offer inferior products because innovation is unnecessary; their customers have nowhere else to go. A recent poll of 250 endowed, believing Mormon women found that very few of them were happy with Beehive Clothing products—97% reported issues with the fit of their garments.  The full article, and its comments, explains the problems many Mormon women experience with garment design:

Female Garments: The Underwear Business

Unlike increased costs and poor customer service, I suspect that inhibiting design innovation is actually an intended consequence of the Beehive Clothing sole supplier mandate. What if a private company offered garment tops with spaghetti straps instead of cap sleeves? Or bottoms shaped like panties instead of bike shorts? People like me would never buy the bulky Beehive Clothing models again!

Would that be a bad thing?

I do not believe it is ethical for the Church to mandate that members purchase underwear from a monopoly supplier, which happens to be the church itself.  However, as a healthy, employed, American woman, I can afford the extra cost of monopoly-supplied underwear and I can tolerate the discomfort of wearing it.  So I comply.

Still, I hope for a day when the Church will value the plight of the poor, the comfort of members in tropical lands and personal privacy over conformity and modesty enforcement.  Maybe someday, the Church could not only end its ethically questionable underwear monopoly but get out of the underwear business altogether.  Perhaps the Church could offer iron-ons for people to discretely place inside clothing of their own choice, like this innovative company:

Make Your Garments

Or maybe church members could be trusted to remember our temple covenants without actually wearing physical reminders on our bodies.

When I was a missionary, new to garment-wearing and suffering in tropical heat, one of my companions offered me reason to hope.  “Garments aren’t eternal,” she said, reminding me that the resurrected Moroni wasn’t wearing garments when he appeared to Joseph Smith. (Joseph Smith History 1:31).

That same companion had to pick the lace off of her garment tops because they were irritating the boils on her body caused by  layering garments under her clothing in tropical heat.

(Sigh.)

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69 Comments

  1. I’m surprised and rather saddened that the wearing of such sacred undergarments has been broken down & compared to worldly attire… There is a Relief Society President in every ward who should be able to assist with questions, besides the website indicating to “talk to a Priesthood holder or member of the Temple Presidency”.
    I would think that Beehive producing these garments also protects the church from having to shield Temple garments from the world who would gladly cast our pearls before swine. The church only covers for the cost of sewing them and does not make profit. Everything else is a matter of faith. It seems as though this article does more harm than good. Wearing of garments is between the wearer and the Lord, and I dont believe should be thrown out there the way this article does turning it into something ‘casual’.
    I’m more saddened by the tone of posts coming out of the exponent now and am shocked at how more and more regardless how slight, many seem to be pointing in the direction of apostasy.

    At the end of the day, we strive to meet the Lords standard. Not to bring the Lords standard down to meet that of the world.

    • Garments in extreme heat do cause problems. The military garments used to have the marking embroidered on, but then soldiers deployed to hot places we having to wear 2 shirts. one garment and the other to hide the markings. Since it was in a hot place the outer jacket was often not worn. This caused problems with over heating and now the markings are silk screened on the inside. But still the fabric is subpar for hot climates. I think that people who have not had to wear garments in very hot places while having to spend alot of time outside doing things or working (not just from air conditioned car to air conditioned house etc) have no idea the physical problems wearing garments in such heat can create. If the missionary was getting boils that is a safety issue as it is a opportunity for infection, which if infected with an infection such as MRSA (getting much more common in the community) could be life threatening.

      • I totally agree, No One. I served a mission in Hong Kong and had a lot of more minor issues, but I did know missionaries who also suffered from boils. Garments are terribly uncomfortable.

        And maybe you’re right that the church doesn’t make a profit on the garments (though how can you know for sure, since the church doesn’t disclose ANY of its financial reports?) but why can’t members make their own, like before? It’s because they micromanage every part of our lives, down to the very underwear we wear. I can tell you that I remember the covenants I made in the Temple just fine without wearing special underwear. In fact, I never associate my underwear with my relationship to God. When I consider the garments, I just think of how uncomfortable, unhealthy (yeast infections, UTI’s, anyone?) they are.

      • Yeah, the last thing they remind me of is God. UTIs, yeast infections, overheating, rashes, bunching fabric, wardrobe malfunctions, difficulty breastfeeding, negative body image due to poor fit and unflattering design, etc. :-/

    • I am sorry you did not like the article, Rachel. I disagree with you that suggesting ways to address problems is pointing in the direction of apostasy, but I do agree with you that the church has not invoked its underwear monopoly to make a profit (I even mentioned that in the post). I also agree that talking to the Relief Society president about garment issues seems like a better option for many women than talking to a male person. Unfortunately, church policy requires that all garments alterations be approved by a man, that only men discuss women’s garment wearing with them as part of temple recommend interviews, and, as I pointed out in the post, according to church policy, only men are supposed to answer questions about garments. I think it would be wonderful if church policy were changed to formally support including Relief Society presidents or other women in these duties.

      • Actually, a temple matron answers question for sisters about their garments. I doesn’t have to be a MALE member of the temple presidency.

    • That’s one of the fastest apostasy accusation times I’ve ever seen. Bravo, Rachel!

    • I find it completely laughable that a ward Relief Society president would be able to do anything other than answer the questions with information that we already know.

      Q: “What about when I’m on my period?” A: “Use a second set of underwear.”
      Q: “What about when I have heat rash?” A: “Switch fabrics.”

