Unmentionable No Longer

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- It would be crazy to leave here and not at least try to find out more about the sacred underwear.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, for short) may never again be so open and welcoming to such irreverent global scrutiny, and it's hard to think of anything else about the faith I'd rather know. Never mind about the angel Moroni, the golden plates, the forbidden coffee and the spirit babies. Let's just move right to the good stuff:

What is the "garment"? Do all Mormons wear it? Is it a onesie or separates? Is it true that women have to wear it under bra and pantyhose? Does it really have a Masonic symbol sewn over each nipple? Is it cotton? Poly-blend? Comfy? Restrictive? Spiritually protective? Magical?

"Now that's a question I didn't expect to get," says a helpful (everybody's so helpful) man, greeting visitors at Temple Square.

"Can I ask you if you're wearing any?" I ask him.

"Let me see if I can find someone who can help you."

He shuffles off and it's hard to know who of us is more panicked. I flee into the Joseph Smith Memorial Building across the street -- the former Hotel Utah, an ornate turn-of-the-century structure renamed for the Mormon founder -- and take a marble staircase to the basement, which turns out to be an intrepid move: I walk right into the Beehive Clothing Co., which sells all sorts of LDS essentials. There are pictures of Jesus, the Book of Mormon in every language, educational videos, brochures, postcards of temples and church leaders . . .

And at a counter in the back, they've got your Mormon underwear. They sell an entire white wardrobe here -- frilly church gowns, neckties, dress shoes. It's like a Pat Boone Outlet. There's a "Family Resources" catalogue with helpful drawings of the various undergarments for sale. The nice lady behind the counter even says I can have the catalogue. While I'm looking at it, a young man in a ball cap, fleece vest and loose-fitting Old Navy carpenter jeans walks up to the counter and orders "five bottoms," explaining that he's from out of town and in a laundry bind.

"What size?"

"Is there a 35?"

"They only come in even sizes."

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