Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
268:  What Do Your Temple Garments Mean to You?:   Nancy Ross and Jessica Finnigan

268: What Do Your Temple Garments Mean to You?: Nancy Ross and Jessica Finnigan

From HBO’s ‘Angels in America’

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there’s often a very large gap in the theological or doctrinal understanding of the garment, and the lived experience with wearing one.   Predictably, Mormons will simply say that garments are symbols of their temple covenants.

On the surface that’s not very problematic.   Almost all faith traditions have religious clothing that symbolises an aspect of faith.  Carlos Asay has stated of the garment, that it is “an outward expression of an inward commitment.”

But, the fact that Mormon religious clothing is worn as underwear is for some people highly troublesome not for reasons of faith or belief but for health and physical reasons.


A few years ago, Nancy Ross and Jessica Finnigan set about trying to find out something about the relationship that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have with their temple garments. Around 4,500 Mormons responded to their question “What do your garments mean to you?”

Out of the survey data emerged some very strong themes, and to discuss their research Nancy Ross and Jessica Finnigan join me for a chat about Mormon religious underwear.



  1. David

    My mother in law was served as a Sister (wife to) Mission President, and she was instructed to tell members that they could use regular underwear underneath their garments.

    This was news to my wife, but my wife was still very stuck in her ways and preferred wearing her underwear over her garments for spiritual/religious reasons.

  2. John

    I was part of a fundamentalist group that does have their own “endowment” house. They mimicked the temple ceremony experience in the main LDS church prior to the changes made in 1990, and they still do it the same today. I went through in 2010, receiving a one-piece yoked neck to wrists and ankles style garment as Nancy and Jessica explained. I relate to many of these respondents experiences but for me, it was a combination of multiple things that led me remove mine (which also royally screwed up my personal life). On top of a complete failure of faith related to the truth claims of the LDS church, I was uncomfortable 24/7, especially in hot weather, and was always being ridiculed for wearing long-sleeves. The yoked neck never worked well and was always falling out of my shirt collars. Interestingly, as a man, I can actually see how the one-piece original style is much more conducive for women because it’s completely open through the middle (no flap), allowing whatever style of underwear you choose to be firm and snug. I’m ignorant of how the main LDS garment actually looks for men or women, though I’m sure I could easily google it. Anyway, just an anecdotal comment from someone with a different perspective. Thanks for the very interesting podcast!

  3. Jordan

    I like this topic and the presentation by you and your guests. I wish that I would have been able to participate in the survey. Let me make just a couple of comments from a male perspective and a garment-wearing member for over 40 years.

    As a man being told to wear the garment night and day, I am frankly unimpressed with the quality of product that I pay a pretty good price for. I started out in the 70’s with the horrendous one-sie, open flap long john. They made me feel like an old man even though in my 20’s. The fit was horrible when being active, with no proper support for men. Then the 2-piece came out, and i was at least able to get a bit more support, but with cotton or a blend being the only options, still awful for a day of hiking or other activity.

    Additionally, the material and construction were/are horrible! You cannot keep them white. Why? We (my wife and I) wash only garments together in a wash load, and use a high quality detergent, yet after a few months, they are very clearly Gray. Why don’t they have a good athletic material that is comparable to a true brief. If I have to buy my underwear from the church, I would like to have a better quality product.

    When I spend a similar amount on a good UnderArmour or Nike support long legged brief, I am in good underwear. My wife feels similarly about her garments. It is to the point now that when our day includes a lot of hiking, we both wear “real” underwear and change into garments later when we go to bed.

    As one that lives in the mormon corridor, i am interested that I see so many women (who I know are LDS) wearing their workout clothes or the very tight yoga type leggings to the store and around town. It has to say something about the fit of the garment for women.

    Finally, on a positive note, at least I don’t have to go to the counter and discuss with some unknown woman about my measurements and what material I want. I can now pick it out all by myself at Deseret Book and simply have the woman ring it up without all the detail and for me, awkward conversation.

  4. Mike

    Two books (both now out of print) provide additional information about garments. “Temples of the Most High,” by Nels B. Lundwall, discusses the meaning of the marks in the garment, based on numerology and other ‘mystical’ concepts. “A Brief Compilation of Notes on the Priesthood Garment,” by Ogden Kraut, talks about the history of the garment, from Joseph Smith’s time until about 1972–before the two-piece revolution.

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