I used to work for the Church. Now, before you start imagining anything, it wasn't a very important job. I worked retail at one of the Church's now-defunct Distribution Centers; our purpose was to sell items produced by the Corporation of the Presiding Bishopric. We sold Sunday School manuals, scripture sets, Church videos and audio media, hymnals, pictures, and a host of other publications. We also sold garments.
The garment is an article of clothing given to endowed members of the Church upon their first time through the Temple rituals. The garment is produced by another branch of the CPB, Beehive Clothing, and was sold through Distribution Services.
Working a job with garments really gave me a new perspective on them and how to treat them. Before working at the Center, I enjoyed using the full name of the garment, the Garments of the Holy Priesthood, whenever it seemed appropriate. However, after only a few months of stocking garments, selling garments, dealing with irate customers trying to return used underwear, and (most fun of all) throwing dozens upon dozens of boxes of garments around the back room (go long!) it became difficult to mentally treat them with such a separate respect. My respect for garments became far more personal; they were part of the purpose of my employment. Though inanimate pieces of clothing, we had a relationship, an understanding between us. Using the full title became like calling a close friend by their family name: it felt wrong. Today, every time I hear someone using the full title I can't help but smile: I suppose it's good that they have respect for something their view as sacred, but for them the garments are still something "other" and "distinct" from their lives. Which isn't always a bad thing: many people view the garment as a constant reminder of promises they've made with God in the Temple. Perhaps too much familiarity with the garment would diminish their effectiveness as such a reminder. I don't know: I can only judge myself.
However, for an article of clothing that is related to the Temple, there is a certain paradox surrounding the garment. Most aspects of the Temple are easy to not talk about, because they stay in the Temple. Special clothing, ritual language, and other aspects don't ever have to leave the Temple, and thus are relatively easy to avoid in conversation outside. But this is not so with the garment: you bring it with you from the Temple and devout members wear it daily. It becomes part of daily life, and yet it still carries with it the sense that conversation about it should be avoided. Thus, it becomes the subject of quiet conversations between members. Their presence is openly acknowledged and simultaneously avoided.
One of the benefits of working at the Center where the garments are so central to our operations, is that this wall of paradoxical avoidance/interest quickly breaks down. And it's not just a question of employee culture: we receive training on how sell the garments, how to talk about the garments with customers, how to answer questions, and so forth. For us, avoiding the topic simply isn't possible: the topic of garments is part of our purpose as a Center.
There were a number of interesting things I learned while working at the Center. Because everyone seems to always have the same questions, let me approach it in the form of a question-answer session.
Can I try the garments on before hand? Can I see what the garments look like?
No, you can't try them on beforehand. The garments are a type of underwear and you cannot try them on without purchasing them first. Nobody else wants to wear used underwear. For this reason it's very difficult to return opened packages of garments. If you have garments you don't want/need, get in touch with the local Bishop or Relief Society president; perhaps someone in your ward has a need. Deseret Industries will also refuse to accept underwear of any kind, so don't bother.
As for seeing the garments beforehand, it used to be the practice of Distribution Services to have a garment without the marks that people could look at. They took this away a long time ago. My personal opinion: if you're really that curious and haven't been through yet, Google will probably be your friend. I'm not saying that I support the existence of such images, but the LDS Church can't do anything about them. The garment may be sacred, but it ceased to be secret a long time ago.
The sizing for women seems messed up. Why?
Obviously if you can't try them on beforehand, you need to rely on the sizing information. Men have sizes that are correlated to standard American belt sizes and shirt sizes, so for us it's easy.
Women, unfortunately, have it much worse. The sizing chart was updated at least three times while I was employed at Distribution. There are a number of problems in assembling the sizing charts.
One of the biggest problems, apart from the typical problems for women's clothing (dealing with waist and hips, various bust sizes, etc) is that there exists a very clear generational difference in how the garment is worn. Older members of the Church enjoy wearing garments a bit more on the larger size of the sizing charts. They like having loose, flowing garments. Younger members enjoy having a tighter fit for their garments and tend to wear a bit smaller on the sizing charts. The problem comes to the forefront when you realize that Beehive Clothing, who runs the surveys to determine correct sizing, favors the older generation style, so the sizing chart tends to run very large when members purchase according to what the charts tell them to buy.
Until Beehive Clothing begins to acknowledge more the younger style of wearing a tighter fit (which is beginning to happen, especially with the popularity of stretchy fabrics), the sizing chart will remain problematic.
Do they need to go down to my knees?
