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To Be Young, Hip and Mormon

Francesco Perri, a Mormon, wore his hair differently at Brigham Young University. “I just didn't want to look like everybody else,” he says.

WITH his manly stubble, flannel shirt and skinny black jeans, Brandon Flowers looks every bit the hipster front man for his rock band, the Killers.

With songs about drowning one’s sorrows in bourbon or exploring the seedy underbelly of his hometown, Las Vegas, Mr. Flowers has sold more than 15 million records worldwide. In the past, he has been candid about his drinking, smoking and taste for blackjack.

But in a gauzy four-minute video, an advertisement for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was posted online earlier this month, the singer stares at the camera and says, “I’m a father, I’m a husband, and I’m a Mormon.”

For decades, the popular image of Mormon style has been shaped by clean-cut young missionaries on bicycles in dark suits, white shirts and skinny black ties — and more recently by the sculptured coif of the presidential candidate Mitt Romney or the sporty style of the motocross-bike-riding Jon Huntsman, another Republican presidential candidate.

But the boundaries of Mormon style are expanding. The highly visible “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign (the subject of a major push on television, billboards, the subway and the Internet) seeks to quash strait-laced stereotypes by showing off a cool, diverse set of Mormons, including, besides Mr. Flowers, a leather-clad Harley aficionado, knit-cap-wearing professional skateboarder and an R & B singer with a shaved head.

It’s not just in ads sponsored by the church. On college campuses, city streets and countless style blogs, a young generation of Mormons has adopted a fashion-forward urban aesthetic (geek-chic glasses, designer labels and plenty of vintage) that wouldn’t look out of place at a Bushwick party.

“There used to be a bias against being ‘cool’ in the Mormon world,” said Kendra Smoot, 31, a prop stylist who does work for Lucky and Martha Stewart, and who can be seen sporting Sartorialist-inflected ensembles on Smoot, a blog she runs with her husband, Seth Smoot, a photographer. Ten years ago, when she was a student at Brigham Young University, “there was absolutely zero fashion sense, myself included,” she said. “Now when I go back to visit, the kids there look really cool.

“I think there’s an acceptance now that you can look current and interesting but still uphold the values of the Mormon religion,” she added.

There are limits, however. According to guidelines on dress and grooming on the church’s official Web site, Mormons are discouraged from wearing immodest clothing, including “short shorts and skirts,” “tight clothing” and “shirts that do not cover the stomach.” They should “avoid extremes in clothing, appearance and hairstyle” and not “disfigure” themselves “with tattoos or body piercings.”

Those strictures can be a challenge for members of the creative class who feel the lure of scruffy, bohemian chic.

Facial hair in particular can be a complicated issue. Common on church leaders in the 19th century, beards are now deemed inappropriate for missionaries, as well as for students at B.Y.U., according to the university’s honor code (students are allowed trimmed mustaches).

Debate on whether beards are an appropriate look for church members in general persists in some corners, such as a recent online debate on the subject on LDS Living, a Mormon lifestyle Web site. One commenter invoked a 1971 address by Dallin H. Oaks, now a member of the church’s leadership known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who wrote: “There is nothing inherently wrong about long hair or beards, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with possessing an empty liquor bottle. But a person with a beard or an empty liquor bottle is susceptible of being misunderstood.”

When Britain Baker was at B.Y.U., he had to go to considerable effort to secure a beard waiver, to go with his vintage T-shirts and rolled selvedge jeans. Generally, students need to prove a skin condition like razor bumps. “You have to shave every day for three days,” he said, “and if you still have bumps on the third day, they will give you a special razor.” A “beard card” is granted only after the razor also fails.

Since he didn’t have a skin condition, Mr. Baker tried a novel approach: he applied for a part last year as an extra in a student film about Jesus. For four months before graduating, he was able to rock one of the rare beards on campus. “It was received with mixed reviews,” said Mr. Baker, 24, who is now living in Los Angeles and applying to medical school. “I felt like people were constantly staring at me.”

Long hair is also frowned upon. As a student there, Francesco Perri would put his chocolate-brown hair in a ponytail and wear a wool cap on campus. “I just didn’t want to look like everybody else,” said Mr. Perri, 31, who is now a hotel clerk in New York and rides his single-speed bike around Brooklyn.