      Maybe I’m just feeling completely cynical and powerless, and I’m of the opinion that my voice rarely counts in ANYTHING. The idea that as a woman I could go to my RS president and say, “I break out into hives every night when I wear my garments,” and she could then go to the Stake RS president, and in turn the SRSP could go to the area authority (back into men’s territory), or to the General RS president and then in turn for there to actually be any change. Yeah, not in my lifetime.

      And, as far as casting our pearls before swine, well. . . I think Google has already done that for us. In a the era of information, what makes the garment sacred is how we hold it in our heart, not how well we keep it from the public.

    • Besides all of the other comments, Rachel, I feel impressed to point out the obvious which is that not all relief society presidents are endowed, so can’t be of help. I personally spoke to a bishop with a flat-chested wife about the chafing I had with the ill-placed breast seam. He responded with, “that doesn’t bother my wife. You don’t have a real problem.”

  2. Garments can and should be redesigned.

    We know they can be because they used to be to the wrists and ankles and no longer are.

    They should be because when wearers are compelled to modify them, they become less relevant. That helps no one.

  3. I too wish for a change to iron on marks. During WWII, marks were permitted to be cut out of garments and sewn into military clothing. The marks were deemed significant, not the clothing. I’ve read a letter where the 1st presidency once considered only wearing the garment while attending the temple. And, I’ve seen many changes to the garment in my life. It’s time for more.

    • Or silkscreen the marks and tags! I suggest this every time I go in.

  4. What about the newer mesh garments? They certainly don’t address every concern you brought up, but do they at least alleviate some of the problems of wearing garments in a tropical climate?

    • In my experience, no. As I mention below, I took mesh garments with me when I went to India for 3 months. My skin did not react well to the heat + damp + mesh. I ended up with welts and rashes almost everywhere the garments touched me.

    • Mesh are the only kind I wear, and sometimes in high heat+sweating, the garment bottoms have actually bonded onto my pants. It’s literally like trying to pull velcro apart getting the pants and garments separated, and will leave the garments with small holes or weird pulls in the fabric. The mesh garment bottoms have also adhered the wings of pads onto my underwear so tightly that the pad adhesive won’t come off the underwear no matter how much goo gone/stain remover/other fixes I use. Thing is, I really don’t even sweat all that much and in other ways love the mesh much more than the other fabric options.

  5. I’ve been unhappy with the quality of cotton and cotton/poly garments since I started wearing them in 1993. The materials and manufacturing are sub-par, and the fit is terrible. I’m happier with the Carinessa line, but there are still major problems with the fiber content and fit. Opening up the market for competition would eventually resolve many of these issues. Please?

  6. Well done, April. I agree with several of your points – most especially the idea that the garment markings and associated covenants should be made in our hearts and that’s what really matters.

    For me though, even with what feels like a firm and life-long commitment to Christ and to His doctrine (and to principles associated with garment markings) I personally need physical reminders. I really do use them as a reminder or reference for where I am with things like balancing physical and spiritual nourishment, having an eye single to God’s glory, acknowledging Christ as my savior, and channeling creative energy in meaningful, healthy ways. I like my garments. With a few caveats. ..

    My complaints run in the direction of sizing, but not to the point of deep distress, which distress is certainly valid for many people. My daughter served a mission in Fiji and her mission stories are similar to yours. As for me, I’m 5′ 9″ and the markings – EVERY ONE – even with tall sizes – hit 2-4 inches above the intended body point. (this doesn’t bode well for me in older age, things are already oriented a bit low on my long torso) Anyway, it bugs the hell out of me sometimes, but I’ve made it work.

    I’m uncomfortable with the iron-on temple garment marking business for several reasons I won’t get into here. Although I hope the church will eventually adopt this practice because it makes a lot of sense and solves multiple problems.

    Wouldn’t it be great if church members had several options from which to choose, like: Traditional garments; iron-on markings; garment patterns to make your own. I’m a seamstress and making mine or my husband’s garments would feel like an act of worship, something I would enjoy and meditate over . . except for the curse words when I have to un-pick things, but you know what I mean.

    Thanks again for a great post. Lots to think about here.

    • File the above in “Melody left another ridiculously long comment on a blog.” I should make a covenant to edit myself better.

      • I give you a pass for a long comment because I wrote such a long post.

    • Yes, while I love the idea of iron-on markings, I haven’t actually bought any because I do obey current church rules and only buy from Beehive Clothing. But I hope with some attention to the ethical implications of requiring members to buy underwear though a monopoly that eventually these rules will change.

  7. Garments, in their current design, are not functional for women. During menstruation, they do not hold feminine products in place. During pregnancy, the elastic digs into sensitive belly skin and the extra layers of fabric tax an already taxed and easily overheated body. During breastfeeding, the extra layers make accessing the breast more difficult. Nursing garments are extremely poorly constructed. They should be patterned after nursing camisoles for easy access without bunches of fabric migrating up and out of even very modest necklines. The lace on all the styles tends to be quite irritating–scratching and digging into skin.