This is a very common question. Both men and women have asked me, very concerned, if there is something wrong with them because their garments don't come down to their knees. In trying to be respectful to the subject matter, I'll just say that one of the marks on the garment is called the "knee mark". The plain fact is that the short style of garments in use today are not designed to extend down to the actual knee. Those who are truly concerned could wear the ankle-length garments that the Church produces, but those are meant for cold weather and would probably be unbearable during the non-winter parts of the year. The simple answer is: no, the garment does not need to extend to your actual knee.
A similar issue that came up often for us employees was the issue of tall people purchasing the shorter "petite" cut. Every few months we had to be told again that members of the Church are allowed to purchase whichever garments they want to purchase. If a tall individual was purchasing petites, even if for his or her own use, we were not the gatekeepers of the garments and there was nothing wrong with such an individual purchasing and wearing their garments. Still, we'd occasionally get some of our older employees telling customers that they "shouldn't" buy the smaller garment bottoms, and eventually Salt Lake would tell us again that everyone is allowed to purchase and wear what they want.
The only rule is that members are not allowed to physically alter the garments by hemming or trimming them.
I don't like the crew necks because they peek up over my collar, but I don't like the scoop-style necklines. Do I have to hide my garments?
This is a question that is more often asked by women, but some men are concerned about it, as well. It comes from the popular belief that in order to treat the garment with respect and to not defile it that the garment must be protected and hidden from the world. Yet, male endowed members quite often can be seen with some of the garment showing above their collar.
The better answer can be found in the new military garments, however. As the American military has spent the past several years in active duty in the Middle East and Afghanistan, it became very burdensome for LDS servicemen and women to have to wear an additional layer of clothing. In the mid-2000's, a new garment arrived in the store. Tan now, instead of white, to match the BDUs of the American Army, the garment tops did not have any marks sewn into them, but instead had the marks silkscreened on the inside of the fabric. When worn, the garment tops appeared the same as any other military T-shirt and could be worn without anything else on top. In fact, that's all that the new military top is: a military T-shirt. The only difference is the marks that have been applied inside. In fact, other branches of the armed forces, as well as police and fire, can send in their official uniform T-shirts to have them silk-screened (this can be especially useful for the Navy uniform, which has a V-neck that no garments are produced in and often was difficult to wear with garments).
The end result is that endowed military now have garment tops that they can wear publicly without anything covering them up. Only the marks are obscured by their placement on the inside (this also marks a change from the marks on other garments which are made by tearing the fabric and then sewing the tears back up).
So the long and short of it is: if the military can honorably wear their garments completely in the open as long as the marks are obscured, why would there be a change for civilian garments as long as their identity as garments is similarly difficult to detect? For this reason, Distribution Center employees have received explicit instructions to never counsel anyone about the propriety or impropriety of wearing the garment as a "layer" in clothing styles.
I think I'd like one of the styles carried for the other gender. Can I wear garments that are not my gender?
Yes, you can. There are no rules that garments marketed towards one gender can only be worn by that gender.
I like one fabric as a bottom, but I like another fabric as a top. Can I purchase and wear different kinds together?
There is no requirement that garments must be purchased or worn together. Purchase the fabrics you want to purchase and feel free to mix and match to find the fabric combination that best suits you.
My garments are starting to turn yellow. I tried bleaching them, but the problem just got worse. How non-white can they be before I have to replace them?
The color of the garment is actually not important. Chances are if this issue (yellowing garments) has occurred to you, it's because the artificial fibers have been dyed white (they're naturally yellow) and bleaching them tends to remove the dyes and actually makes them more yellow. However, there is no reference anywhere to the garment having to be bleached white in color. In fact, a hundred years ago the garments would have been made of fabrics that would have seemed off-white to us today. The color is not important. Don't replace your garments until you want to replace them.
The following is my own opinion that I developed while working for Distribution. I think that much of the cultural assumptions related to garments have been picked up in the Church by well-meaning members who've looked to the US Flag Code about how best to treat fabric items (flags or garments) with respect. Flags, according to the flag code, need to be retired when their colors start to fade, when the fabric starts to fray, or when dirtied; they should not be placed on the ground, etc. Most of the "rules" members follow in how they treat their garments come from the flag code and while those rules certainly impart a great deal of respect to the garments, they originally appear in LDS church culture during the 1950s and the Cold War. Pioneer descriptions of how to treat the garment do not match how we treat them today, but instead show them being treated as an article of clothing. Still treated with respect, of course, but not anything on a level like how most members today treat their garments. In Distribution we never tried to offend people, but we didn't tend to follow most of these "rules" in our back rooms. Boxes of garments often rest on the floor, and throwing boxes of garments like footballs while unloading trucks is common.
The eternal debate for women: does the bra go on top, or does the bra go underneath?
