By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
I was coming up now on the only part of this morning that I'd been truly dreading: It was time to climb into my first pair of regulation Mormon underwear, an unlovely wardrobe item that, during their first temple visit, Mormons agree to wear for the rest of their lives and that they refer to ever after as their "garments," as though their underwear is always the only clothing they are wearing. In those days garments were one-piece, made of thick nylon, and cut like very loose teddies; they had a scoop neck and little cap sleeves and they came to the knee. The amount of coverage wasn't accidental: One of the purposes of "garments" is to make sure that Mormons eschew daring clothing. The other is more directly theological: The underwear's holy nature is expressed by small markings sewn into the cloth over each breast, the navel, and one knee. (The markings signify comforting homilies like "Deal squarely with your fellow men," and are intended to serve as reminders of temple covenants. The symbols themselves derive from the fact that Joseph Smith was a newly initiated and enthusiastic Freemason when he originated the Mormon garments.) The garments had one other characteristic that, if not actually biblical, did have something to do with creation: Women's garments were slit in the crotch, very generously, so that they flapped open and left a girl's greatest fascinations exposed.
They were unwieldy indeed, and yet the garments I've described were the streamlined, modern, everyday variety. The pair I received on my wedding day were specifically designed to wear inside the temple itself and were patterned after the garments worn by the original Mormons in the mid-nineteenth century.
I was wearing long johns.
The fabric was thick and white, probably a cotton blend, and it reached to the wrists and ankles. The neckline was so high that I realized it was going to poke above the square cut of my gown.
Swathed again in my shield, I trailed dejectedly back to the bride's room. I was met there by a replica of the washing-and-anointing woman, who gathered me and the other brides into a little flock and admonished us kindly that we should wear our garments "night and day." She said to wear them next to the skin, with our bras over them, and explained that they represented the garment God gave to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Unless we sullied them, our "garments" would be a shield and protection against the power of Satan until we finished our work on earth.
I knew to take her seriously. One of the major themes of mystical Mormon lore had to do with those who have sailed unscathed through death-defying circumstances on account of their garments. The most oft-repeated stories involved unnamed wartime soldiers who'd watched bullets glance off their clothing as though it were armor, and vaguely identified fire victims whose burns halted wherever the boundaries of their garments began. I had never questioned these particulars. On the contrary, I had treasured them, especially when they described someone I knew. I still remembered affectionately the occasion when a friend's father had survived electrocution and I had heard my mother tell my father, "He never would have lived if he hadn't been wearing his garments." At least at that moment, the clumsy clothing had seemed to be more than a mean-spirited conspiracy against sex appeal.
On the morning when I was first blanketed in garments, they did not. My brain whirred with visions of movie-star fashions that I'd never be able to buy, the way they say you see your whole life pass before you as you drown. I felt I was leaving behind me forever the worlds of desirability and youth. Standing resentfully before the beaming temple worker, I figured I was going to hate my underwear every bit as much as I knew my mother hated hers each day that she put it on. Mother had never said as much to me; she had always referred to the donning of her baggy underwear as a privilege. But she was a fashion plate, and many was the time I saw her patting futilely at the ridges this amazingly extensive covering made across the rump of her sleek clothes. I had watched her flip through a hundred racks of dresses at Goldwater's, pausing with a beat of longing at the sleeveless dresses that the cut of her garments outlawed. These griefs of the soul didn't even begin to take into account the misery of wearing nylon armor during the summer.
I figured that from this moment on I was a freak.
As I prepared for the temple session, a long look in the mirror did nothing to reassure me. Decked out in my wedding finery now, I appeared to have dressed at random out of a weird laundry hamper.
It wasn't just that my underwear had become a feature of my wedding ensemble, seeing as how it encircled my throat for a fully visible five inches. It was also that, instead of my delicate mantilla veil, I'd had the temple veil foisted on me. It was a swath of fairly sheer, limp fabric, gathered around the head as though by elastic and otherwise unadorned, which my dress was not. It lay across my hair as heavy as though it were wet. I couldn't seem to stop staring at myself.