    Even for everyday wear while not menstruating, gestating, or lactating, garments restrict airflow, which increases the incidence of infection. I had recurrent infections that were triggered by garments (even 100% cotton). My doctor recommended a switch, but I resisted because of the teachings to always wear garments. I was so miserable that I finally did switch to 100% cotton bikini briefs. Within a short amount of time, I healed. Did I talk to my bishop? Absolutely not. He has no personal experience with female issues surrounding garments and I don’t discuss my private medical business with men (other than my husband). I talked to my Heavenly Parents. I felt 100% peaceful about choosing an alternative symbol (which I wear as jewelry) and switching to regular underwear. Considering that I never covenanted to wear garments in the first place, I interpret the instruction to wear them throughout my life with great flexibility (e.g. for Sundays or for temple worship).

    • Moonshadow,
      I LOVE your idea to wear your reminders as a piece of jewelry! Also to wear the cloth garments for Sundays and temple attendance.
      I had a friend who had reoccurring yeast infections. Her doctor told her to go without undergarment bottoms and she talked to her temple pres. and bishop and they said it was ok. Brave woman to talk to them about it. I can see the line forming now if all the women who needed to change something went to the temple pres. They would prob. have to add 4 hours a day to their work schedule! Ha! I would just say, do what makes sense and let god be the judge.

      • Oh, I realize the jewelry wouldn’t be private, but I guess if people could choose their own symbols to remind them, no one would have to know what your private reminder was.

      • Exactly. What I chose holds personal meaning for me. :)

  8. The hot weather problems are still an issue. I spent 3 months in India in 2010 doing research for my thesis. I was there from June to August and, like the obedient woman I was, packed my mesh garments and no worldly panties.

    It was hot. And wet, because I was there during monsoon. I ended up with rashes, welts, and boils over my back, stomach, and legs. I tried medicated powders, lotions, anything I could get my hands on, to no avail. I ended up having to go without them in order to heal.

    I only took the lightest, most breathable garments I could find. They did not work for the climate. Not even close. My TBM friends and family were scandalized that I was walking around without garments on, saying snide things like, “Well, if you don’t want the Lord’s protection…”

    I have sensitive skin – REALLY sensitive skin. I’m allergic to dyes and perfumes and many other things. I get hives at the drop of a hat. Yes, garments are awkward and uncomfortable, but a much larger issue for me is my health. My skin has been reacting more and more since my time in India – now if any dampness gets trapped against my skin, I break out. Heaven forfend I get caught in a drizzle or dare to sweat. I’ve had to greatly reduce when, where, and how often I wear the garment to accommodate for these issues.

    I need more options. I would love to be allowed to make my own so that I could pick fabrics that won’t cause such reactions. Better still, I would love the freedom to iron-on or stitch the symbols into my own clothes. I don’t need anyone or anything policing my modesty, but I do need a way to wear the symbols in such a way that my health is not compromised. Under the current policies, that doesn’t seem possible.

    • Kalliope, I also have very sensitive skin and multiple allergy issues. I spent a small fortune trying to find a fabric and style of garment that would work for me. I even special ordered all cotton ones with a self-fabric binding (no lace) and covered elastic, but I still had trouble with them. I have an ailment called dermagraphia, in which any consistent rubbing causes welts. I finally quit wearing garments entirely almost two years ago. After 39 years of suffering, my skin has finally healed and I am able to sleep through the night.

  9. I didn’t like garments when I first got them because of how very differently they’re sized from modern fashions. I’m in my early 20s, and buying a garment that is tight enough to be comfortable for me means wearing a neckline that is nigh impossible to cover. And forget about wearing many knits. The marks and fabric bunches (which are a huge deal since my small bust doesn’t fill anything but the chemise style) add another layer of frustration.
    But I never knew how much I could loathe garments until I started nursing. The nursing tops are a joke (do those huge swaths of fabric work for busty women?). I just started nursing again and have been reminded of all those resentful feelings I got last time. Nursing and dressing a nursing body are hard enough for me. Sigh.
    As an aside, I mentioned my feelings to my mom, mentioning the above and more, and specifically made the point that I hated not feeling pretty under my clothes because garments look so old-fashioned and UGLY. She was shocked, because she remembers seeing garments for the first time and thinking that they were the most beautiful things. So I can understand how someone might feel blindsided by a negative assesment of any aspect of garments.
    I, for one, covenanted to wear the things, not to love the poorly-adapted physical manifestation of my covenants.

    • Actually, unlike other covenants you make in the temple, wearing garments is at best an *implied* covenant (in other words, not really a covenant at all): you never explicitly promise or agree wear them (you’re told you “must” wear them, but no specific guidelines, à la 24/7 are mentioned).

      • Actually you’re not even told you “must” wear them. You’re “instructed” to “wear them throughout your life.” That’s it. Very open to interpretation.

  10. Garments should be reduced to a logo made up of the symbols embroidered onto any commomaly available undergarment. The church could offer the service. Something similar is done for the military.

  11. I am one of those women who actually really loves wearing garments. I also happen to live in Canada. With the exception of about two weeks of the year, the garments and the heat don’t give me much cause for concern.

    Which is to say, relocate church headquarters to Samoa and I think we’d see some different styles and options coming out.

    Also, pads. For goodness sake, yes, I can use my Diva cup or tampons while on my period but especially postpartum, I need to use a pad and there is absolutely no way to use a pad easily wearing the current garment model. And the breastfeeding garments are awful. Just *awful.* Half the time, the elasticated cups just fall apart and I’m left with breasts that are completely uncovered because they keep slipping down. So I switched to carinessa tops which, again, are great because I live in Canada. If I lived anywhere hotter, it would be terribly uncomfortable.

