A History of the Mormon Temple Garment


Recently there has been an increased focus on the LDS temple garment and the need to wear it in a more consistent manner. I already thought this was clear since there previously were questions you had to answer during the temple recommend interview process. However, I guess either the leaders just want to focus more on the garment or members were taking a few liberties with the garment.

Mercy of God

The LDS church recently updated the temple recommend questions, through an April 12th, 2024, First Presidency Statement, to give a higher focus on the temple garment and the actual wearing of the garment outside of the temple. As mentioned previously, there already was some focus however the wording now is particularly interesting. It is not my goal to discuss the validity of the temple garment or the temple ceremonies themselves.

In the statement though, the first thing to notice is that wearing of the garment is referred to as a “sacred privilege”. The garment, along with any daily activity, eventually becomes just a part of life and it is very easy to not even remember what it represents. However, in and of itself I don’t see how it is a privilege to wear the garment since it is just a representation of something else. Wouldn’t the source be the privilege instead?

The privilege, in the view of the LDS church, becomes very clear though through a mandatory statement, to be read, at the end of the interview. In this statement, the church is now claiming that the garment will give wearers, “greater access to the Savior’s mercy, protection, strength, and power”. Of course, these are all general statements and could frankly apply to just about anything. However, it would though directly imply that non-members of the LDS church have less of the Savior’s mercy, have less protection, have less strength, and less power. Otherwise, how could faithful LDS people have more of those things?

Does this then mean that LDS people are loved by God more? Are LDS people favored more by God? Do LDS people have more access to God? I do think there is something uniquely special about the LDS church and I don’t want to discount that at all. However, it is absurd to think that wearing something, factory produced, gives you more access to God. This is just about as absurd as claiming that wearing a Gucci t-shirt makes you better than everyone else. Does that even make any sense?


The origins of the LDS temple garment are murky at best. We have a few random statements here and there, however, there certainly is not much to go on. In looking at the records there appears to be significant overlap towards the end of Joseph’s life of the Quorum of the Anointed, and the Council of Fifty. Many people were part of both groups and their concerns started to mingle.

As a refresher, the Council of Fifty was a secret group of members and non-members that Joseph organized in order to establish a permanent theocracy outside of the organized United States. Joseph realized that the church would have to leave the United States otherwise it would be destroyed. The laws of the United States were just too stifling as the church was growing in power. The Joseph Smith papers project has the meeting minutes for this group and it is really interesting to see what was happening at the time.

The Quorum of the Anointed was another secret group that started meeting in 1842 to organize what would eventually become the temple ceremonies. They would organize what they called “prayer meetings” to administer the ordinances and discuss quorum business. During these meetings they would also wear what they called their “priestly garments”, or “endowment clothes” which would be what we know of as the temple garments and ceremonial clothes today.

As mentioned, there is limited information about the garments themselves during this time. However, if anyone is interested in learning more about the Quorum of the Anointed then I would highly recommend the book, “Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed”. The author has gathered together 100’s of journal entries and put them in chronological order. This makes researching things so much easier. There are many non-contemporary accounts which mention various things about the garment. Of course, these shouldn’t be automatically distrusted, however contemporary accounts are certainly quite helpful.

As far as the origins of the temple garment itself, I was able to find some contemporary journal accounts from Thomas Bullock where he directly mentions the garments. This account is from December, 1845.

We conversed about the robes etc. And there being a meeting in the Temple at 2 without garments. I returned there, heard some excellent instructions which causes my heart to rejoice much. At 5 went home. Beautiful day.

Thomas Bullock – December 21, 1845

Another journal account from Thomas Bullock in March 1846:

Bro. Anderson related a vision. And all of us rejoiced with exceeding great gladness. A light was seen flickering over bro. Anderson’s head while relating his vision, Phinehas Richards face shone with great brightness. Two men arrayed all in priestly garments were seen in the n. e. corner of the room. The power of the Holy Ghost rested down upon us. I arose full of the Spirit and spoke with great animation, which was very cheerfully responded to by all, and prophesied of things to come.

Thomas Bullock – March 15th, 1846

The last pertinent one is from the Council of Fifty meeting minutes. It appears, that after the death of Joseph, people were getting a bit distracted and were not acting as urgently as the leaders wanted them to. On January 13th, 1846, the council met and decided to use their power to help the members to focus on things other than the temple.

