Mormon underwear is a curiosity for some and a subject of ridicule for others. It has been described as “magic,” “special,” and “secret,” along with countless other adjectives. Mormon underwear is usually called “garments” among Mormons, perhaps to distinguish them from regular underwear and to call them by a more proper term, for they are very sacred to those who wear them.
The proper wearing of this underwear seems strange to many people, but it is an act of faith and devotion for believers and is not unprecedented. Special clothing, whether religious or not, is part of many cultures and religions. Is it not less strange than an expensive and lavish wedding dress which is only worn once? Temple garments are worn to show daily and constant worship, much like the religious articles of clothing worn by other faiths. The temple garment can easily be compared to the Jewish tzitzit, a rectangle of lightweight, white fabric at the bottom of which are cords knotted 613 times. The 613 knots represent the Mosaic commandments. The configuration of the knots also have religious meaning. The wearing of the tzitzit reminds the wearer of his covenants with God. The Mormon garment does the same.
Mormon underwear is made from material similar to other underwear. It is available in several versions of cotton, polyester, or nylon. It is always completely white, except for colored ones available only to active-duty military members. There are one-piece garments, but most prefer the two-piece styles. There is a top and a bottom piece. For the men, the top is like a T-shirt, covering the shoulders and hanging below the waist. The bottom resembles boxer-briefs, but extends to the knee. For women, the top is like a cami with cap sleeves, available in a variety of necklines that are similar to a bra line. The bottoms go to the knee, unless one chooses a “pant” garment, more comfortable under pants, that cover the calf. Also available are nursing and maternity garments, and thermals. The design is to promote modesty and should be completely covered by outer clothing. Mormon underwear is worn directly next to the skin and replaces any other underwear. For women, even brassieres are to be worn on the outside of the garment.
There are occasions when Mormon underwear may be removed. Bathing is the most obvious. Likewise, swimming, vigorous physical activity, dance performance, and marital relations are others. There is no official list; rather it is left to the discretion of the individual. God will not strike down the individual who wears it inappropriately, and such severity is not dictated by the Mormon Church. The counsel is simply to wear them at all times unless it is deemed inappropriate to the activity, and not to find excuses to remove them.
Mormons begin to wear this underwear as part of the initiatory ordinances of the Mormon temple ceremony. It is here that they will first put on this underwear and promise to always wear it the rest of their lives. It is symbolic of a covenant made with God, and the reverence that is shown in wearing these garments is evidence of the reverence toward the covenant made. Part of this reverence is not discussing the symbolism outside of the temple where it may be (and is) taken lightly. This is why the wearing of the garment has been incorrectly referred to as “secret.” Part of the symbolism is scriptural and can be discussed. The Lord clothed Adam and Eve with coats of skins when they discovered their nakedness. There is also mention of “holy garments” that Moses was commanded to make for Aaron (Exodus 28). For all of these occasions, the special clothing was part of divine instruction and a sacred covenant. The faithful observer of this covenant is promised that it will become a protection to them. This is where the adjective “magic” derives from. Contrary to the opinion that Mormon underwear is impenetrable armor, the promise is of a spiritual nature that has much anecdotal evidence of being manifested in physical protection too.
Mormon underwear has nothing magical about it. Rather, wearing it is a solemn religious act of symbolizing a covenant between God and the wearer of it. Because of its sacred nature, it is not discussed outside the temple, so naturally, the curiosity of others is piqued. But there is nothing to hide, only to protect. Mormon underwear is worn as a symbol and reminder of a sacred covenant that person has made with God.