    But, who am I to take my concerns to? My bishop. Awesome. I love how talking about my underwear with a middle-aged man doesn’t set off any warning bells but heaven help me if a man from the ward gives me a ride home alone.

    • I always wore a small panty under my garments to hold my pads. Who’s to know and who’s to care. God certainly doesn’t care. Won’t work for some I know, but will work for others. Also at times, only wore panties. No ones business. When asked do you wear them always, just answer, whenever I should.

  12. How much could really be done to change womens’ garment bottoms, aside from the fit (which seems atrocious to me, and I don’t gotta wear em)? You can’t really get rid of the legs, as one of the symbols is at the knee (or thereabouts, again, fit). I understand (as best I can from personal, second-hand experience) the difficulties in doing the whole wing thing, but what else works? For my wife, it ends up doing a second “more regular” underwear to hold the first in place, which I understand is a bother and problematic for many climes.

    Evidently I have a little discomfort on the subject, cause I really don’t know how to talk about it, but that’s probably ok. Could be enough to agree there’s a problem that needs (ad)dressing, but I like having something approaching answers just in case I’m asked.

    • Here’s the thing about the knee mark: it doesn’t really hit ANYONE at the knee. If it did, we wouldn’t be able to wear Bermuda shorts or pencil skirts, either. And women’s body proportions are wildly variable. I’m 5’8″, but I have short legs. My garments extend below my knees, which is uncomfortable to say the least. My best friend is 5’10″ with a short torso and long legs. Her garments only extend halfway down her thigh.

      Furthermore, since I have a long torso, my navel actually hits my diaphragm – six inches above my actual navel. If the powers that be want the marks to actually align with our bodies, we should be allowed to make them ourselves if we want to.

      • I don’t remember if the wording is “above” or “over,” but all my markings tend to hit me about an inch above/over wherever they are supposed to be. I figure, they are still above/over. I think if they are shorter and hit mid-thigh, the marking is still above/over the knee. So I don’t think garments need to actually pass the knee crease to fit instructions.

    • I hate spandex shorts/spanx, but I think if the garments were a little more form-fitting like that so that the crotch part actually fit next to the body, and then had a detached crotch liner that was something kind of like this http://www.amazon.com/MUSTAVE-Protective-Waterproof-Period-Large/dp/B0050KG34C (second picture on the sidebar), it would be possible to wear pads with garments. And could still keep the length.

    • If the markings were available as iron-ons, I think you could discretely iron them on to the inside of your outerwear (pants, shorts and skirts), and then wear normal, modern underwear.

      Also, there is the option of not being quite so literal about having marks at certain designated parts of the body. Consider recent changes to the initiatory ordinance itself, which used to be more literal about anointing specific parts of the body until a few years ago, but today administers the same blessings with less literalism.

  13. I have terrible issues with fit. As a petite 5′ woman, my carinessa bottoms have the same inseam length as my husbands garments. Theses are the “petite” ones that aren’t even sold anymore. The waist reaches my bra line if fully pulled up. They are falling apart, but there is no “petite” option to replace them. I’ve also has medical issues with garments. During my last pregnancy, I suffered through a 3 month long yeast infection that wouldn’t respond to any treatment and only resolved once I took a break from wearing garment bottoms. I felt compelled to wear them, but have suffered greatly due to ill fit and lack of breathabity.

  14. A letter I wrote to Beehive Clothing (updated with a few revisions):

    I’ve been wearing garments for almost 15 years now and have often been frustrated with the fit and sizing. After so many years, I thought I’d finally share my feedback.

    First off, the women’s bottoms are way, way too long in the crotch (called the “rise”). I’m 5’7″ but have to order petites just to make the crotch fit better…and still, even with the petites, the waistband lands at least two inches above my belly button. With the regular length garments, the waistband is 3-4″ above my belly button and almost touches my bra.

    This overly long rise poses real problems during menstruation. Without a tight, narrow crotch to hold pads snugly in place, the menstrual blood inevitably leaks all over the place. I often have to change my garments several times a day because the blood goes everywhere but on the pad (which hangs several inches below my crotch). Some have suggested wearing regular briefs under my garment bottoms during my period, but I cannot do this due to recurrent vaginal infections.

    Second, during the 15 years I’ve been endowed, the garments have changed length significantly. With the most recent changes, I can’t wear any of my knee-length skirts and dresses anymore, because the garment legs are so much longer. They don’t show if I’m standing straight and not moving, but as soon as I walk, sit down, or ride my bike, they show. I’ve noticed the same issue with relatives; almost all the women now have garments peeking out under their shorts or skirts, even though they’re wearing the same clothing they’ve always owned. I don’t have money–and I don’t think it’s morally or ethically right–to require church members to purchase entire new wardrobes every time the garments change.

    The garment tops are always coming untucked, leaving me constantly fiddling with layers poking out under my shirt. Unless I wear a bra over the garment top, the shoulders constantly slip off and leave the sleeves poking out through the armpits of my short-sleeved shirts. I’d prefer to wear my bra underneath, since it fits and supports much better that way, but I have to leave it on top to keep everything anchored in place.

