1. Garments are not about modesty
This was something that came as quite a surprise to me, and this was something that my dear, sweet mother-in-law helped me understand. After I had been vaguely introduced to the concept of garments as a young pre-teen, I assumed it was all about modesty. After all, my friends all wore shorts down to their knees and necklines that covered their collarbones. Not that my mom let me dress any differently, but I assumed they were all about covering up their bodies and that was the purpose of garments in the first place. Although garments somewhat accomplish this in a roundabout way, they really have nothing to do with modesty at all. Modesty is still certainly a very important virtue to remember, but they are not the explicit intention of the garment itself. As endowed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we make very sacred covenants with our Father in Heaven that we take very seriously. The garment acts as a constant reminder of those beautiful, sacred covenants. In addition to that, garments serve as a protection to our physical bodies. We believe that our bodies are temples, and as such we must treat them respectfully and protect them from harm, and our garments help us accomplish that.
Just as garments are not about modesty, however, they are also not about immodesty. As I prepared to enter the temple, and subsequently start wearing my garments, I was a little shocked by the advice I received from various friends. Some of them told me if I bought the petite sizes (despite the fact that I'm over 5'9") I could "get away" with wearing shorter necklines and hemlines. They told me certain fabrics could be manipulated more easily and various other tricks of the trade. I trust that their intentions were pure-- they wanted to help me make the transition more easily-- but these "helpful hints" really demolished the intention of garments altogether. We don't wear garments simply to see who gets around the rules the best, we wear them because we love our Father in Heaven and we honor the covenants we make with him. If you feel the need to modify your garments to fit a certain style of clothing, what are you really prioritizing?
2. Bring a friend to buy your garments
As you prepare to go to the temple, you'll need to go to one of the church's distributions center to pick out your whole new set of garments, as well as some other essentials for the temple. Now, being the strong, independent 20-something I was, I ignored the advice of some friends and decided to get everything myself-- I mean, how hard could it possibly be?
Very hard, apparently.
Garments, in the women's department at least, come in every conceivable shape and size. There are different necklines, different fabrics, different lengths, and in such an array of sizes they have to post sizing matrices all over the store so people like me have a clue of where to even start.
The experience was exceptionally overwhelming. In classic Sarah-fashion, I was convinced, in that moment, that my eternal salvation rested precariously on what neckline I chose. Luckily, I was able to call my fiancé's mother, who patiently stayed on the phone with me for 25 minutes, guiding me through the store while I stumbled around choking on my frustrated tears.
Now eventually I left the distribution center with my bag of garments, but it would have been so much easier if I had just swallowed by pride. I could have easily brought my former young women's leader, or my mother-in-law, or just any endowed friend to help me navigate which garments to buy, and the experience would have been infinitely more enjoyable. Additionally, one friend recently recommended buying only two or three styles or fabrics you think you'll like and trying those out before buying your entire supply en masse.
3. The Logistics
If you're currently preparing to wear garments or you've just started, there are plenty of spiritual resources for you to check out. I would personally recommend reading The Temple by Boyd K. Packer, which talks primarily about the temple itself, but also really helped me understand the spiritual significance and context of garments. The Book of Exodus, chapters 28-29 specifically, is also an excellent source of wisdom, and there are plenty of other resources on lds.org (including this conveniently published seminary lesson).
But what about the other stuff?
Fact is, garments act a whole lot like normal clothes and need proper tending to match (shocker). It may be my Catholic background, but I tend to approach things with way more reverence than necessary-- that's not necessarily a bad problem to have, but I do tend to make things more difficult for myself. To save you the trouble, here's a list of a few things I wish I would have known in advance:
- Church authorities recommend that you wear your garments in their entirety whenever possible. Different members certainly interpret that differently, but that is 100% between you and God. There are certainly times you don't have to wear them, and those times include while swimming, during sexual intimacy, and while playing some sports.
- Plan on purchasing about 2 weeks worth of garments. Don't worry, the price is garments is heavily subsidized-- I set aside about $80 for 14 tops and 14 bottoms and that was plenty.
- Garments are surprisingly really comfortable if you get the right fit.
- You don't have to wash your garments by hand in the tears of a virgin, or any other special way for that matter. They can be washed with dish towels just as easily as with other garments. For me, I usually do a whole load of just-garments and some other stray items once my husband and I run out.
- If you tear your garments, you certainly should try to fix them yourself with white thread if the damage is minimal. If the damage is extensive or the garments are old and worn out, the proper way to dispose of them is to rip them into thin strips until they are unrecognizable and dispose of them discreetly.
- You do, in fact, sleep in your garments.
- FOR GIRLS: time to get a little personal. My two biggest logistical question about garments revolved around how to wear a bra and what to do while I was on my period, so let me help you out. You can wear your bra either on the inside or the outside of your garments, whichever you feel is right. The same principle applies to when you're on your period: you do what you think is right. If it helps, though, I've found wearing a set of panties underneath during my cycle helps me to preserve my garments longer. And on the bright side, with garments you will never have to worry about common female plight of panty-lines ever. again.
4. Garments fit everyone differently
Even though garments come in just about every shape and size, our bodies come in even more shapes and sizes, so your garments may fit differently than someone else. And there is nothing to stress about.
Shortly after I got married, I had the amazing opportunity to do an intensive graduate-level program at my university, which included going to Europe for a month. My husband was incredibly supportive, even though we had only been married for 2 months when I left, and happily let me take advantage of this opportunity. While in Europe, I noticed that my garments fit rather differently than another girl in the program, and naturally I started to doubt myself. I had been confident I had chosen the right size, but I'm fairly tall and willowy, so my garments only came about mid-thigh when hers came all the way to her knee. Oh no! Right away, I started looking up the closest distribution center in Switzerland (which was about 4 hours away) to buy a whole new set of garments.
Although my heart was in the right place, there is no one-size-fits-all rule to garments. So long as they fit comfortably and we are keeping our covenants, and we are respecting the integrity of the garment, they have accomplished their purpose. How they fit, so long as our intentions are pure, really doesn't matter when we're honoring those covenants. If you are still concerned about how your garments fit, however, you can always contact you local distribution center about getting custom dimensions made just for you.
5. Garments should be met with mindfulness
Just as Jewish men wear prayer shawls, as Catholic nuns wear habits, and as Muslim women wear hijabs, endowed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear garments to show their love and commitment to our loving Father in Heaven. Not only that, but our garments are associated with sacred covenants we make in the Lord's Holy Temples. Wearing these garments is a massive blessing, but in the first few days or months, it can certainly be a bit of an adjustment-- especially if you're a new member who doesn't have a clue about the logistics of garments at all.
So from one convert to another (or anyone wearing garments for the first time): can I challenge you? As you put on your garments every morning, look at them closely. Remember those sacred covenants, and think of how you can better live up to those standards. Take a minute to appreciate those covenants you were deemed worthy enough to keep, and how much Father in Heaven loves you for continuously keeping those! He is so proud of you! What an honor it is to wear these garments! As you remove them, don't throw them carelessly on the floor, but carefully place them in your hamper, and once they're clean, fold them nicely in your dresser. This may be a small gesture, but it I believe it shows a necessary level of respect to the garment itself.
It is truly a privilege to make sacred covenants with our Father in Heaven in the Temple, and it is likewise a privilege to wear sacred garments to be continually reminded of those covenants. I bear my special testimony that as we honor our garments, we can better understand our covenants and grow closer to our most loving Heavenly Father.