The history of garments is complex. At one time they were made by members from patterns. The marks used to be cut rather than embroidered. And modifications to the styles have been made on several occasions, particularly changing the styles for women to feminize them and make them more practical (elbow and knee length vs. wrist and ankle, also the change to two-piece). The church has made changes so that they fit better, so that women have more options, to allow those serving in the military to wear them, and to use new fabrics as they’ve become available.
And yet, despite all these changes, many women find garments problematic at one time or another for a variety of reasons. On the positive side, women report finding garments spiritually comforting, a reminder of their covenants. Many also appreciate the lack of visible panty lines (at least not where you expect to see them!). I appreciate both of these things myself. Some women consider them to be very comfortable, particular for lounging around the house. But I have also experienced many of the drawbacks women discuss when only other women are present.
People are encouraged by Beehive Clothing to provide feedback regarding garment design; however, many women report receiving no personalized response. When there is a reply, suggestions seem to be limited, allowing for no alterations to the garments or even suggesting women add even more layers to their clothing. One woman received a response that seems to have come from an outsourced contact center. 
In 2010, the church instructed bishops and stake presidents to read a statement regarding how the garment is to be worn in temple recommend interviews, reinforcing the requirement to wear it only in the prescribed manner without any alteration. For women who are experiencing real issues with garments, this injunction is problematic. It is also questionable and possibly ill-advised to share some of these highly personal problems with a male church leader behind closed doors who may not understand women’s health concerns. And yet the statement being read in the recommend interview puts some women in an unworkable situation.
“It is expected that members will wear the garment both night and day according to covenants made in the temple. Members should not adjust the garment or wear it contrary to instructions in order to accommodate different styles of clothing, even when such clothing may be generally accepted. The garment should not be removed, either entirely or partially, to work in the yard or for other activities that can reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing.”
Women who require individual adaptation due to health or psychological issues won’t find much of an open door in a discussion that starts with that statement being read.
Based on feedback I’ve heard from a variety of women firsthand and in online forums, the issues women describe fit into three categories: design, physical, and psychological. I asked 250 endowed, believing women to provide feedback on issues they have personally experienced in wearing garments. I’ll share their feedback and provide some suggestions to address the issues they’ve identified.
243 women reported issues with fit.
Bunching. Women’s clothing is more varied than men’s, and likewise, so is women’s underwear. Accommodating different styles is not generally a question of modesty. Different fabrics that provide plenty of coverage and are not form fitting still show the wrinkles and bunching of garments. Garments also require constant tucking and adjusting to keep them in place throughout the day.
- Suggestions: I believe the Carinessa garments were designed to address this issue. However, we need an alternative for hot or humid climates that likewise doesn’t bunch up under clothing.
Maternity & Nursing. Some women reported that the maternity panel on front of the bottoms was painful during the final trimester. Many women (22%) said the nursing tops were impractical (some respondents had not used them).
- Suggestion: These are specialty items in regular underwear for good reason. Pregnancies vary greatly. Some women carry high, some low. Some women get wider, some have bellies that go straight out. What happens in the bra region (which already varies greatly without pregnancy) is another difference in pregnancy from woman to woman. More options are needed or the ability to forego garments in favor of undergarments that provide the right kind of support in pregnancy.
Bottoms. Women reported that due to consistently increasing length in the legs of female garments, they found that newly purchased garments didn’t work with their existing wardrobe, and it was not possible to buy all new clothes every time garments wore out. This was not an isolated issue – 45% of the women I polled reported this issue! One women laid her garments out next to her husband’s and found that the legs in hers were 3 inches longer! Women also reported that the bottoms often roll up under pants or pantyhose creating an inner tube effect.
- Suggestion: The legs in women’s garments should never exceed the length in men’s. That’s a rather obvious design flaw. It has been suggested elsewhere that going to a “boy short” or “hipster” design would be a big improvement. If this kind of change is considered too radical, I suggest simply making sure there are plenty of length and size options so that short and thin women are not unable to find something that fits.