    Another issue I have with garments are the nursing tops. They are very inconvenient and almost impossible to use with the way they’re designed. I’ve nursed 4 children now and ended up using a chemise-style top with a stretchy elastic neck and just pulled the neck all the way down when I needed to nurse. But even this is hard, since I’m lifting one or two layers of shirts, then undoing my bra flap in the opposite direction, then undoing my garment neck in another direction. I have grave reservations about requiring women in the church to wear undergarments that make nursing more difficult. We face enough challenges as it is to breastfeed our children. Please be aware that garments make it more difficult to nurse our babies.

    Maternity garments: can’t stand them. Most women I know can not have anything tight constricting their pregnant belly. Maternity bottoms need to be cut to go under, not over, the belly. I always ended up wearing regular garment bottoms & tops during my 4 pregnancies. Needless to say, they never fit well as my belly expanded and I had to push the waistband lower and lower. This led to a crotch that was halfway down my legs towards the end of pregnancy.

    Humid climates and garments: I’ve lived almost my whole life in the humid Midwest, where summers are almost always 90-95% humidity. Many of the garment designers or church leaders might be unaware of how humidity affects garments, since the church is based in a fairly arid desert climate. But in a humid climate, this means that in the summer (and large parts of the spring and fall), I am almost constantly dripping wet because of wearing garments–all day long. This is a serious issue, especially for people with skin sensitivities or who are already prone to medical issues such as yeast infections.

    I am also concerned about the environmental impact of having to launder garments. They nearly double the amount of laundry my husband and I produce. I would prefer to conserve water and energy. In addition, the additional laundry poses an enormous burden on members living in less developed countries, where access to washing machines is expensive and sometimes nonexistent.

    The biggest issue I have with garments, though, is one more serious than clothing styles or fit: since I’ve been wearing garments, I’ve been dealing with yeast infections and, most recently, a persistent bacterial infection that will not go away despite multiple treatments. I never had any of these issues before I was endowed. I’ve looked into this issue and found that the combination of synthetic fabrics, close fit, and lack of circulation–all an issue with any tight-fitting knee-length undergarment–is the likely culprit. The only type of bottom I can wear without getting infections are simple cotton briefs.

    For all these reasons, I’d like to strongly suggest that the church consider moving out of the underwear business. I simply cannot find a good fit with the existing styles, and the fabrics are very uncomfortable and unforgiving in my climate. They have also contributed to medical issues and made it near to impossible to wear the bottoms anymore.

    Please, let church leaders know about these issues with fit and design. I’d love to see garments move to a system where church members purchase their own underwear, appropriate to their climate and their body type and their medical/hygiene needs, and then order some kind of silk screen kit or iron-on marks to turn their underwear into garments. I’m aware that this used to be how things were done earlier in the church, where members would purchase store-made underwear and then have the marks cut or sewn into commercially produced underclothing.

    I’ve worn my garments night and day for 15 years. I am an active member of the church. I sincerely hope that someone will acknowledge these concerns, since the current garment design negatively affects my day-to-day life in many ways.

  15. Like, Amy, I enjoy wearing my garments and don’t mind them. My ideal combination in the summer are mesh tops and drilux bottoms (mesh bottoms are the worst, as mentioned above). Of course, I’ve never been pregnant or lactating, so my feelings might change in the future.

    Also, I was endowed last year in April. And after a year of trying to make garments and periods work, I recently gave up on wearing garment bottoms during my period. I still wear the garment top, but I just wear regular underwear until my period is over. I’ve never felt better.

    Still, I would wholeheartedly support a redesign and addition of more fabrics.

  16. Does it bother no one else that our most sacredly held covenants are represented by *underwear*, with all its attendant scatalogical, um, issues? Despite best efforts and proper care, they end up stained with feces, blood, discharge…. I honestly can’t think of a LESS reverent way to honor promises made in the temple.

    I understand that, as an underlayer of clothing, they’re meant to be private — just between the wearer and the Lord, not something showy to loudly declare one’s righteousness. But let’s be real: They’re not that, either. The marks show through; the lines *definitely* show through; Mormons check each other out to see who is endowed (and if not, why not??) and non-Mormons are left to wonder what the outline of a shirt underneath your shirt (or the dingy white sleeves poking out from your short sleeves) might be all about. They invite notice and judgment from all sides. They are not private.

    I have worn garments every day and night (except for a couple of weeks after the birth of one of my children because I just couldn’t) since I received my endowment in 2001. I appreciate the symbolism of the marks and the instruction to keep them as a daily reminder of my covenants. I simply don’t think the current system is worth keeping — even if they fit every body beautifully (ha ha ha ha ha) and the prices were reasonable and the fabrics were universally loved, I think we would be better off with a different way to remember and honor our temple covenants.

    • Yes.

    • Double yes!

    • Very good point! As underwear they also become mundane and every day instead of being set apart as something special and rare.

      The pressure to conform to current standards about when to wear them (pretty much all the time) removes individuality or personal meaning from the choice. The current method of wearing garments differs from the past both in frequency (only in the temple) and style (to the wrists and ankles). Things could change drastically if the leaders take action.

      I really don’t think God cares about our underwear choices.

    • Quintuple yes!

