Why do Mormons Wear Garments?

Most non-Mormons are familiar with the fact that some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear underwear that they call the “temple garment” or “garment of the priesthood.” So, from the perspective of a plain-jane member of the Church, let me tell you why I think Mormon’s wear garments.

I believe Mormons wear garments as a symbolic way to remember Jesus Christ and the promises, or covenants, that are associated with the temple services. The garment for Latter-day Saints is much like the other religiously symbolic clothing or items in other religions like the Scapular, Tzitzit, Dhoti, Veil, and Peace Mala.

While there is an academic connection to garments, I think it is most important to point out that I see my garments as a personal commitment to keep my promises to God. Every morning and every night, I am reminded of my obligations to live according to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. I will explain some of the academic connections later, but first I want to answer some simple questions about the garment like who wears them and when do we get them.

Which Mormons Wear Garments?

The garment is received as a part of the ordinances associated with the temple. Once a member of the Church receives their “endowment” or is “endowed” in the temple, they are under a covenant to wear the garment night and day. There are reasonable exceptions made for things like swimming. Blake Ostler pointed out that historically, “the ritual action of putting on a sacred garment is properly termed an ‘endowment.’”[1]

Angel Moroni on top of the Star Valley Wyoming Temple. Photo courtesy of lds.org

Some people might ask about the appropriate age to start wearing the garment. The better question deals with when a person is ready for the important ordinances and covenants associated with the temple. These ordinances come with serious commitments and should not be entered into lightly. Missionaries, in almost every circumstance, receive their endowment before going into the mission field. At least 18 years old for young men and 19 years old for young women.

If they are not headed to the mission field, some people wait until they are going to be married in the temple. Others, however, feel a desire to receive their endowment before marriage. In these circumstances, the young person would need to visit with their local bishop and make those arrangements.

About the only certain thing I can say about timing is that I have never heard of someone receiving their endowment while they are still in high school.

Temple Garments in the Public Eye

Mormon garments have been referred to in public arenas as “magic underwear,” “Mormon underwear,” and (my favorite) “magic Mormon undies” by people trying to both mock and understand. One of the challenges of the past for Mormons has been walking the line between secret and sacred. While they are not necessarily secret, the tendency to keep quiet about the garment has come from a desire to protect the sacred from being mocked.

The garments are important to our personal worship and to openly discuss them would subject them to the opinions of public mockery. Recent history has shown that the concern was valid. The information age of internet and other types of communication, however, has, in a way, forced the issue into the open.

Some are only interested in making fun of this part of our worship. I am, however, personally grateful for people who respectfully inquire out of genuine curiosity. The fact that the issue is out in the open, along with an increasing demand to respect that which others hold sacred make it easier to discuss with people from other faiths.

The Symbolism of the Mormon Garment

There are symbolic connections to garments, as well as other religious clothing,  throughout canonized and non-canonized texts. While these may or may not explain the specific reasons that Mormons wear garments, they clearly point out the symbolic nature of clothing in general religious history. The great thing about symbols is that there is no limit to what they can teach us. As time passes, a symbol holds the potential to teach additional lessons.

Personally, I have come to see the temple garment as a symbol of the blessings of God, the armor of God, Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and even Jesus Christ, himself.

A Reminder of God’s blessings

One scripture account that connects garments to the Mormon temple experience is Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. The morning after Jacob has a dream of angels descending and ascending a ladder to heaven, he made a pillar of stones and anointed it with oil. He called the place “Beth-el” or “House of God.” At that time, Jacob made a covenant with the Lord. In exchange for guidance, land, and “raiment” (or clothing or garments), Jacob promised that he would follow the Lord.

In this context, the clothing is something that God has given to Jacob—it is one of His blessings. Latter-day Saints see the garment as a blessing from God as it is a physical evidence and reminder of sacred experiences and eternal blessings that God has provided.