Tattoo fans face tougher obstacles. Those who have tattoos tend to keep them hidden, especially after 2000, when Gordon B. Hinckley, then the president of the church, spoke out against tattoos as “graffiti on the temple of the body” at the church’s general conference.

Still, tattooed Mormons have managed to find one another and form a kind of subculture. “I was blown away by the amount of tattoos I viewed in the showers,” said James Peterson, 32, about his missionary training in Provo, Utah, in the late 1990s. When he went off on his mission to Spain, he and other missionaries would trade issues of tattoo magazines, taking care to cut out images of topless women or devils.

Not only has Mr. Peterson kept up his magazine subscriptions, but he has also opened Rogue Parlour, a tattoo studio in Tucson, Ariz. While he still faces condemnation of his profession from family members, last year he added a tattoo on his left arm: a beehive, a Mormon symbol of working together for the common good. “It’s a complicated way of saying I still love the church,” he said.

It’s little wonder that Mormons express strong and varying opinions about what is stylish and acceptable. The rapidly growing religion counts more than six million members in the United States (30 percent of them in Utah), and individuals have long had to balance tradition with a desire to fit in with the culture at large. Members still battle a perception of otherness, as in the recent flare-up between Mr. Romney and Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor and Rick Perry supporter who derided the religion as a “cult.”

Needless to say, countless Mormons work in fashion, design, art, music and film, and they generally dress and act just like anybody else.

But when it comes to dressing young and hip, some Mormons said they face unique challenges. Among other things, many adult Mormons wear a type of underwear known as the temple garment, meant as a symbolic reminder of an individual’s promises to God. Both men and women have their own style of garment, but each consists of two pieces, a chaste knee-length bottom reminiscent of a boxer-brief and a white undershirt.

Jeggings and maxi dresses aren’t an issue, but tank tops and short skirts are, said Elna Baker, Britain Baker’s sister who detailed her struggles with the faith in a 2009 memoir, “The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance.” To cover up the undergarment, some style-conscious Mormons in places like Brooklyn adopt a retro-ironic look from thrift stores, including “Mad Men”-style dresses, or a kind of ’80s secretary look: ruffled blouses, bow collars and high-waisted pencil skirts. “It’s very much a Zooey Deschanel look,” said Ms. Baker, who left the church after her book was published.

As a writer living in Brooklyn and veteran of the Moth storytelling gatherings, Ms. Baker, 29, found herself in the center of a growing Mormon subculture, populated by creative types who dress like they stepped out of “a modest American Apparel ad,” she said. Striped shirts, cardigans and horn-rimmed glasses are part of the uniform.

But for some Mormons navigating the Brooklyn waters, the struggle is less about what to wear to the loft party, and more about what to do once you get there. Drinking alcohol is prohibited, according to the Word of Wisdom, which members consider a revelation from God concerning health.

Steven Puente, another Moth storyteller, often felt awkward being the one person in a room sipping sparkling water. “The constant question in the back of your mind is, ‘If I get past the initial hello and small talk, are they going to understand how I live my life?’ ” said Mr. Puente, who works as a drug counselor at a methadone clinic in the Bronx.

Sometimes, his sobriety was perceived as its own form of hipster pose. “It was always assumed, ‘O.K., he’s mysterious and cool, he must be in recovery,’ ” Mr. Puente, 36, added with a laugh. But as the liquor flowed for everyone else, he eventually would feel restless. He would ask himself, “How long can I last before the conversations become inane?”

This is why many Brooklyn Mormons tended to host house parties of their own, Ms. Baker said. She recalled one party where someone brought a six-pack of O’Doul’s, which advertises itself as a non-alcoholic beer, “for shock value.” But typically, the only vice on display was sugar, in the form of a large dessert spread, the focal point of many a Mormon party, she added.

But even a table full of pies and pastries can pose a challenge, her brother, Britain, joked. “Because of all the dessert parties,” he said, “skinny jeans can be a bitch.”

Rebelling, If Only Just a Little


Many adult Mormons follow the practice of wearing the temple garment, which for men, means long boxer briefs and a scoop-neck T-shirt and, for women, knee-length shorts and a top with cap sleeves.


For men, tank tops are out, but you can stay on-trend in a button-down plaid shirt, rolled selvedge jeans and boat shoes. For women, one popular option is the “Zooey Deschanel look” — ruffled blouse, bow collar and a high-waisted pencil skirt.


Mormons are told not to “disfigure” themselves “with tattoos or body piercing.”