    • RHC, you said it in your first paragraph. It’s a little like worshipping in the restroom…uh, what else can one say? I stopped wearing mine when I began being really hot, and uncomfortable, no doubt due to a warm summer, dead swamp cooler, and several years’ serious problems with my psoriasis. I realized in the ensuing months that it was my heart and soul that helped me remember the covenants I made, not which underwear I wore. It didn’t hurt that the psoriasis got better–it had been in a, uh, difficult place. Since I couldn’t afford to keep trying different garments until, hopefully, I hit the garment jackpot, I did the only thing I could…go to what worked before I was endowed. I have no trouble remembering that fact of my life. What we think is so secret, is actually quite well-known. If we wore a CTR necklace, or something similar to the piece of jewelry as was mentioned, it would fill the same purpose. And most people would wear it more unobtrusively than they do their garments…which would need no adjusting, either.

  17. I think this post and the comments (mostly) are an excellent treatment of the issues surrounding the meaning of and logistics of wearing garments. It helps me that most of the commenters are trying to be faithful and at the same time honest about their struggle to honor their temple covenants and practice. I don’t think any of you are on the road to apostasy. It is so much more helpful to me to hear/read a forthright discussion of the realities of our practices than it is to hear the non-answers that are given from official sources that don’t speak to any of these difficulties, and frankly seem to be code for “go away and don’t ask for accommodations.”

    I also agree with RHC that the system is a mess and could be much better.

  18. Thank you for this well researched post April. I think there needs to be more discussion on the topic.

    I also have had many issues with garments. I broke out in heat rashes all through my pregnancy with them until I just stopped wearing them in the third trimester. I also find it odd that the cut is low in the bustline and I end up showing cleavage sometime…but around the shoulders it’s so far in that while my cleavage can show, my shoulder blades can’t! Real bizarre.

    But I do want to mention one good thing about Beehive Clothing. It pays a decent wage and employs many members who may not be able to find work elsewhere. I have some family members employed by Beehive, and while they aren’t rich, the pay is better than other low skill jobs and it helps them support their families. If Beehive clothing was no more, many families would suffer.

  19. I am a currently serving bishop. You should all be aware that bishops are not authorized to send any letters up the chain of authority. Stake presidents are authorized to do that. So if you talk with your bishop he and you would also need to convince the stake president before anything could happen. I think most bishops would think that health concerns trump garment wearing but since you can’t be sure maybe it’s best to pray and make your own decision and just say the right things in the TR interview. I am worried about helping victims, in dealing with child molesters, people that beat their children, people in the middle of divorces, people who are bereaved, people on the edge of homelessness. I am not interested in controlling women’s underwear.

    • Thank you. Posts like this one make me want to run far, far away from everything temple-related, precisely because I’m terrified of being micromanaged in the name of God. Any voice that tells me that my leaders do NOT intend to control my actions is a voice I am grateful for.

    • And those are the concerns every member and leader of the church should be focused on. But garments – silly as they seem by comparison – are given so much weight as a measure of worthiness. To me they are more of a distraction and embarrassment than anything else. Without them, less focus on body image and less time shopping to fit them, both difficult things for a petite younger woman.

  20. Stellar analysis, April! I think you’re spot on in tracing many different problems to the monopoly problem. Like you said, break the monopoly and it’s likely that creative solutions could be come up with for many or most of the issues you’ve raised.

  21. Great comments!

    Until our church teachings and culture embrace a more mature understanding of modesty (i.e. clothing to the knee and over the shoulder do not equal modesty), there will be no significant changes to garments. Because, you know, if the church were to make garment tops to be sleeveless or (heaven forbid!) spaghetti strap, then of course, we women would immediately turn into sluts showing off our shoulders all the time.

    As a small chested woman, I deplore the booby gathering (even in the smallest top sizes, the gathering would fit a C cup woman). But if I wear the chamise tops w/ no gathering, then I have to deal with the shoulders that go 3 inches past my shoulder. What’s a gal to do??

  22. I am so glad you wrote this and even happier that the post and the comments are in the spirit of faith and support.

    I remember buying my g’s over 25 years ago in preparation for my mission. Finding the little card enclosed in my mission card, going to the distribution center, I felt like I was a grown-up, a true adult in the eyes of the Lord. He trusted me to make sacred covenants. I enjoyed wearing the garments, they were comfortable, allowed my body to breathe, and I noticed them everyday and was reminded of the temple and being a spiritual adult.

    A few years after my mission, I married in the temple, and several years later, had kids. Then all hell broke loose, at least as far as my body was concerned. Maternity garments did not fit, and didn’t allow nursing. I had to lift the whole thing–my garment top, my bra, and my shirt up from the bottom in order that my kid could nurse. My kid would nurse with several layers of clothing bunched up on his/her head.

    After the births of my children, my menstrual flow could no longer be contained by a tampon alone, I needed a pad also during the heaviest times, and discovered that garment bottoms simply could not hold a pad snugly against my body. During those heavy times, I ditched the garment bottoms altogether and used gentile underwear with a pad, but wore the garment top. (When I wear gentile undies, that is the time my husband finds me sexiest because he can actually see my body. Note to church leadership–if you are concerned with the members’ birth rate, make garments sexy.)

    A few years ago, I went online to order garments (we live about a day away from any church distribution center). I was told that the size and style I ordered was manufactured in South America and would take about 6 months to arrive. Mine was not an unusual request, I think it was mesh, petite length, with a common hip and waist size. It never arrived, I cancelled the order and ended up driving to a distribution center during a visit with family.

