The New York Times recently featured an article about Mormon women’s garments, featuring interviews with brave and smart Latter-day Saint women. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.
But the New York Times got one thing wrong; it described the requirement for most adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) to wear garments as an “exhortation.” The garment wearing rule is actually a strictly enforced mandate, with frequent compliance checks and devastating consequences for people who disobey.
Beginning with her first time attending the LDS temple endowment ceremony, each Latter-day Saint woman (and man) must meet one-on-one with a male (never female) interviewer at least once every other year. The male interviewer reads a 2-paragraph statement about garment-wearing rules and asks the woman if she is in compliance. (You heard that right. A male church leader asks each adult woman in his congregation, one by one, what underwear she wears.) If she skips the interview or admits that she is not in compliance, she is denied access to LDS temples. She may not participate in sacred rites that are deemed necessary for salvation within Mormon theology. She is banned from the temple weddings of her friends and family.
To the 600+ New York Times commenters who are wondering why Mormon women would wear garments day and night even if the practice is too unhealthy and uncomfortable to feel spiritually enriching: that’s why.
Church officials have been responsive. Many of the garment changes advocated by me and other Latter-day Saint women have been implemented. The woman’s garment of today is a thousand times better then what they made our grandmothers wear.
And yet, it is still terrible.
I don’t believe that the brethren who lead our church want women to endure garment-induced urinary tract infections, yeast infections, heat strokes and hot flashes; or that they want pregnancy, lactation and menopause to be even more uncomfortable for women than they already are naturally; or that they like the idea of women bleeding all over their garments when they menstruate. It’s not that male church leaders don’t care about female comfort and hygiene, it’s just that church officials have other priorities for the garment that they care about more. It’s more important to the brethren that the garment cover a woman’s legs than that a woman can attach a menstrual pad to her underwear. If making great women’s underwear was actually the primary goal of Church garment designers, Latter-day Saint women wouldn’t still be coping with underpants that cannot accommodate a winged menstrual pad more than half a century after the menstrual belt disappeared from the market.
Garments will never be great women’s underwear.
The 24/7 garment-wearing mandate began at a time when long underwear was in fashion and church members were gathering together to live in a low-humidity location. As talented and well-intended as Church garment designers are, they will never find a style or fabric that works for every person in every climate across the world to wear every day and every night in any weather under every appropriate outerwear on every body with every health condition. They certainly can’t pull it off while adhering to the modesty preferences of church officials.
So here is what I propose: let’s stop requiring women (and men) to wear garments as daily underwear.
In 2019, the LDS Church made some steps in the right direction. They eliminated the phrase “wear the garment day and night” from the temple interview and a rule about wearing garments even while doing activities like yard work. That wording was particularly overreaching. (You have to wear our mandated long underwear even when you are alone on your own property doing messy chores in the hot sun! You have to wear it even when you are asleep in your own bed!)
Let’s take it a step further. Let’s cut the question from the interview altogether. Let church members decide for themselves when and where they will wear the garment, without threat of punishment. Those who find it spiritually enriching to wear the garment as underwear all day every day may continue to do so. Others may find it more conducive to their health, climate or culture to only wear the garment at church or the temple. Let them be.