Cover up the tattoos or at least try a compromise, like getting a tattoo of a beehive, a Mormon symbol of working together for the common good.


No beards on missionaries or Brigham Young University students.


An allergic reaction to shaving, demonstrated by razor bumps, can score you a “beard card” at B.Y.U.


No consumption of alcohol, even at social functions.


Drink Pellegrino and don’t bother to correct other party guests who assume you are in recovery.


FAQ: Mormon Helping Hands


The yellow Mormon Helping Hands vest or T-shirt identifies the Church as the organization providing the service, instills confidence in those being served that the work will be organized and of high quality, and gives Church members a sense of satisfaction to be identified with other Latter-day Saints. In disaster relief situations, the shirt or vest may also help officials quickly identify those they can call on for a particular assignment.

Q: Is it appropriate to wear the official Mormon Helping Hands T-shirts and vests during disaster response activities?

A: Yes, it is appropriate to wear the official Mormon Helping Hands vests or T-shirts under the following conditions:

Projects are implemented under priesthood leadership.

  • Projects are organized and implemented under the direction of priesthood leaders.
  • Projects are not held on Sundays or on Monday evenings, except when emergency relief dictates otherwise.

Projects are not proselyting activities.

  • The Church’s reputation for proselyting is well known and sometimes discourages others from participating in Church-sponsored activities. Mormon Helping Hands projects should remain true to the purpose of providing Christian service and should not be used for proselyting. To do otherwise may violate the trust of those not of our faith and may hinder future opportunities for service and relationship building.

Vests or T-shirts are worn only during the service project.

  • When wearing Mormon Helping Hands vests or T-shirts, individuals represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and must be careful to safeguard the Church’s reputation.
  • The vest or T-shirt must be worn only during the disaster response effort. Any other use is inappropriate and discouraged.
  • When the vest or T-shirt becomes permanently soiled or worn out, it should be destroyed. 

Q: Is it more appropriate to use vests or T-shirts?

A: Vests are the preferred choice in most cases since they are less likely to be mistaken for everyday clothing, taken home, or worn for activities not associated with a Mormon Helping Hands project. Vests may also be less expensive than T-shirts because they can be collected and reissued to more than one worker. Vests can be worn over other clothing in cases of cool or inclement weather. In situations where a loose-fitting vest might prove hazardous (for example, using chain saws and other power equipment), a T-shirt is generally the better choice.

Q: Who pays for Mormon Helping Hands T-shirts and vests?

A: Local unit budgets or local members should pay for vests and T-shirts for non–disaster relief projects. When the Church’s Emergency Response Division participates in disaster relief efforts, a supply of vests and T-shirts is often requested by priesthood leaders as part of the relief shipment.

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What Are Temple Garments?

A Brief Guide To "Mormon Underwear"

It's perhaps the most awkward question of the 2012 cycle: What's with Mitt Romney's underwear?

The subject of long-running public curiosity, the question occasionally pops back into the foreground, as with a widely-retweeted image earlier this year (top), and footage of the candidate in Florida this week.

From the start of Romney's career as a public figure--and, in many ways, well before then--the special undergarment worn by many observant Mormon men and women has been a point of political curiosity, debate, and derision. While provocateurs and bloggers make jokes about "magic Mormon undies," anti-Mormons try to cast the garment as something more sinister--a bizarre symbol of its wearers' fealty to a scary, secretive cult. The reality is far less exciting.

It's true that Mormons are taught not to flaunt "garments" (as they're called) for public view, which can feed the impression that Romney's hiding some dark, cultish secret beneath his well-starched shirts and neatly-creased slacks. But the principle behind Mormon garments would be familiar to any Baptist who's worn a "What Would Jesus Do" bracelet, or any Jew who's worn a yarmulke or tzitzit (woven threads Orthodox Jews wear on shawls under their shirts). As the website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts it, garments are worn as "an outward expression of an inward commitment."

Because garments are considered so sacred, Mormons tend to recoil when they hear non-Mormons make casual reference to their underwear--especially in a political context. But if there ever was a time when discussion of the subject could be contained to LDS circles, now is not it. Anyone who's attended a performance of The Book of Mormon Musical has already seen actors wearing replicas of the underwear on stage. And as the presidential race wears on, there's no doubt it will come again and again.

So, in the spirit of debunking and demystifying, BuzzFeed is here to answer your questions about "magic Mormon underwear." (This reporter is something of an expert on the subject.)