It is also significant to me that Jacob named the place “House of God” because every LDS temple has the saying “House of the Lord” near the entrance. When a member of the Church goes to the House of the Lord, they receive an endowment. As a part of the endowment, every member, male and female, receives their raiment–or garments. Continuing to wear the garment is a way to show that they, like Jacob, will always follow the Lord. 

The word “endowment” means, according to the 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary, “that which is bestowed or settled on; property, fund or revenue permanently appropriated to any object.”

This aptly describes how I view what I received during the temple endowment. Instead of a gift of money or property, it was a gift of understanding, insight, and hope. The garment is a physical reminder of those blessings and the commitments I made during the temple endowment.

Put on the Armor of God

President Russell M. Nelson said, “Wearing the temple garment has deep symbolic significance. It represents a continuing commitment. Just as the Savior exemplified the need to endure to the end, we wear the garment faithfully as part of the enduring armor of God. Thus we demonstrate our faith in Him and in His eternal covenants with us.”

The Garment is a Symbol of Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of mankind. Because of their choices, they lost the privilege of being in the presence of God. As they left the Garden of Eden (God’s presence), they were given a gift.

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).

I learned in a class a long time ago that the Hebrew word for “atonement” is “kaphar” and it means “to coat or cover with pitch; to cover over, pacify, propitiate; to cover over, atone for sin, make atonement for.”[2] Providing the coat for Adam and Eve was a physical representation of how Christ would cover their sins as well as the sins of their descendants.

John taught in Revelation, that those who “overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment” (Revelation 3:5). As Mormons put on white garments, they are reminded of the ability Christ gives them to overcome the world and the promise of white robes they will receive as a reward for relying on the teachings and atonement of Jesus Christ.

There are so many reasons that “coats of skins” would be important to Adam and Eve. The obvious reasons include protection from the elements and warmth. The initial covering from the Lord was symbolic of the spiritual covering He would provide for us all through the Atonement. I love the connection between the physical covering that would protect Adam and Even and the spiritual protection that Christ provides.

Jesus Christ, Himself

Many members of the Church connect their garments to the garments of the ancient Israelite priests and temple worship. Those garments had marks in them that were also found in the veil of the temple that separated the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The connection between these ancient garments and the veil of the temple were so close that several ancient texts actually confuse the two. “Ambrose of Milano’s Tractate of the Mysteries or the Hebrew Book of Enoch where ‘garment’ and ‘veil’ are used interchangeably.”[3]

The connection to the veil is significant because Paul made a connection between the veil of the temple and Jesus Christ. For generations, the veil represented man’s separation from God’s presence. When Christ died on the cross, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:38). Paul wrote, “By a new and living way, which [Christ] hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say his flesh; . . . Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:20-22).

The garment is connected to the veil, which is symbolic of Christ. When the veil was ripped in two, the presence of God was left symbolically open to any that would follow the Savior’s example and return. This is one more symbolic connection to Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints can draw on when appropriately wearing the garment.

The garment can remind us of Christ. If the garment is the veil and the veil is Christ, then putting on the garment is a literal way for Mormons to follow Paul’s admonition to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) and putting on Christ opens the door back into the presence of the Father.

Official Video About the Garment

In 2014, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out with an official video detailing the garment. The video even showed the garment and other temple clothing. As a member of the Church, I was totally surprised when the video came out. Since then, I have realized that we should talk more about these things to avoid the confusion and mystery of the past.

My Own View of the Garment

What I have shared with you is my own view of the garment. These do not represent the official stance of the Church (except what you saw in the video). I believe that every Mormon you meet will have a slightly different answer to the question, “Why do you wear garments?”

It is likely that every response represents individual experiences with the garment and the amount of time they have spent studying its origins and symbolic connections. I have only scratched the surface with what the garment might represent. As such, this short post should only be considered one person’s view of the garment and why it is important to LDS theology.

If you would like to read the Church’s official statement on the garment you can click on this link.

[1] Blake Ostler, “Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity,” BYU Studies, 22:1

[2] Bible Study Tools, https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/kaphar.html

[3] Ostler, “Clothed Upon,” p. 4.