Some people make the current format of garments into a “Sacred Molehill”  I would change them.  Before immediately discounting this, there is a very good rationale, so please read on.  And as mentioned in last week’s introduction to this series entitled “Stop Counting Earrings“, I don’t actually suggest changing anything doctrinal, so the suggestions regarding garments aren’t really that radical.

So why this topic?  A few months ago I went shopping with my wife for a dress for a more formal type of event.  We were looking at fairly nice dresses which were all very classy.  As we went through around 5-10 different dresses, it was quite frustrating.  Why?  Garments.  They would peek out the arm hole of the dress.  They would creep up in front and need to be pulled down.  They would bunch up.  And these weren’t risqué or revealing dresses.  I’ve also seen her frustration with garment bottoms that come up to her belly button or are a struggle with various types of pants.  In seeing various comments over the years both online and in talking to people, this is a common frustration.

Garments are a personal thing and a sacred thing.  They represent important covenants.  And different people feel differently about how they are worn and what they mean to them.  On my mission, I would come home in the evening, take off my dress clothes, and put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt for the 30 minutes or so I had to wind down and do a few things before going to bed.  Depending on which shorts I was wearing, occasionally my garment bottoms would hang an inch or two below my shorts.  One of my companions talked to me one day and said he would prefer if I kept them covered at all times.  For the sake of harmony, I just wore a pair of longer shorts.  No big deal if it was that important to him.  Later, he mentioned that he appreciated it, but then wondered if I would keep my knees covered even though the garments didn’t go down that far.  I didn’t really take him up on that suggestion, but was soon transferred.  So, two different people.  Same covenants but two different ways to respect the same covenants.  Neither was right or wrong – just different.

So, before getting into how I would change garments, let’s see what’s actually vital to their role or doctrinal, and what aspects of garments might be more variable:

Material: The initial garments were made of plain, unbleached cotton.  For decades, this is what all garments were made of.  There are now a wide variety of fabrics and materials used to make garments.  So the material is NOT important.

Cut: The original design for temple garments was from Joseph Smith himself.  He modeled them after long-johns that were common in his time.  They were designed to be one-piece, with as few seams as possible.  They were designed with ties and did not have any buttons.  According to instructions given to temple workers in the late 19th century:

“When Joseph Smith received the endowments and revelation from the Lord to be given to his people by authority, he also received instructions as to how to make this garment. None had ever seen anything like it and the sisters who made it were under his direction and when it was submitted to him, he said that it was right and the way it had looked to him and he accepted it. This garment had a collar and it had strings to tie it and sleeves that came to the wrist, not to the hand, but about an inch above, and the leg came down to the ankle joint. This was the pattern given and it is right for Aunt Eliza Snow was the governess and seamstress in his house at the time the first garments were made and heard the instructions to the sisters.”

For a long time, this was the only kind of garments allowed, as it was felt that the design was fundamental to the role of garments.  The importance of this design was emphasized by President Joseph F. Smith when he was president of the Salt Lake Temple around the turn-of-the-century.  He taught:

“Each individual should be provided with the endowment clothing they need. The garments must be clean and white, and of the approved pattern; they must not be altered or mutilated, and are to be worn as intended, down to the wrist and ankles, and around the neck. These requirements are imperative; admission to the Temple will be refused to those who do not comply therewith.”
– President Joseph F. Smith, “Instructions Concerning Temple Ordinance Work”

Since then, however, many things have changed.  The length of garments was shortened.  When I was younger, the only garments were still one-piece.  It was a shock to some people when 2-piece garments came out.  Lace has been added to the collars of women’s garments.  Garments today are completely different today than the original design given to Joseph Smith.  While prophets earlier taught that the design was NOT to be changed, subsequent changes have shown us that the cut also DOES NOT MATTER.

Length: As mentioned above, garments have been modified significantly in length.  They used to come down to 1″ above the wrists and down to the ankle bones.  Out of curiosity, I measured how much my own garments vary from this original design.  On my tops, my garments end 17″ above my wrist, and around 24″ above my ankles.  I’ve never owned a pair of garments that actually covered my knees.  So, the length of garments DOES NOT MATTER.  Neither does the fact that they don’t actually cover my knees.

Color: The original color for garments was white, and most garments are still worn in this color.  For the military, however, Beehive Clothing also makes garments in desert sand color.  And for other people (military, police, fire fighters, etc.) you can actually buy a shirt in ANY COLOR required and send it in to have garment markings put on it.  There’s even a standard form to have this done.  So the color of garments DOES NOT MATTER.

Markings: These have also changed over time.  The initial marks at the time of Joseph Smith were actually cut into the garment at the time of the endowment.  The marks are currently sewn into most garments today.  But for some people, including the military, the marks can even be silk-screened on the inside of a regular shirt.  Therefore, the standard t-shirt of someone in the military might actually be garments, and you’d never know.  So, the specific style of the marks DOES NOT MATTER.

So, if all of these things don’t matter, what IS important with garments?  The fundamental thing is to remind a person of their sacred covenants.  It seems that marks can be sewn into or silk-screened on the inside of different types of clothing of all different lengths, styles, colors, etc. and still be valid as garments.  Marks on bottoms are generally not over the knee, but are just in the general area to serve as a reminder of specific covenants.