What are garments? Who wears them?

Garments are worn by faithful adult Mormons who've received certain ordinances in one of the church's temples (which are different from the churches Mormons attend on Sundays). In temples, Mormons pledge to obey Biblical commandments, live chaste lives, and serve in the church--and the garments are worn to remind wearers of those promises.

Mormons begin wearing garments when they "go through the temple" for the first time--a spiritual rite of passage that typically coincides with leaving to serve a mission, or getting married. Children in the church don't wear garments.

Because wearing them is a personal choice, it's impossible to know for sure if that familiar (to Mormons) neckline in the Romney photo is actually attached to a temple garment. But as a lifelong member of the church who served a mission, married his wife in the temple, and continues to be active in his religion, it would stand to reason that Romney is still a garment-wearer.

What do they look like?

Garments today come in two pieces--a white undershirt, and white boxer brief-style shorts--and they contain small symbols meant to remind Mormons of the covenants they've made in the temple. Some undershirts, like the one Romney appears to be wearing, have circular, low-cut necklines, while others resemble crew-cut t-shirts. They also come in a variety of materials--cotton, polyester, silk, etc.--to accommodate different climates (a fact for which Mormon missionaries in subsaharan Africa are grateful). Generally, wearing them takes some adjustment at first, but most Mormons report quickly growing accustomed to them. (Out of respect to Latter-day Saints, we are not posting photos of the garments here.)

How often are they worn? Where do Mormons get them?

Garment-wearing Mormons tend to own several pairs, and wear them on a daily basis in lieu of regular underwear. There are obvious exceptions, though: no one keeps them on while playing sports, for instance, or on trips to the beach.

Because of their sacred nature, garments are not sold in retail stores or manufactured by outside companies; they can be purchased at various church-owned stores throughout the world (often attached to temples), or online at one of the LDS church's websites.

Are they magical?

In a word, no. Though it's common in Mormon-mocking rhetoric to use some variation on "magic Mormon undies" to describe the garment (paging Bill Maher), there's nothing especially mystical about them.

Mormons are taught that by putting on "the whole armor of God"--a Biblical metaphor regularly employed in LDS discussions of the subject--they are afforded protection from temptation, in that they have a physical reminder not to sin. But there's no magical guarantee involved. Just as cheating spouses ignore the vows symbolized by their wedding ring, plenty of garment-wearing Mormons sin. The power is in the symbolism of the garments, not any kind of miracles that result from wearing them.

Within Mormon folklore, there are stories of garment-wearers receiving physical protection--being spared from injury in a car accident, for example--but this isn't part of official LDS doctrine, and it's not widely preached.

Elder Carlos E. Asay, a high-ranking church official, explained the garment like this: "It is given to remind wearers of the continuing need for repentance, the need to honor binding covenants made in the house of the Lord, and the need to cherish and share virtue in our daily living so that promised blessings may be claimed."

Update: In October, 2014, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a video explaining that for members who wear them, the garments "represent the sacred and personal aspect of their relationship with God and their commitment to live good and honorable lives." The video also included images of the garments.


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Sacred Temple Clothing

Mormon Underwear, Revealed


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released an informational guide to "temple garments" on their website. Why have these clothes been such a source of fascination in American culture?

By Emma Green

Mormonism has long been a source of cultural fascination—and sometimes suspicion—in America. From Big Love, a TV series about a man and his many wives in a fringe sect in Utah, to Sister Wives, which is basically a reality-television version of the same show, depictions of the faith have often focused on sex. In part, that's driven by the history of polygamy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: In the 1840s, many male members started taking multiple wives, a practice that has been both outlawed and frowned upon by the U.S. government, and later by the LDS Church itself.*

But a lot of the fascination with Mormon sex is also because of the underwear.

Known as temple garments, the inner layer of clothing worn by many observant Mormons has been an object of non-Mormon curiosity for nearly two centuries, in large part because the Church has intentionally kept information about the garments private. Or at least until today, when the LDS church released a video on its website explaining the ritual purpose of temple garments, requesting that non-Mormons and members of the media to treat "Latter-day Saint temple garments as they would religious vestments of other faiths. Ridiculing or making light of sacred clothing is highly offensive to Latter-day Saints."

