Unlocking The Mysteries Of The Mormon Underwear Known As The Temple Garment

Published June 14, 2018
Updated October 30, 2019

They're not supposed to let anyone see it or even talk about it, but here's everything you always wanted to know about the Mormon underwear they call the temple garment.

All religions have symbols, relics, rites, and garments that are deemed holy and used to help represent and inspire believers’ faith. And as perplexing as these elements can sometimes be to outsiders, one particular garment belonging to one particular religion had long been especially perplexing, even amusing, to non-believers.

The Temple Garment

A 2014 video by the Mormon church explains the background on Temple Garment.

The Mormon temple garment, or garment of the holy priesthood, is worn under the clothes of adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) virtually at all times and they consider it a sacred symbol of their personal commitment to God.

Not only sacred but also extremely personal for believers, the temple garment had long been a mystery to non-members, those who even knew of its existence in the first place.

In fact, the temple garment (popularly referred to as “Mormon underwear”) is specifically meant to not be discussed and to be concealed from anyone who would not understand its religious significance. Even when not wearing it, Mormons are supposed to not let the garment hang in a place where it could be seen by anyone else.

“Mormon underwear” thus remained largely shrouded in secrecy until the LDS Church itself released a video (above) in 2014 that briefly explained the temple garment to non-members.

“Because there is little or no accurate information on this subject on the Internet the church feels it important to provide this resource,” said LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones upon the release of the video.

The video clearly laid out the basics of the garment, namely that it’s white, comes in two pieces, is cut a little differently for men vs. women, and, the Church claims, is “similar in design to ordinary modest underclothing.”

However, the video only scratched the surface when it comes to separating myth from fact about “Mormon underwear.”

Wearing “Mormon Underwear”

Female Mormon Underwear

Mormon Newsroom/YouTubeFemale temple garment as depicted in the Church’s 2014 video.

Adult members of the LDS Church first receive their temple garment after their sacred endowment ceremony, during which members make a serious of covenants with God, promising to adhere to God’s commandments and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

From that point on, devout Mormons are to wear the garment night and day, with some exceptions allowed for participation in sports and other situations when the garment would be highly impractical (whether sex is among such situations is likely, but uncertain in all cases).

But when one is wearing it, the garment should never be exposed to public view, so all members must ensure all outer clothing covers the garment, which means covering the shoulder and upper legs. These rules apply to both men and women, with the temple garments being very similar for each.

Likewise, for both men and women, the temple garment — at least the ones depicted in the Church’s 2014 video — is incredibly plain. This, however, wasn’t always the case.

The History Of The Temple Garment

Mormon Temple Garment

Wikimedia CommonsTemple garment illustration from 1879.

Unsurprisingly, the history of the temple garment remains somewhat unclear, but most sources say that it debuted in the 1840s, right about the time that Church founder Joseph Smith died in 1844.

From then until 1923, when the Church modernized the temple garment by shortening the arms and legs (amog other small changes), the garment remained virtually unchanged. It was a long, not-necessarily-white (that ruling came in 1893) one-piece that covered the arms, legs, and torso.

Cut into the cloth was a “V”-shaped symbol on the left breast known as the “compass” and a backward “L” called the “square” on the right, along with one horizontal line at the navel and another at the right knee.

Precise explanations for these symbols vary somewhat, but according to one website claiming to provide information from an endowed LDS Church member who has broken the oath of silence:

“The mark of the square is to inspire exactness and honor in keeping one’s covenants, and the mark of the compass is a “constant reminder” to keep one’s passions within the bounds set by the Lord. These interpretations of specific marks on the garments have given rise to an oft-expressed understanding that the marks collectively remind Latter-day Saints of their temple covenants. Thus, it is believed, the garment can prevent transgression. This belief is nurtured by folklore about endowed Saints who are prevented from committing sexual transgression because, as they undress, the sight of the garment pricks their conscience.”

The knee markings represent the kneeling that one should do towards God, and the navel markings are a symbol of one’s need for nourishment of both body and soul.

None of these symbols appear to be present on the garments depicted in the 2014 video. That’s certainly possible, as the garment has undergone changes even since the 1923 overhaul, including the fact that it was changed from a one-piece to a two-piece in 1979.

Why They Wear It

Male Mormon Underwear

Mormon Newsroom/YouTubeMale temple garment as depicted in the Church’s 2014 video.

Most likely, what’s long been even more interesting to outsiders is not what this “Mormon underwear” looks like or even how it’s worn, but why it’s worn.

Explanations both vary slightly and have changed a little over time, but the basic idea is that the temple garment is worn as a reminder of believers’ sacred covenants with God and as a way to maintain modesty.

More intense explanations characterize the garment as “Armor of God” that helps its wearer wage war against spiritual darkness and wickedness, including “the onslaught of immorality, crime, substance abuse, and other insidious influences threatening our society,” according to the official LDS Church website.

With such grand ideas attached to a simple garment, it’s little wonder that “Mormon underwear” has long been a subject of fascination.

After this look at the Mormon underwear known as the temple garment, read up on the often dark history of Mormonism. Then, discover the story of Olive Oatman, the Mormon girl whose family was slaughtered, leaving her to be raised by the Mohave.

Aimee Lamoureux
Aimee Lamoureux is a writer based in New York City.