Tops. Many women report issues with the waistband going to their bra line or even higher in some cases. As one Mormon man commented, “We don’t want our wives wearing grandma panties!” Some report issues with the length from shoulder to bust. “The difference between my tall and non-tall ones is only from shoulder to bust, and nothing different below that. Last I checked when people are tall in the top, its from waist to hip, not shoulder to bust.” Women also reported problems at both ends of the spectrum of bra size: some found them ill-fitting because they were large chested while others found the cups to be far too large. Many women said that the shoulders don’t stay in place, slipping off and hanging down the arms, making the garments visible even when clothing has a short sleeve. Likewise, women indicated that the backs of the shoulders stick out like bat wings making them visible under clothing with cap sleeves. Some women report tightness under the arms.
- Suggestion: Forgo the cap sleeves which cause difficulty in getting the torso length correct for all body types. Instead, use an adjustable camisole strap (similar to a bra strap) over the shoulder. This change instantly resolves nearly all design problems with the tops. It also enables tops to be purchased based on bra size.
Quality. A former employee of Beehive Clothing explained that garments are not made with white fabric, but are dyed white. This is why bleaching them causes them to yellow or gray.
- Suggestion: Provide an informational card with all garment purchases on the best methods of washing them to retain their whiteness.
Sizing. I call them “wishful sizes.” Garment sizes are essentially about 4 sizes bigger than whatever size one wears in other clothing. I am a fairly average sized tall woman (5’8″), and I usually wear a size 6, but in garments I have found there are only a couple of sizes smaller than the ones I wear. Since I’m by no means the smallest person wearing garments, I can only imagine what smaller women encounter. For these smaller women, their garments must simply hang on them.
- Suggestion: Overhaul the sizing to get it back to norms.
42% of women reported at least one instance of rashes or infections (including yeast infections) due to wearing the garment.
Yeast Infections. This is the most common health issue I’ve heard about from women who are endowed. Many fabrics do not breathe sufficiently. Also, women who have had one yeast infection are prone to have them again. Doctors recommend women with yeast infections do not wear underwear at night and that even during the day they only wear a cotton panel panty that breathes well. Even garment bottoms with a cotton panel crotch create problems because the legs add layers that bunch around the crotch area; moisture in this area is the leading cause of recurring yeast infections.
- Suggestion: Provide women with better guidelines when they purchase garments to ensure they are making healthy decisions about when to wear them and what types to purchase. Trust women to make appropriate choices to forego wearing garments to prevent or heal from yeast infections. Women need to be educated on this issue; unfortunately, the statement read at the temple recommend interview encourages women to continue to wear garments rather than taking appropriate measures to treat infection. This is not an isolated incident. Many women experience this problem.
Menstruation. Because the crotch is not snug (due to the legs), women who are menstruating often experience problems keeping a pad or panty liner in place. This results in leakage that can ruin clothes and cause personal embarrassment. 78% of women had experienced an issue with this. Some women have been advised to wear regular panties under their garments during menstruation, but this adds another layer below decks at a time when a woman is already bloated and may have a hard time with clothes being more snug.
- Suggestion: Trust women to make their own personal adjustments to garment wearing during menstruation, including foregoing wearing them when not practical.
Rashes. Women experienced rashes from seams and elastic and from heat being trapped against their skin. One story: “On my mission I started getting rashes which a doctor said were fungus from having damp fabric against my skin while biking (and sweating) all day. Gross.” If I’m not mistaken, I believe that’s a phenomenon we called “missionary butt” in my mission (men also experienced this).
- Suggestion: Provide wider waistbands like many panty styles have today that do not put elastic directly against skin. Provide flat-seam alternatives for a higher cost. Eliminate elastic bands from the legs of the cotton and cotton-poly style.
Fabrics Don’t Breathe. 74% of women reported this problem. Some rashes were exacerbated by fabrics not being suitable for hot or humid climates. For example, the much-celebrated Carinessa fabric is particularly bad in terms of ventilation. In a hot or humid climate, it simply doesn’t work at all, functioning as a personal sauna. Even the drisilque fabric causes problems in humid climates: “the drisilque, though cooler, stick to the skin once damp and become impossible to dry off in.” Apparently, there are bamboo fabrics available for special order, but only women who have complained are aware of it. The fabrics also contribute to the prevalence of yeast infections. Another issue is that women’s body temperature varies greatly at different times in the month and during menopause when many women report hot flashes. The additional layers of the garment contribute to these episodes.
