Thursday, July 7, 2011

Talk like a Mormon: Garments, or, Mormon Underwear

Adult members of the L.D.S. Church who have taken part in a sacred temple rite called an "endowment" ceremony are given underwear that they are told to wear for the remainder of their lives as a reminder of the ceremony and the promises (both to and from God) that are part of the ceremony. Note that they aren't told to wear that same exact pair of underwear for the rest of their lives. There are special stores, called distribution centers, that sell the underwear, and Mormons change their underwear as often as anyone else does.

Since the underwear must be covered by outer clothing, wearing the underwear also ensures modesty. Only adults may enter the temple to take part in the endowment ceremony (or "receive their endowment"), so Mormon children and teenagers wear regular underwear (and may, therefore, wear more revealing clothing than their parents, although this isn't generally encouraged). Usually the first time Mormons go to the temple (which is separate from a ward meeting house, where Sunday services take place) for the endowment is in preparation for serving a mission or as part of the marriage "sealing" ceremony. In other words, anyone who is serving or has served a mission should be wearing the underwear, as should anyone who has been married in the temple. It is also possible for single adults who did not serve a mission and/or have not married to visit the temple for the ceremony and receive the underwear, but this is a rarer path to follow.

Besides giving you some general information on the underwear, this entry will explain some terminology and exemplify some common ways Mormons talk about their underwear with one another. This entry won't explain any of the markings on the garments. There are two reasons that this entry won't explain the markings. First, there are countless internet sites out there that will do that for you. Second, and more to the point, this entry teaches you how to talk like a Mormon, and, outside of the temple ceremony, Mormons never mention or discuss the markings with anyone (even one another), since they consider them to be highly sacred and, therefore, appropriately mentioned only by those who are temple-worthy and only in the sacred space of the temple.

Garments: Mormons call their underwear "garments," short for temple garments. They never call them underwear, but they do treat them linguistically in the same way as underwear in that garments come in pairs. When not speaking about them in pairs, there is usually no article "the" placed before the word, unless speaking about them abstractly in a highly religious way. So, for example, both of these sentences would be correct, although the first usage would be more common:

  1. "Ever since I went to the temple and started wearing garments, I had to give away all my cute sleeveless dresses."
  2. "Those who have been endowed wear the garments as a reminder of the promises they have made." Note that it would also be perfectly fine to omit the article "the" in this sentence, but by adding it the speaker would be emphasizing the sacred importance of the underwear. As written with the article, the sentence would sound good in a Sunday school lesson.
"G's": Mormons, especially younger adult Mormon men who have just started wearing garments, will often refer to them as their "G's." As in, "I just put on a new pair of G's."

One-piece vs two-piece: Historically, garments were one-piece underwear that looked much like a union suit, but in the 1970s two-piece garments (a separate top and bottom) were introduced for men and women. Both are currently available. One-piece garments are stepped into through the neck opening and pulled up. Two-piece garments in many ways resemble a T-shirt and long boxer-briefs (for men) or a camisole and long shorts (for women). Note that for men who choose the two-piece garments, the garment top may show above the outer shirt without anyone's thinking there is a modesty problem. Why this is so is not entirely clear, but this special exception for men is probably because the top is so high, and because the collar would appear to the uninformed like nothing more than a T-shirt top (which it basically is). Note also that for women neither the one-piece nor the two-piece separates have a built-in bra, which means (brace yourself, women readers) that Mormon women wear their bras over their garments. And Mormon women always wear a bra (think about that on a hot day). Since Mormons have a choice about what kind of garments to wear (but not about whether to wear them), it's normal for them to express a preference. Almost all younger Mormon adults prefer two-piece garments, while older Mormons may have made the switch to two-piece garments or may continue to favor the one-piece garments they grew up with. It's also common for Mormons to call one-piece garments "one-piecers," and to call two-piece garments "two-piecers." (It's probably worth mentioning that I've also heard one-piecers called "onesies," as in what a baby wears, but I've only ever heard that funny term used by the irreverent.) A choice of fabrics is available in both versions, and people have preferences on fabrics, as well. The following sentences are also good, standard Mormon utterances:
  1. "My dad still likes his one-piecers, but I can't imagine dealing with the foldover trapdoor at the back when it's time to go to the bathroom! It's two-piece G's for me."
  2. "I picked up a new pair of two-piece garments, and when I got home and opened up the package for the bottoms I realized that they were cotton-polyester instead of the mesh fabric that I like so well. The top was mesh. Do you think the distribution center will take the bottoms back even if I've opened the package?"
  3. "It is stinkin' hot today, and my garments are bunching up around my bra straps something fierce! I wonder whether it would happen less if I wore one-piece garments."