    At the distribution center, I had no idea what size I needed, so I bought package, tried it on, discovered they did not fit, bought another package, discovered it did not fit, and the clerk who was ringing up my order realized I was wasting money, then took me to a closet, where she just ripped open packages, held the garments up to my body until we found something that seemed to fit. I left with the poor-fitting garments and the new ones. I don’t know how much I spent, but I wondered about financially poor people. When I first bought garments 25 years ago, the distribution centers had sample unmarked garments you could try on to determine proper fit. I wish that practice could be resumed.

    Now I am at the point in my spirituality where I still like wearing my garments, but, you know, I can remember my covenants just fine without them. I don’t need a physical reminder of modesty–I think I am grown-up enough to know when shorts are too short for me, I don’t need to gauge my spirituality by the length of my underwear.

    It would be nice if church leadership would listen to women’s concerns and change the garments so they reflect women’s needs and adulthood, but I seriously don’t see that happening.

  23. Of all the issues facing women in the church this seems to be the easiest to address. Pull together a broad cross-section of sisters from across the world and listen to their suggestions. Then task a team of designers to create a variety of options for women. For example, how about a slip with the appropriate marking, or a camisole marked appropriately (inside or outside), or a nightgown? I’m a guy who knows nothing about fashion and I can see better ideas. Surely the women of the church can design an appropriate solution that provides options while maintaining the sacred nature of the garment. I see no reason for the church to resist such an effort.

  24. Today in Sacrament Meeting a speaker said one way to contribute to temple work, if we are unable to attend ourselves, is to donate to a program that funds one temple trip for financially needy individuals. He said the program also funds 7 pairs of garments.

    This is the first I’ve heard of such a program. And I thought: how is someone whose financial need is great enough to require assistance in getting to the temple supposed to then fund a lifetime of garment wearing? So April, your story bears out that concern.

    For me, simply buying garments is difficult. Supposedly one can purchase them online, but when I tried years ago it wouldn’t accept my membership record number, so no dice. Our temple’s garment store keeps very inconvenient hours for me, a working mom whose weeknights and weekends are precious and packed, and daytimes are impossible. The one recent Saturday I had time to drive out there turned out to be Conference weekend. It was closed. Result: garments so old I hope I’m never seen dead or alive in them. And I’m “lucky” enough to live only 45 minutes from a temple. What do people who live great distances from a temple do? How is a poor person in an less developed country who lives hundreds of miles from a temple and does not shop online supposed to replace their old garments?

    • I only live two hours from our nearest distribution center. Not convenient, not impossible. But I was only allowed to go through the temple less than a week before my mission, which meant I bought a variety of fabrics and cuts, and then just left. So for 18 months I had three days a week that I loved my garmies, three days I was okay, and two that I hated. It wasn’t great. I recently ordered online and they took probably a month to process.

      In some ways I like garments. The bottoms are fairly comfortable for me. I wish I felt attractive in them, instead of like I’m a sausage in its casing.

  25. If you study about the rites in ancient temples, you will see much of the symbolism that the garment represents and how it all ties back in to Christ and his atonement. I personally love my garments and feel naked when I have times such as at the dr’s office when I don’t have them on.

    I will say, however, that I do find it obnoxious that you can no longer try on a pair of unmarked garments at a Beehive clothing center. I was able to try some on before I got married 34 years ago but when my daughtersgot married in the temple over the past few years, it was a total hassle to buy a few different types of fabrics and pray that they would fit. Thankfully, one had a friend who was her exact same size who let her try on a pair before we had to purchase them. The different fabrics all fit differently, and if you have to buy a pair before you even know if they fit or not, it becomes a waste of money.

  26. I have a lot of sympathy with this issue, although I don’t personally have too much of a problem – but looking at what does fit, got to say there is no incentive for me to loose weight! I’m short 5 foot nothing, on the cuddly side, and large busted, small shoulders, high waist. So, standard length carrinessa bottoms (small size), and tall (to accommodate bust – as recommended in the fit guidelines for garments I read once upon a time – but yes it doesn’t cover cleavage) small size chemise (no irritating bust seams) tops work well for a close smooth fit that stays tucked in. But I can see that were I to be my ideal weight I’ be hard-pressed to find a close enough fit. I’m guessing my small shoulders help in that the overhang on the chemise is long enough not to get rucked up, and I like wearing my bra on top which keeps it in place, and my high waist means I don’t have problems others encounter with the waist position of the bottoms. Also, it’s a British climate. Summer can be humid, but not near as bad as Japan, so it’s tolerable. But it did take me a while to find that combination, and it doesn’t help when they start mucking around with sizing afterwards.
    There is a lower rise carrinessa bottom – I think it’s the B version. Last time I was at a distribution centre I bought A and B versions to compare. Size for size the B version has a wider waist as well as lower though.

  27. I really appreciated this post and candid discussion. Thanks April and everyone else.

    One other thing that might be worth researching is Beehive Clothing’s manufacturing practices. I have heard anecdotally that, like most church-owned enterprises, employees are not particularly well-compensated. I trust that the Church is not inflating its prices and the cost of garments reflects fair labor practices, but I wouldn’t have as much of a problem paying more for garments if I knew it was generously employing others.

  28. tattoos. We should all get tattoo, some mark on our bodies that only those closest to us ever see, that encapsulates something about our relationship to the divine.

    I did, and it was a really important step in all sorts of healing.