As the post points out, many faiths incorporate garments into their religious practice, from yarmulke-wearing Jews to habit-donning nuns. But temple garments seem to make Americans unusually curious—they're often referred to as "magic underwear" and said to have "magical" powers. When the shadow of Mitt Romney's undershirt showed up beneath his neatly pressed white-collar shirts during his 2012 presidential campaign, it sparked explainers, spectacle, and even mockery.

"Because they're concealed under the clothing, because the instruction is not to show them to other people, and Mormons consider them to be sacred, that automatically gives a kind of aura of mystery to them, of secretness," said Patrick Mason, the chair of religious studies at Claremont Graduate University. The garments are given to members during a private ceremony inside a Mormon temple which can only be attended by active Mormons, adding to the air of secrecy.

This has been the case since members started wearing the garments in the early 1840s under the guidance of the founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith. "Because Mormons practiced polygamy from the 1840s on, and they have this private ceremony, the faith seemed to be all about sex to the populace: Is this all about sex, or is this about Jesus?" said Philip Barlow, a professor of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University.

Even though most of American culture has evolved away from the reserved sexual mores of the nineteenth century, the garments are still a source of fascination, if only because of the many logistical questions involved. For example: Do Mormons wear lingerie when they have sex? Some do, says Mason, although he noted that "Mormons don't generally talk a lot about sex or underwear." Has the underwear been the same since it made its debut in 1844? Nope, says Mason; it used to be much longer and identical for women and men, "which obviously doesn't exactly work."

Or, for that matter, what does it really look like? That seems to be one of the questions that the LDS Church is trying to answer in releasing public information about the garments. "White symbolizes purity," the website says. "There is no insignia or rank. The most senior apostle and the newest member are indistinguishable when dressed in the same way. Men and women wear similar clothing." The video shows the everyday garments worn by both genders, which look like a plain white T-shirt and shorts, and a longer robe that's worn in religious ceremonies. While many Mormons find that the garments "stir the deepest feelings of the soul, motivate them to do good, even shape the course of a whole life of service," the site says, they're also pretty straightforward: "There is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments."

Even within the Church, though, the garments have an almost mythical aura. "People will tell stories about how the garments protected them from some kind of physical danger, stories about people who were in a fire and all the parts of their body were burned except where they had their garments on," Mason said. It's even said by some that "Joseph Smith was not wearing his garments when he was assassinated in 1844."

To varying degrees, all kinds of religious clothing carry this latent sense of power and otherness and secrecy; it's the physical expression of someone's beliefs about the nature of the universe, an outward claim that the wearer possesses some kind of fundamental truth. LDS temple garments also happen to also be associated with one of the most private, secret spheres of life: sexuality. Mormon underwear sets followers of the faith apart from everyone else in one of the most intimate possible way.

But the ongoing fascination with Mormon underwear is also related to pervasive suspicion of Mormonism itself in American culture. "The Mormons in particular have been in a distinctive cultural space ever since their founding," said Barlow. "They have one foot inside and one foot outside of American culture."

* This story originally referred to the Church of Latter-day Saints, rather than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We regret the error. We have also clarified the contemporary LDS Church's position on polygamy.


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Temple garment

Latter Day Saint undergarments

A temple garment, also referred to as garments, the garment of the holy priesthood,[2][3][4] or Mormon underwear,[5] is a type of underwear worn by adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement after they have taken part in the endowment ceremony. Garments are required for any adult who previously participated in the endowment ceremony to enter a temple.[6] The undergarments are viewed as a symbolic reminder of the covenants made in temple ceremonies and are seen as a symbolic and/or literal source of protection from the evils of the world.[7]

The garment is given as part of the washing and anointing portion of the endowment. Today, the temple garment is worn primarily by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and by members of some Mormon fundamentalist churches.[8][9] Adherents consider them to be sacred and not suitable for public display. Anti-Mormon activists have occasionally publicly displayed or defaced temple garments to advance their opposition to the LDS Church.[10]

Temple garments are sometimes derided as "magic underwear" by non-Mormons, but Mormons view this terminology to be both misleading and offensive.[11][12][13][14][15]


According to the LDS Church, the temple garments serve a number of purposes. First, the garment provides the member "a constant reminder" of the covenants they made in the temple. Second, the garment "when properly worn ... provides protection against temptation and evil". Wearing the garment is also "an outward expression of an inward commitment" to follow Jesus Christ.[16]General authorityCarlos E. Asay adds that the garment "strengthens the wearer to resist temptation, fend off evil influences, and stand firmly for the right."[2]

