Frustrated with itchy, shrunken church-designed fabrics, they’re demanding a better fit, more options, and “buttery soft fabric.”
Sasha Piton was on a hike near her home in Idaho Falls, Idaho, when she realized something was amiss. The trek was only a few miles, and was not strenuous, but a rash was spreading along the crease on the top of his thigh.
Ms Piton immediately identified the cause. Like many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she wears a white two-piece set of holy temple robes, which is functionally underwear almost at all times.
After another painful enlargement, Ms. Piton reluctantly stopped wearing garments while exercising and sometimes took them off overnight. Both changes felt significant, as church members have historically been encouraged to wear “night and day” robes. But they were just too uncomfortable.
And she didn’t stop there. Last month, Ms Piton posted several happily direct requests to Instagram, where she discussed church culture as @themormonhippie. Addressing her comments to the church’s 96-year-old president, Russell M. Nelson, she said, “We want a really buttery soft fabric.” “My vagina has to breathe.”
And Ms. Piton encouraged her 17,100 followers to email the church about their experiences.
Ms Piton, 33, had discovered a familiar problem that few women in the church felt courageous enough to discuss publicly. Her post attracted thousands of comments and private messages, with women venting their frustrations with the sacred garment: itchy heels, tufted seams, waistbands and even chronic yeast infections that don’t breathe through clothes. Huh.
“It’s sacred,” wrote one commenter. “But it’s still actual underwear.”
Temple robes are of church origin in the 19th century and symbolize the wearer’s commitment to the faith, similar to the religious costumes of many other religious traditions. Adult Latter-day Saints wear them after their “temple endowment”, a private membership ritual that usually takes place before missionary service or marriage. The church controls the design and manufacturing process of the clothing, and sells them globally at low prices.
Most active church members, including young people, take seriously the encouragement to wear them as often as possible. In a 2016 survey of 1,100 Latter-day Saints, only 14 percent of millennial church members said they believed it was acceptable to remove clothing if they were uncomfortable.
A spokesman for the church declined a request for an interview and declined to answer a list of detailed questions, instead sending a link. short video about clothing Built by Church.
Most of the available temple wear fabrics are synthetic. “If you’re trying to optimize someone’s gynecological health, it’s not recommended,” said Dr. Kelly Woodfield, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Utah who is a member of the church. The cotton option is more breathable, she said, but tighter and noticeably thicker.
Dr. Woodfield, who wore clothing for most of her adult life, said the conversation around clothing was indicative of larger conflicts over women’s issues in the male-led tradition. While women feel increasingly excited to speak out on social media, they are often hesitant to describe what they describe as a lack of transparency and empathy. “How the Church responds to this movement is a really interesting litmus test of how much the Church is starting to trust women,” said Dr. Woodfield.
In the early years of the church, men and women wore the same pattern, a design that was “revealed from heaven,” as an early 20th-century church leader wrote. But the church has since modified its designs several times, including shortening the sleeves and legs of the pants and expanding the number of styles and fabric options. (In the 1950s, the church Renowned swimsuit designer Rose Marie Reid enlisted to help.) A common choice now includes cap-sleeved T-shirts and knee-length shorts for women. Each piece is finely marked with sacred symbols.
While they anticipate more design improvements, church members share hacks to ease the inconvenience. Some people turn their clothes inside out to take the pressure off the cutting seam. Some members have bitten itchy tags; Others swap out the crochet fabric for breathability. And many women wear traditional panties under their clothes during their periods, finding the bottoms incompatible with pads and panty liners.
In Idaho, Ms. Piton ticks items on her wish list recent instagram videos: “Buttery soft, seamless, thick waistband that won’t cut into my spleen, breathable fabric.”
While she is having fun with her campaign, Ms. Piton is serious about why it matters to her. She converted to the faith a decade ago and was deeply influenced by the temple’s endowment rituals, which include wearing robes for the first time and receiving blessings specifically for the body.
In that moment, “I felt this divine connection with my body,” she said. “In a world where my whole life being an older woman, I’ve been told that my body should look different,” receiving blessings centered on the strength and purity of her body was a dynamic experience.
Not everyone is attuned to the idea of clothing preservation. Lindsay Perez, 24, who lives in Salt Lake City, used to experience frequent urinary tract infections, which she believes were made worse by her clothing. She now leaves them at night, and after bathing.
If she had her choice, she said, she would choose to wear a cross necklace, or a ring—popular among younger members of the church—with the letters CTR, a reference to the motto “Choose Right”, the moral choice. A reminder to make . “There are many different ways to remind myself of what I’ve promised,” Ms. Perez said. “I don’t need to be through my underwear.”
In private Facebook groups for women in the church, she said, clothing is a constant topic of discussion, with some women hoping for reform and others protecting clothing. But few women feel comfortable approaching male leaders to discuss bodily fluids, transitions, and sexual intimacy.
“People are afraid to be brutally honest, to say: ‘It’s not working for me. It’s not bringing me closer to Christ, it’s giving me a UTI,'” Ms. Perez said.
Open discussion is also prickly because clothes are the target of ridicule by outsiders. When Mitt Romney, a church member, was running for president in 2012, he was ridiculed by some mainstream commentators for wearing “magic underwear”.
That kind of ridicule is “very painful,” a senior columnist for the Religion News Service, who writes about the church and who conducted the 2016 survey with a colleague.
This is especially harmful because the garments symbolize a deeper spiritual connection with God. “One of the most beautiful things about them is that they are underwear,” said Ms. Rees. “It expresses my belief that there is no part of my messy humanity that is not dear to God.”
Ms. Rees celebrated when the church Changed its undergarment designs In 2018, for example, adding mesh side panels and less constructive underarms. But they are not surprised that young women are asking for more. “Young people are brought up with a lot of choice,” she said, “and it’s something they don’t see at the door when they come to church.”
The Church’s official handbook contains only a few paragraphs about clothing. Many of the practices surrounding them are carried on within families and transmitted among friends. For example, some families throw laundry in the washing machine with other laundry, while others keep them separate.
Afton Southam Parker, a mother of five who grew up in a church, lives in Uganda and Thailand, where clothes felt particularly flaky in the summer. In secret conversations with other women, he realized that he was not alone. “Everyone I talked to was having some kind of rash or infection,” she said.
The word he heard over and over again from women was “suffocation.”
Ms. Parker has made it her mission to produce clothing that fits and feels better to church leaders. She went to a church leader after the conversation, and wrote to anyone she thought she could help. When a church designer finally agreed to meet with her, he showed her 34 PowerPoint slides explaining the many problems of clothing for women.
The initial result was disappointing, although he was recently encouraged when the church’s design team asked him for more feedback. “You’re talking about pads and gore,” she recalled the person who answered first. The implication was that such worldly subjects were unsuitable for discussion of sacred matters.
“It is of a greater magnitude than anyone thought about the church,” Ms Parker said. “Either get into the underwear business or get out.”