So why even talk about changing garments?  There are a number of people for whom temple covenants are very important, but for whom the current style of garments is difficult.  They ride up, they need adjusting, they hang out of clothes, they have unsightly lines, they are a problem.  Also, current garments styles are just not very sexy to many people, and there is nothing wrong with someone feeling sexy for their spouse.  It is a struggle for someone trying to balance covenants vs an attempt to feel good about how they look.  And it is an unnecessary struggle.

Before I give my suggestion, also understand that I would not want to change ALL garments – I would merely ADD to existing styles.  If someone feels the current styles best represent their covenants, perfect.  Beehive Clothing still makes one-piece garments for people who feel that best represents their covenants.  Perfect as well.  It SHOULD be a personal thing between a person and God.

Given how much garments have changed over the years, it is somewhat ironic that some people have made a “Sacred Molehill” out of the current iteration of garments.  I would change them:

Women’s Tops: I would make a camisole top with the markings silk-screened on the inside.  It could be a lightweight fabric just like other camisole tops out there.  The most likely color would still be white, but I don’t see a reason why other colors wouldn’t work either.

This wouldn’t affect the locations of markings AT ALL.  It would involve removing around 2-3 inches from the cap sleeves on current garments, but this is much less than the 12-18″ that have already been removed from the sleeves of women’s garments over the years.  There is nothing obscene or immodest about shoulders.  A strap from a camisole top might show, but the entire garment already shows in a military t-shirt that has the markings silk-screened on the inside.

Women’s Bottoms: I would make a modified  “boy-short”  type of bottom, perhaps a bit longer than standard commercially available “boy-shorts”.  I would make the waist low enough that it doesn’t come up to someone’s navel.  Again, standard white would probably be likely, but a couple of other colors might be nice.  I would also make sure the seam on the leg is unobtrusive like commercial products.

Again, the mark might not actually be over the knee, but it generally isn’t over the knee anyway.  It might be 4-5″ shorter than current garments, but they have already been shortened over 18″ already over the years.

Men’s Tops: Men are much less impacted by garments.  You can currently get a cotton t-shirt type of garment that is basically just like a standard t-shirt.  The few changes I would make here would include the option of having the marks silk-screened on the inside of the shirt.  I would also make a sleeveless t-shirt for people that might like that style.  I personally don’t really like the “wife-beater” look, but some people might and it is a simple option without changing the location of the marks.

I would also make the tops available in a polypropylene-type fabric for active sporting type of activities.  With silk-screened markings, this could be used for hiking, running, etc.

Men’s Bottoms: Again, less impact here for men (like most things in the Church).  There are a few things I would do.  I don’t know the reason why there is a 1″ wide seam at the bottom of my garments.  It is terribly ugly when I sit down and looks like a line of tape across the middle of my thigh.  Why not make a normal seam there?  And I would also make a simple pair of cotton boxers that are about the length of normal boxers.  I measured this on me, and it would be around 3-4″ shorter than my current garments, which again is much less than the 24+” that garments have already been shortened over the years since they first started.

So, those are my changes.  They don’t affect the marks.  They do not involve any changes that haven’t already been done to garments over the years.  And if they make someone feel better about themselves while wearing garments, all the better.  An earlier post talked about how convert rates are down, how people are leaving in increasing numbers, and how activity rates are falling, particularly among the younger generation.  The whole point of this series is changing NON-DOCTRINAL things that might be stumbling blocks.  If changing garments like this makes only 1% of people more likely to wear them, it’s certainly worth it.

Why might these changes NOT be made?  I can think of 2 reasons:

1) Control: The definition of “modest” is different between cultures, generations, locales, etc.  Ideally, the concept of modesty is between an individual and God.  The Church, however, attempts to get in the middle of this and define “modesty” for us.  And this may actually backfire, as discussed in an article by Amelia at The Exponent entitled “The Modesty Myth: Why Covering Up Just Won’t Do“.  Making these changes to garments would involve having individuals define what is modest for themselves as opposed to having someone at Beehive Clothing decide what they think is modest.

2) Generational: Just like with earrings, this is a very big part of it as well.  When President Monson was born in 1927, this is how people dressed when they went to the beach.  Many of the ideas about what is “modest” or not are generational as opposed to actually being doctrinal.

So, garments can be an imposition, especially for women.  Historically, many things have changed about garments, including the fabric, the cut, the length, the color, etc.  But the function and symbolism hasn’t changed.  If I were in charge, I would add a few more styles to garments.  I wouldn’t expect everyone to fit to my idea of what the “best” garment is, as that is between them and God, but I would give them more options.  The suggestions I gave above are certainly within changes that have been done in the past.  They are certainly modest.  And, most importantly, they would give some people the option to feel better about what they are wearing while also feeling good about honoring their temple covenants.

NOTE: This post is one in a whole series.  To see other similar posts, here is an “Overview & Topical Guide” to the other posts.


  • How do you feel about current styles of garments?  For men?  For women?
  • Do you wish there were more options available?
  • Did you realize that garments can be of any color, fabric, and/or have silk-screened markings?
  • Do you think that the suggestions in this post are reasonable?
  • Do you think that the Church should define modesty (for example – making cap sleeves) or should it be between a person and God?
  • What changes would YOU make?


ADDENDUM (7.31.2011)

This doesn’t really have anything to do with the post, but I was at Six Flags Magic Mountain this week and saw the following sign.  Is it a new trend?