The nature of the protection believed to be afforded by temple garments is ambiguous and varies between adherents.[17] Researchers who interviewed a sample of Latter-day Saints who wear the temple garment reported that virtually all wearers expressed a belief that wearing the garment provided "spiritual protection" and encouraged them to keep their covenants.[17] Some of those interviewed "asserted that the garment also provided physical protection, while others seemed less certain of any physical aspect to protection."[17] In Mormon folklore, tales are told of Latter-day Saints who credit their temple garments with helping them survive car wrecks, fires, and natural disasters.[5]

In 2015, the LDS Church released an explanatory video online that showed photographs of both temple garments and the outer clothing used in temple worship. The video states that there "is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments."[11]

Sanctity among members[edit]

To members of the LDS Church, the temple garment represents the sacred and personal aspects of their relationship with God. Church presidentJoseph F. Smith taught that the garment was to be held as "the most sacred of all things in the world, next to their own virtue, next to their own purity of life."[18] For this reason, most church members feel uncomfortable discussing the garment in a casual or disrespectful manner.[19] Some church leaders have compared the garment to the clerical vestments worn by clergy of other churches.[2][20] Church leaders have publicly discussed the above principles and beliefs in general terms since the mid-1840s.[citation needed] Many Latter-day Saints view the garment associated with the temple rites as sacred. Some church members have criticized the sale of garments on online auction sites.[21]

Garment origins and evolution[edit]

The garment as first described in the 1840s was a one-piece undergarment extending to the ankles and the wrists, resembling a union suit,[22] with an open crotch and a collar. It was made of unbleached cotton and was held together with ties in a double knot. Most garments were home-made.

Garment markings[edit]

The original garment had four marks that were snipped into the cloth as part of the original Nauvooendowment ceremony.[23] These marks were a reverse-L-shaped symbol on the right breast, a V-shaped symbol on the left breast, and horizontal marks at the navel and over the right knee. These cuts were later replaced by embroidered symbols.

The marks in the garments are sacred symbols.[24] Thus, the V-shaped symbol on the left breast was referred to as "The Compasses", while the reverse-L-shaped symbol on the right breast was referred to by early church leaders as "The Square".[25]

According to a description by church president John Taylor in 1883, the "Square" represents "the justice and fairness of our Heavenly Father, that we will receive all the good that is coming to us or all that we earn, on a square deal", and the "Compasses" represents "the North Star".[25] In addition to the Square and Compasses, Taylor described the other symbols as follows: the collar represented the idea that the Lord's "yoke is easy and [his] burden is light", or the "Crown of the Priesthood"; the double-knotted strings represented "the Trinity" and "the marriage covenant"; the navel mark represents "strength in the navel and marrow in the bones"; and the knee mark represents "that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ".[25]

In 1926, LDS Church apostleDavid O. McKay offered an updated description that was later incorporated into the church's endowment ceremony.[26] According to McKay's explanation, the "mark of the Compass" represents "an undeviating course leading to eternal life; a constant reminder that desires, appetites, and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set; and that all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole"; the "mark of the Square" represents "exactness and honor" in keeping the commandments and covenants of God; the navel mark represents "the need of constant nourishment to body and spirit"; and the "knee mark" represents "that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ".[26] Unlike Taylor, McKay did not describe the symbolism of the collar or the tie-strings because those elements of the garment had been eliminated in 1922.[27]

Garment color[edit]

In 1893, the church expressed an official preference for white garments,[28] which has since become the standard color, with the exception of military garments. Members of the military may purchase desert sand-colored garments and can submit regulation military T-shirts of any color to the church for custom addition of the symbolic markings.[29]


For several decades after its introduction in the 1840s, the original 19th-century union-suit style was accepted within Mormon doctrine as being unalterable. In 1906, church president Joseph F. Smith characterized as a "grievous sin" any attempt, in the name of changing fashion trends, to modify the 1840s garment pattern, which he characterized as "sacred, unchanged, and unaltered from the very pattern in which God gave them."[18] However, while the original pattern of the garment is still in use by some Mormon fundamentalists, the LDS Church has updated the original pattern, which the fundamentalists denounce.[8][9]

In 1923, a letter from church president Heber J. Grant to stake and temple presidents, stated that after careful and prayerful consideration the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church had unanimously decided that specific modifications would be permitted to the garments: sleeves could end at the elbow; legs could be shortened to just below the knee; and buttons could be used instead of strings. The collar was eliminated and the open crotch closed.[30] Other changes were made after 1923 which shortened the sleeves and legs further and eliminated buttons.

