A friend gave me a list of questions about Mormons and since they are the same questions many people have, I am going to answer them all here in a series of Mormon Q and A articles. The first deals with Mormon clothing.
It’s likely that even if you think you’ve never met a Mormon, you have and didn’t know it. Mormons dress pretty much the same way as everyone else. The long dresses and fancy hairstyles you see on the news are of the Fundamentalists, who call themselves Mormon but aren’t. (The name is trademarked, and polygamy, which the Fundamentalists practice, ended more than 100 years ago in the Mormon religion.)
There are some clothing rules, however. Mormons dress modestly as a way to show respect for themselves and for the body God made them. Mormon beliefs teach us that God made people in His own image and that our bodies are gifts from Him to be treated with respect. So Mormons believe their bodies are worthy of respect and they don’t dress in a way that attracts inappropriate attention.
Modesty rules are for both men and women. Both are expected to wear shirts with at least a cap sleeve and that are not low-cut. Skirts and shorts reach the knees or below. Clothing is not to be too tight or so loose it’s sloppy or hangs too low (such as the low, droopy pants that are fashionable). Backs are covered. Swimsuits are one-piece and modest by traditional standards, but not old-fashioned.
Mormons sometimes have to look a little harder for their clothing if they don’t live in Utah, but they are able to buy their clothing in normal stores. Even teenagers are able to find fashionable clothing to wear that meet the standards. And so, it is likely you will not be able to identify a Mormon by his or her clothing, other than that the clothing will always be pretty modest.
Mormons are taught to ask themselves if they would feel comfortable dressed as they are if the Savior were to walk into the room. They believe their clothing choices reflect who they are and how they feel about themselves. Clothing choices also impact how we behave and how we are treated, as well as how people view us. A young person who is dressed in a revealing and provocative way will cause others to look at them with inappropriate thoughts and a girl who values herself for her character, intelligence, and skills will not want to be looked at in that way. She will want people to respect her and notice her for who she is. A young man dressed provocatively may be tempted to live down to his clothing and engage in behavior that is unbecoming a child of God.
Mormons believe that marriage is sacred and intimate activities are reserved for marriage. Our clothing choices help to ensure we are reserving for marriage that which God planned to be part of marriage.
You may have heard that Mormons wear a special garment under their clothing. Some people refer to it as Magic Mormon Underwear, a very disrespectful way to refer to something considered sacred. Mormon beliefs teach respect for the sacred, even when it isn’t our own sacred item. They are properly referred to as garments.
The wearing of special religious clothing is not unique to Mormons. Many Christians wear crosses to help them remember some of their most sacred beliefs. Some Jewish men wear tzitzis, which one Jewish website says, “But consider this: The Commandment of Tzitzis is unlike most other Commandments, in that it involves something that surrounds us. When we wear tzitzis around our torsos, holiness surrounds us from head to toe.Therefore, the Rabbis taught that whenever possible one should try very hard to perform this Commandment, and make or purchase a garment with four corners, so he can keep the Commandment and put tzitzis on it and wear them. For after all, the Torah ties in the Mitzvah of Tzitzis with all the Mitzvos of the Torah, and says, “You will have these tzitzis, and when you see them you will remember all the Commandments of Hashem and you will do them…” (See Tzitzis: What Are Those Strings Jewish Men Wear?)
In the same way the Tzitzi helps Jewish men be surrounded by holiness and the cross helps some Christians remember the atonement of Jesus Christ, Mormons wear sacred garments to remind them of the covenants (promises) they made to God. They are worn only by adults who have been to the Mormon temple. In the temple, Mormons who have been members of the Mormon Church for at least one year, have learned to keep the commandments of God to a high level of obedience, and who have a good understanding of gospel teachings make additional covenants with God. They promise to keep the commandments taught by Jesus Christ in the scriptures to a very high level. They then begin to wear the garments, the special Mormon underwear, under their clothing. By having them on at all times they have a constant reminder of the covenants they’ve made. It provides protection against making moral mistakes, not in a magical way, but simply because it is there, always reminding them.
People sometimes misunderstand the promise of protection the “Mormon underwear” or garment offers. Although stories do circulate about physical protection in fires and so forth, there is no actual promise of this. The protection promised is spiritual, not physical. If the stories are true, they are miracles, not promised results. “Wearing the garment is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.” (see Temples).
We’ve seen the problems people sometimes face because of their religious clothing or jewelry requirements. Often they have to battle for the right to wear them. The Lord, knowing all things, was wise and chose the garments to be worn beneath the clothing, allowing them to be a private reminder, just for the wearer, of the promises he has made to God. They are always with the wearer, a constant reminder of who he is and what he stands for, but do not force him to fight for the right to wear them. They are treated with respect and sacredness because they are a symbol of our sacred promises. Although they are worn in place of underwear, Mormon underwear is more than a mere covering for the body.
While the Mormon underwear garment is worn privately, a Christian will publicly show who he is and what he believes by the way he lives his life. If he is publicly living the commandments he promised to keep, he does not necessarily need to wear a public item. The world will be able to see his beliefs in his chosen lifestyle.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.