- Suggestion. Continue to experiment with wicking fabrics like bamboo to find better options for hot, humid climates. Options today seem mostly geared toward the dry cold climate of Utah. Options should be pilot tested in a variety of climates and with different body types and times of life.
Body Image. For some women, adding layers to their stomach or thighs below their clothing triggers body image problems. Some women report regressing to anorexia, bulimia or cutting as a result of how garments feel. In my case, I was deeply depressed for a week after my endowment and began extreme dieting. In time and after losing a few more pounds, I got used to how garments felt, and I tried corban (the drisilque of yesteryear) instead of cotton-poly thanks to my roommates’ recommendations. This helped, but I never had serious issues with body dysmorphic disorder as do up to 2.5% of women. I just struggled to get comfortable with additional fabric bunching up around my legs and waist which made me feel fat. While 74% of women I asked said that garments made them feel fat or unattractive, only 14% went so far as to say that they contributed to a body image problem.
- Suggestion: For most women, better fitting options and more fabric choices should help. For women who truly struggle with serious body image problems, there should probably be more allowance for variation in how frequently the garment is worn (e.g. only at night). Speaking to male priesthood leaders about an issue that so disproportionately affects women is not going to provide them much support.
Sexual Arousal. When I was at BYU, garments were jokingly called “passion killers” by most of the women I knew. We were single, so we assumed this was to keep people clean from sexual sin. 22% of the women I asked said this was a problem for them (some were single and therefore did not reply). One comment that succinctly explained the problem:
“The first time I heard a newly wed couple complain about the way the garments looked (really un-sexy), I laughed it off and judged them as being shallow and faithless. Since then, in both my personal life and my conversations with others, I have realized that the garment design and the admonition to wear them all the time, unless having sex, bathing, or exercising (and some do it even then) really does interfere with intimate relationships for many people. Women tend to feel fatter, and have their confidence suffer because they can’t dress to flatter their figure. Couples feel they can’t be naked together unless they’re having sex. They have a harder time desiring sex when their partner is always completely covered, and in something that is actually unflattering at that.“
These issues can be even more difficult when the husband is not a member or not temple endowed.
- Suggestion: Relax the wording in the statement that is read at the temple recommend interview; trust married church members to make good choices about how to wear the garment to ensure a healthy married sex life for both the man and the woman.
The garment is a sacred reminder of our covenants; that doesn’t mean we are skilled at designing intimate clothing that works for all body types, in all climates, and at all times of life. Women’s underwear is extremely complex as you can see if you go to any department store and compare the size of the women’s underwear department vs. the few shelves dedicated to men’s underwear. There’s no store called Victor’s Secret. As someone phrased it: “The Church needs to get out of the underwear business.” I would say we need to either get out of it or actually get in it. Women who are deeply committed to their faith and their covenants deserve a professional redesign and the flexibility to avoid physical and psychological problems.
To illustrate the importance of this problem and why it is not being addressed, I’ll share another tidbit from the women I heard from. Despite the fact that nearly everyone had experienced one or more problems with design or health related issues due to garments, only 7% of women reported having made unauthorized alterations to the garment to address their issues. And nearly all women expressed extreme reluctance to discuss these highly personal issues with male priesthood leaders.
 A written response referred to a yeast infection as a “posterior infection,” clearly a misunderstanding of what a yeast infection is and perhaps what a posterior is. Additionally, the advice to add another layer of clothing would in fact cause a yeast infection to be worse.
 This was an informal facebook poll, not a scientific survey. Women who participated self-identified as believing and temple endowed. The poll allowed for “write in” categories and comments to explain their input. While 250 women gave feedback, the group was disproportionately younger which skews results; additionally, while various climates were represented, most participants were US residents. If an official survey were done, it would be better to deliberately target different age groups and climates. For example, given the symptoms of menopause (e.g. hot flashes) , there are likely some physical issues not represented in this sampling.