In the 1930s, the LDS Church built Beehive Clothing Mills, which was responsible for manufacturing and selling garments. This led to a more standardized design. During this time women's garments were one-piece designs that ended just above the knees and had a cap sleeve. In the 1970s, the first two-piece garment became available and Mormons generally accepted the change.[31] Today, garments are made in both styles with a variety of different fabrics. Feminine styles are sold with either a rounded or a sweetheart neckline with cap sleeves. Sweetheart necklines usually follow the line of the bra, which is usually worn over the garment.[32] There are also two styles of necklines for men.

Endowed church members can purchase garments through church distribution centers worldwide, through the mail, and online. They are sold at a moderate price that is assumed to be near cost.[1] To purchase temple garments, members must have received their temple endowment.[33] To purchase garments online, they must provide their membership record number.[34] Endowed members can find their membership record number on their temple recommend or by obtaining a copy of their Individual Ordinance Summary.[34]

As late as 1977, church members were instructed they could make their own garments with the approval of their local leaders.[35] As of 2010, the official documentation of church institutional policies known as Handbook 2: Administering the Church states that, of both garments and temple clothing in general, only temple aprons may be hand made, and only then using "the approved apron embroidery and sewing kit that is available through Church Distribution Services."[36]

LDS Church teachings[edit]

In the church's General Handbook, leaders are instructed to tell members they should wear garments both day and night,[16] and that they should not alter them. In the temple recommend interview, members are asked if they wear the garment as instructed in the temple. Members are told that they should not partially or completely remove any portion of the garment to participate in activities that can "reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing", such as "work[ing] in the yard".[16] When necessary, the garment may be temporarily removed, but members are told that after the activity "they should put it back on as soon as possible."[16] Swimming is given as an example of an activity that would justify removal of the garment.[16]

Garment wearers are also instructed that they should not adjust garments or wear them in a way that would accommodate the wearing of what the church considers to be immodest clothing.[16] This includes uncovering areas of the body that would normally be covered by the garment, such as the shoulders and lower thighs. Members are instructed to keep garments clean and mended and to refrain from displaying them or exposing them to the view of others who may not understand their significance.[16] Prior to the disposal of old garments, members are instructed to cut out the markings on them.[5][16] After the marks are removed, "the fabric is not considered sacred" and the garment fabric may be cut up and discarded or used for other purposes.[5][16]

Biblical references and LDS scholarship[edit]

The temple garment is usually identified by Mormon scholars with the sacred "linen breeches" (michnasayim/mikhnesei bahd) and the "coat of linen" (kuttoneth) that ancient Israelite priests were commanded to wear, as referenced in Exodus 28:39-43. [37] The michnasayim were undergarments that reached from the hips to the thighs and served the purpose of hiding the wearer's "nakedness" and maintaining modesty.[citation needed] These garments symbolized the abolition of the distinction between the heavenly and mortal part of man, and, like the LDS temple garment, were worn by the Israelite priest even when he wasn't actually officiating in the temple.[38] The kuttoneth was probably a white, tight-fitting, shirt-like undergarment worn in conjunction with the michnasayim. According to the Talmud, worn-out undergarments and priestly sashes were burned, being used as torch wicks in the temple.[39]

Additionally, the temple garment has been compared to the modern tallit katan, a sacred undershirt of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Both the temple garment and the tallit katan are meant to be worn all day under regular clothing as a constant reminder of the covenants, promises, and obligations the wearer is under.[40]

Use in protests[edit]