    A 60-something feminist I had dinner with after the Ordain Women action told me that when she told her bishop that she was going to get a tattoo, he sighed heavily and said, “I don’t doubt it.” But he didn’t chastise her or try to talk her out of it.

  29. Prices do vary from country to country – I stocked up in Samoa last year as they were less than half the price of Hawaii or japan.

  30. First time reader for Exponent. Lots of wonderful stuff. Got caught up on this garment thread. I am a 6th generation Mormon. Grew up in the Mormon Culture. Sometimes it is difficult to determine what is culture and what is doctrine. One of the saddest days of my life was when I was asked to take off my garments. Through poor choices I lost the privilege to wear them. I remember lovingly packing them away in my cedar chest. I went naked out into the world and was buffeted by Satan. It was hell. It took 10 years before I was able to put them on again. I don’t care if they are ugly. I don’t care if they don’t fit. I don’t care if my body is uncomfortable wearing them. I don’t ever want to be without them again. I know from personal experience they are a “protection to me,” against Satan. And he does destroy and ruin lives. If a piece of cloth will keep him off my back, I will bear it and wear it like a champ, until I don’t need them any more. If my Prophet asks me to do other equally questionable things, I will do it. It’s a matter of Obedience. Well, maybe we won’t wear garments in the millenium. I am pretty sure they don’t wear garments in the Celestial Kingdom…..something to look forward to. Quit whinning.

    • By reading the entire op and most of the comments, it is apparent that there are legitimate concerns of varying degree with the present day garments. Your experience is your experience, just as mine and all of the other commentators experiences are their own. To say “quit whining” is to summarily dismiss each one. You cannot live my experiences just as I cannot live yours. Kindness is just as important as “a matter of obedience”.

    • I’m disappointed by the dismissiveness in this comment. Some women truly experience harmful health conditions. Some people cannot afford them. For others, it can lead to dehydration and overheating in some areas of the world. Some of the women here talked about how they received boils from wearing garments (see the Bible for boils being “blessing.” Never happened…). I also enjoy wearing the garment but again, I’m in a life circumstance that makes that fairly easy (cool climate, I have means to purchase them, etc.). There are many, many people on this planet who do not wear the garment who do not “fall into the hands of Satan.” It seems that this physical reminder was a good one for you, but it is not necessary for everyone and for some, it actually hurts their relationship with Deity.

      In the end, this one-size-fits-all approach to the Gospel is detrimental to any discussion about what we are here on this planet to do: to learn and to improve. The Lord works with each of us on an individual basis and the reality is that the garment might not be what every person needs.

      Revel in your found path and learn to show compassion for others. It’s the very thing that Jesus taught us to do.

    • I know from personal experience they are a “protection to me,” against Satan.

      if that’s true, how did you mess up enough to lose the right to wear them? One could easily argue that they actually did very little to protect you.

      It’s a matter of Obedience.

      Why weren’t you more obedient earlier? Why didn’t the garments help you be obedient the first time around?

      Maybe not everyone has your weakness, Fot Fot Bu Bu Woman. Maybe others could live without losing their temple recommend even if they weren’t required to garments. Did you ever think of that?

  31. Was at the mini-distribution center in Kenya. Garment prices much lower, though a limited selection on hand.

  32. I recently had a knee replaced, and had to make the change from the one-piece garments I normally wear, to the 2-piece garments. I began to have issues with itching, the familiar prelude to a vaginal or urinary tract infection. One of my friends suggested I use baby wipes to clean myself instead of toilet paper. I use Western Family, unscented & it has completely eliminated the problem for me, but I am in my 60′s, so post-menopausal. Still, it was a very simple fix for those experiencing the itchy/infection issues.

  33. What are human’s basic needs: food, water, shelter, and clothing. Everyone needs clothing. Everyone needs underwear. If you want to make some serious chips, create a clothing product that millions will buy over and over in the course of their lifetime and will convince their children to buy, multiplying the revenue as fast as children are born or as fast as you can convince other people to buy. Not only will millions buy it today, but those same people will ALSO do your marketing and recruiting to get other people to buy them.

    Here is some mental math, 15 million LDS members. Assume 3 children per family, average, then 6 million of the 15 million are adults. If only half of all adult members are endowed, then 3 million members need garments this year. Assume each of them need 10 pair of garments, and garments cost about 8$ for both top and bottom (this is actually true, I just looked it up on my LDS account).

    So, that’s 80$ for ten pair times 3 million people = 240 million dollars…

    Now imagine that those garments last about 5 years, on average (this has been my experience). If you are projecting growth for the church, due mostly to increased children, and in 5 years you have 5% growth, meaning that the resulting endowed membership would be 3.15 million . And, inflation goes up, making a pair of garments 10$, then you now earn 315 million dollars.

    Now, not all of that is on a 5 year cycle for everyone, so let’s average it out across 10 years to represent 2 buying cycles. 240 + 315 million = 555 million divided by 10 years = 55.5 million a year! … Pretty sick paper, son.

    By the way, that cheddar is steady and you can count on it as long as you are profitable and can keep convincing those same people to contribute to the 10% LDS slush fund (tithing).

    Why not skip the money-making and just live in compliance with your life goals, morals, and reason. I realize that the human mind is wired to get pleasure from compliance of an outside code-of-conduct, but really? Feel good about yourself because you believe in you, not because you believe in some magical garment and the associated ‘blessings’, which are not tangible and have no real bearing or impact on real living. Business is business.

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