Again, you won't find anything about this officially. It come from the popular belief that the garment must touch your skin, but this belief is not official. Those who are truly concerned about this can call their local Temple matron and ask her (it's her responsibility to manage the temple workers who will be explaining how to wear the garment to members going through for the first time). While she'll probably try to impress upon you the idea that there's a "recommended" way, she'll have to agree that there is no way to wear a bra or panties with your garments that is somehow "dishonorable" to your covenants. Wear them how you want, but understand that changes occur slowly in the Church and while it's perfectly fine now to wear them how you want, the local culture still thinks that you need to wear the garment underneath everything.
Again, the best example for this would be female servicemen wearing the military top: do they wear their other undergarments over their garments? Nope, they wear them under. If you want to do the same, feel free to do so. You will not experience any negative official response.
I'm inactive and haven't been to Church for a while; my garments are starting to get nasty. What do I have to do before I can get new garments?
Actually, as long as you're still a member and have not yet resigned, you are allowed to purchase garments. A current Temple Recommend is required to purchase other Temple clothing, but garments can be purchased by anyone who has received their endowments no matter how long it's been since they've been to Church.
If you don't have a recommend and don't plan on getting one there is a computerized system in place at the Distribution Centers and on the Distribution web site that will look up your endowed status by your name and birthdate. The cashier will not see any other information except for the date when you were endowed.
I always loved it when "non-typical" Mormons came through the line to purchase garments. Multiple piercings, colored hair, off-color T-shirts: they made me happy to see such a variety of people who still wanted a bit of Mormonism in their lives. Just as there is nothing you can wear that will keep you out of the Temple (which by the way, if you thought they'd ever turn you away for what you were wearing, they won't; they only care that you have a valid recommend), there is nothing you can wear that will keep you from being able to purchase garments.
If you want to buy them, go ahead and do so.
I have some old garments that I hadn't opened until now and they're smaller than the same size garments I purchased recently. Do the sizes change? Have the garments gotten longer?
I have no proof of it, but it was an open secret in the Center among employees and management that garment sizes were not constant through time or around the world. Different areas of the world produce different sizes of garments, and the styles themselves do undergo changes every few year. Women's garments seem to have gained an extra inch or two in the past decade among the same size., both on the bottoms as well as on the sleeves. We had members come in more than once asking about this problem who brought in their garments so that we could compare.
Again, there's no proof of it, but even members of management at our Center were not quiet about their assumption that these changes were introduced purposefully by Beehive Clothing in an attempt to try to influence clothing styles among US members. European garments tend to be a little shorter, but there was no real explanation as to why that would be.
All of this was the case during the mid-2000's. If things have changed now so that worldwide styles and sizes are now the exact same, I can't say. Some of the new tops introduced in the past year for women have extremely large sleeves, so it seems that the process is continuing.
But the answer is yes: the garments have gotten longer, but there's no official explanation as to why.
I have a need for a style or fabric of garments that don't exist. Can I get them made for me?
You can... but it'll cost you. Garments are subsidized by the Church in an attempt to make them more affordable. They'll be able to help you at any store that sells garments (most of the Distribution Centers are gone now, merged with Deseret Book). It'll take a while to get them, and it'll cost a lot, but it it possible. If you have a genuine need for custom garments, such as a medicinal needs, the added costs might be waived, but that'll have to be dealt with on a more individual basis.
Can I purchase the military-style garments?
Only if you're currently in the military. If you're a hunter, a private contractor like Xe, or if you just like the idea of wearing combat fatigues, you can't purchase them.
Best advice I have for you: get a military friend to hook you up if you really want them, because you're not gonna get them otherwise.
What's the best type of garment for (insert activity/location here)?
This is by far the most popular question asked of us in the Center. We received a lot of training on how to answer this question without actually answering it because Distribution Services felt that it was very important that the employees not limit the options available to customers. If there was a style or fabric that would work best for an individual they didn't want that individual to not find it because of something an employee said.
All that aside, I don't work there anymore, so let me give my honest opinion on all of this "wicking" nonsense: some of the garments suck. There's no other way to say it: some of them simply stink and will literally make you stink. The nylon blends are horrible in terms of holding onto sweat: I'd recommend avoiding them. Cotton is a good choice, and the expensive blends also tend to operate well. Anything that is 100% nylon may seem like it'll feel nice (since they feel like silk underwear), but they'll probably be nasty after a while. The garments don't really look very appealing anyway, so don't shop based on how shiny the fabric is. Find the fabrics that are functional and keep you dry and not stinking (and these tend to be the cottons and the expensive blends).
That's about it that I can think of right now. Any other questions? Remember that Distribution Services used to also sell much of the publishing and merchandise that was directly Church-produced (this means that we sold Jesus the Christ and Miracle of Forgiveness, but we did not sell Mormon Doctrine or The Origin of Man, thank goodness). Just ask below.