Some church opponents have used public occasions, like the biannual church conferences, to publicly mock and parody the wearing of temple garments.[5] During the October 2003 LDS Church General Conference, some anti-Mormon demonstrators outside the LDS Conference Center reportedly spat and stomped on garments in view of those attending the conference. One protester blew his nose into a garment he wore around his neck.[41] A scuffle broke out between a protester and two members of the church who attempted to take the garments from him.[42] To avoid a repeat of the conflict, the municipality of Salt Lake City planned new protest buffer zones for the April 2004 conference in Salt Lake City.[43]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ abHamilton & Hawley 1999, p. 44.
  2. ^ abcAsay 1997
  3. ^F. David Stanley (June 2000). "The Most Important Step". New Era. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  4. ^"Lesson 6: Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple". Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher's Manual. LDS Church. 2003. p. 27. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  5. ^ abcdeStuever 2002
  6. ^Marshall 1992
  7. ^Koch & Weis 1999, p. 35
  8. ^ abKen Driggs (2011). "Twenty Years of Observations about the Fundamentalist Polygamists". In Cardell Jacobson; Lara Burton (eds.). Modern Polygamy in the United States: Historical, Cultural, and Legal Issues. Oxford University Press. pp. 80–81. ISBN . Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  9. ^ abJanet Bennion (2012). Polygamy in Primetime: Media, Gender, and Politics in Mormon Fundamentalism. University Press of New England. pp. 58, 124. ISBN . Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  10. ^Moore 2003
  11. ^ ab"Temple Garments",, LDS Church, retrieved 2014-10-20
  12. ^Dobner, Jennifer (4 August 2011). "Group aims to dispel Mormon myths, explain beliefs: Mormon Defense League aims to educate journalists, politicos about Utah-based faith's beliefs". Reading Eagle. (AP).
  13. ^Edmunds, Tresa (1 March 2011). "Mormon underwear keeps body and soul together". Guardian Unlimited.
  14. ^Rees, Robert A. (August 24, 2012). "Is Nothing Sacred? Thoughts on Mormon Undergarments". Religion News Service. Archived from the original on October 22, 2014.
  15. ^Stack, Peggy Fletcher (October 20, 2014). "Church posts pictures, video explaining Mormon 'garments'". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on October 21, 2014.
  16. ^ abcdefghiLDS Church 2010a (Handbook 1 § 3.4).
  17. ^ abcHamilton & Hawley 1999, p. 49
  18. ^ abSmith 1906, p. 813.
  19. ^"Balancing Interest and Good Taste",, LDS Church, 24 April 2007, retrieved 2014-10-20
  20. ^Packer 2002.
  21. ^Stack & Mims 2004.
  22. ^Note that the union suit postdates the temple garment by at least two decades, as the first union suit was patented in the United States in 1868. The union suit originated during the 19th-century women's clothing reform, and soon gained popularity among men as well. See: "Reforming Fashion, 1850–1914", The Historic Costume Collection, Ohio State University, retrieved 2014-07-07
  23. ^Buerger 1987, p. 56; Beadle 1870, p. 497; Bennett 1842, pp. 247–48.
  24. ^Buerger 2002, p. 58.
  25. ^ abcBuerger 2002, p. 145.
  26. ^ abBuerger 2002, p. 153.
  27. ^Buerger 2002, p. 138.
  28. ^Shaun Cole (8 May 2012). The Story of Men's Underwear. Parkstone International. ISBN . Retrieved 2016-01-07.
  29. ^"Resources for Military Members: Military Garments for Endowed Members". Serving in the Church: Military Relations. LDS Church. Archived from the original on 2014-05-01. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  30. ^Buerger 2002, p. 138
  31. ^Hamilton & Hawley 1999, p. 44
  32. ^Tsai, Michelle (March 16, 2007). "Latter-Day Sportswear".
  33. ^"Store Help". LDS Church. Archived from the original on 26 April 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
  34. ^ ab"LDS Membership Info". Retrieved 30 September 2011.
  35. ^Barbara B. Smith (March 1977), "Q&A: Questions and Answers: 'Where do I go to obtain or ask about the special clothing worn in the temple?'", New Era, retrieved 23 February 2015,
  36. ^LDS Church 2010b (Handbook 2).
  37. ^Gaskill, Alonzo L. “Clothed in Holy Garments: The Apparel of the Temple Officiants of Ancient Israel: Religious Studies Center.” Clothed in Holy Garments: The Apparel of the Temple Officiants of Ancient Israel | Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University,
  38. ^
  39. ^The Talmud of the land of Israel: an academic commentary Volume 6 Jacob Neusner - 1998 "5:3 [A] Out of the worn-out undergarments and girdles of the priests they made wicks, [B] and with them they lit the ... [1:1 A] It has been taught: Out of the worn-out undergarments of the high priest they kindled the lamps that were"
  40. ^
  41. ^"Garments and Temple Clothing". The LDS Endowment. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  42. ^Moore 2003.
  43. ^Piatt 2004.


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