What Lies Beneath

By: Stephen Carter
July 3, 2011

The Battle Axe toward the beginning of its reign over Toronto.

(Yet another email from Stephen to his missionary sister in Spain.)

Last week, you heard about my fabled suits. Today, you will hear about what I wore under the suits. How many layers deep will I go? Read on, brave missionary.

Let’s start with the white shirts. I bought these at ZCMI, as I did my suits. You would think that selecting a dozen white shirts would be easy—and it was. The Van Heusen display was on sale—a flock of crisp, wrapped rectangles lined up to clothe this humble servant.

The clerk who had fitted me for my suit had stayed loyally by my side and now informed me of my neck and sleeve size. There was only one question: would I grow during my mission? Should I prepare for the future by buying shirt sleeves a little too long? I had certainly sprouted plenty during the last few years and it was likely that I would continue. My Scottish blood won out and I purchased shirts with sleeves that bunched uncomfortably at my wrists.

Next, I hit the tie section, and here my constant guide, my fashion muse, my Virgil through the first circle of mission preparation, abandoned me. He claimed that he needed to take care of the tailoring of my suit, but I believe that, Jeeves-like, he intuited the hopelessness of my fashion sense and could not bear to witness the carnage that was about to ensue.

When I brought my selection to the counter, I believe he asked another clerk to scan the ties so as not to come in direct contact with them. And indeed, I had arrived bearing polyester and paisley: two of the greatest detriments to the spreading of the gospel Satan has developed.

As it turned out, I did not grow on my mission. My sleeves would have stayed bunched up at my wrists for two years had I not gotten in the habit of rolling them up every day.The only time I would get in trouble for this was when I went to the temple in Brampton, where the officiators were forever reminding me to roll my sleeves down.

One particular polyester tie turned out to be my favorite. It had an impressionistic floral print that went well with both my suits. It was also, as I found out, most likely forged in the fires of Mordor as it managed to weather the humid summers, bitter winters, and slobbery children of Toronto without ever looking worse for the wear. It even held up under my ketchup-centric culinary habits. I called it The Battle Axe. I believe this tie still lurks somewhere in my closet, brooding in the darkness and waiting for its next wearer to stumble upon it.

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6 Responses to What Lies Beneath

  1. George on July 3, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    I have no idea (read: no memory) of choosing my suits, or ties, or shoes or any other mission attire. I think (know) my parents were more excited about it than I ever was. I do remember hating the whole uniform thing and wishing I could relate more with investigators (especially those my age or younger).

    The whole missionary uniform thing is one of the weirdest things. Until moving to Utah, I had no idea there was an entire subsection of the economy devoted to clothing missionaries – ties, shoes, suits and, now, don’t forget about all the extras: backpacks, pens, pencils, notepads and, likely, customizeable covers for missionary iPads (it’s only a matter of time).

    How come we rarely discuss the reasons for this uniform? One benefit to doing away with the slacks, white shirt and tie would be to do away with the economic subsection that has become parasites for a stable industry (missionaries).

    Why don’t we go back to when missionaries wore everyday clothes? When missionaries weren’t dressed like 1960s vacuum, typewriter or insurance salesmen? Why do we have to focus so much on “branding” one’s religion through the attire the religion’s salesmen and women wear as opposed to branding through belief or some other means?

    The attire is in dire needs of change…

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  2. Paul on July 3, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    Stephen, thanks for these memories.

    I had just three weeks to buy clothing for my mission, and I did not live in the “Missionary Mall” intermountain west.

    My suits came from a local shop where my mother had bought many of my clothes, but my shirts came from JC Penney as I recall. My sister went with me to the mall. I found the Arrow shirt that fit (my father wore Arrow shirts, so that’s what I bought) and told the sales lady I wanted eight long sleeved. She looked a little funny as she walked away, and my sister muttered under her breath, “For me and my seven twins at home…”

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  3. Mike S on July 4, 2011 at 1:38 AM


    I voted “Like”. I think our missionaries look odd and out-of-place. I, too, would chance their attire. But I think the chance of that happening is about the same (or even less) than seeing Elder Ucthdorf wear a lavender shirt in General Conference (although I truly think he could pull it off)

    I bought all of my missionary clothing at Mr Mac in a 2 hour period. I even bought the suitcase it went in.

    For a 3 month period on my mission, it was cold enough that I wore a bulky sweater over my shirt. You couldn’t see my tie, so I didn’t wear one for 3+ months.

    The last place I served was in the mission office. Over the previous few months, we had done some spring cleaning and had a big pile of scrap wood to burn. My last night in the country, we literally burned EVERYTHING in a huge bonfire except the suit, shirt, tie and shoes I was wearing home the next morning. There was no better feeling. And now, over twenty years later, I still can’t stand to wear a white shirt, and probably only do one Sunday a quarter.

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  4. pontwian39 on July 6, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    yeah, i wouldn’t quit your day job

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  5. Stephen Carter on July 6, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    George: I started feeling a similar sense of uniform alienation about 3/4ths of the way through my mission. A post on that is coming soon.

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  6. Meldrum on July 10, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    As missionaries we had several ways to reduce the uniform alienation. We would not tuck the tie under the last fold so the knot was hidden. We would wrap the tie around the knot a few more times and make the entire tie much shorter and the knot too fat. Every missionary apartment had a drawer filled with musty old abandoned missionary suits and we wore the most tattered, out-of- style, ill-fitting one we could find as sort of a badge of honor. We tried to look worse than the homeless tramps.

    We dreamed of the day when we would walk off the plane in Salt Lake wearing a suit so worn out by our years of diligent labor that our mothers would burst into tears out of pity for all the suffering we had done. And our fathers would quietly admire our grit under such adverse circumstances. And our girl friends would turn and sprint for the exit, if they had waited. Even before the trip to Sizzler for the first steak in 2 years would be an emergency trip to Mr Macs for a new suit.

    I still have a 14 foot long necktie, about 10 inches wide at the bottom that matches the remaining missionary suit. It helped me stand out in the singles scene after the mission. I also have a wooden tie with two hinges that make it move much like a regular tie. It comes in handy teaching the younger teenagers. Stop this nonsense or I will…HIT YOU WITH MY TIE!

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