He also wants an influence to go from this council to have the saints quit making robes, and meeting to pray in their garments. Moved, secd. & carried unanimously that we agree with the presidents proposition, in relation to as many as can, leaving their families.

Council of Fifty meeting minutes – January 13th, 1846

It seems the members were praying too much and focusing too much on the, still to be completed, temple. This humorously seems to be the opposite problem of the members today based on the conference talks being delivered.

As mentioned, there are a number of other accounts to consider. The first one is the diary of William Clayton. This was supposed to be released by the LDS church however for some reason it still hasn’t been. Hiding information is certainly not helpful to their cause. This account is dated January 25th, 1844, and may be contemporaneous however until analyzing the diary itself we can’t conclusively say.

P.M. sis [Elizabeth] Durphy came to make my Robe & Garment.

William Clayton Diary – January 25th, 1844

Another account to consider is a letter written to Joseph F. Smith in 1902, detailing a personal account from Maria Jane Johnston Woodward. She mentions:

Mother Smith told Father Smith to explain to me about this clothing, what they were for and what they did with them, the reason he had to have them and have them in good condition, before I got them out, and he did so. That was the first I knew about the endowment clothes but they were the same as they are now.

Maria Jane Johnston Woodward, Statement, dated April 21, 1902, in George H. Brimhall, Letter to Joseph F. Smith , April 21, 1902

The last account to consider from a statement from Maria Dougal, where she discusses her introduction to the garments.

Aunt Bathsheba Smith told me that she helped Emma Smith and Aunt Eliza R. Snow make the original Endowment clothes for the Prophet Joseph Smith. I asked her why they made strings for the garments instead of buttons. She said they were too poor to buy buttons, so they tore strips of the cloth for strings.

Maria Dougal, Statement, in George F. Richards, Diary, October 11, 1922

There are many other similar accounts which you can consider if you are so inclined. Some have labelled the temple, the garment, and the second anointing as a grand conspiracy by Brigham Young however I really think this is massively oversimplifying things. There are far too many people involved to reach that conclusion to me. A conspiracy breaks down as you start including more people and Brigham’s conspiracy would had have involved an awful lot of people. Of course, better early evidence would be helpful to settle this disagreement.


As mentioned, this history is focused solely on the temple garment itself. I would welcome any additional information that I may have missed.

1855: In May the Endowment House opened for living ordinances. The ordinances we know today were administered with the garments at this time being a one-piece full body article. The marks would be cut into the garment at the temple and the person would take the garment home and sew the marks in themselves. Any alterations to the garments past this point were not appropriate.

1884: President John Taylor mentioned that a member woman who married outside of the church should not wear garments and should not participate in the temple.

1894: The shirt portion of the garment was deemed to not be part of the temple clothing and was no longer marked. “It has been the practice to mark the shirt, but we think this unnecessary as it is not
strictly a part of the Temple clothing. The marking of the garment should be done in the
washing room and not at the veil;” (Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F.
Smith to Lorenzo Snow, Aug 31 1894)

1912: President Joseph F. Smith was growing dissatisfied with the members dislike for the full body garment. Women were complaining that it was making it difficult to wear modern fashions and asked if the garment could be altered to accommodate the more revealing clothing. He responded, “The Saints should know that the pattern of endowment garments was revealed from heaven, and that the blessings promised in connection with wearing them will not be realized if any unauthorized change is made in their form, or in the manner of wearing them”.

1915: In March, the First Presidency wrote a letter stating, “The pattern of the temple garment was given by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith”.
– Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose to Arthur C. Smith

1923: In April, the First Presidency authorized modifications to the garment. This is just a few years after the death of Joseph F. Smith who was adamant that the garment should never be modified because it was given directly by God. The modifications include the removal of a collar, tie strings are replaced with buttons, and the crotch of the garment was enclosed. The women’s garment is shortened to the elbows and knees. In June, the First Presidency releases a statement describing the old garment style as “coarse, unbleached, [and] irritating”. In this letter they described the allowed changes however made it optional. Official temple instructions were added that stated any unauthorized changes to the garment turned the garment into “only a piece of underwear which is not a garment”.
– “Temple Garments Greatly Modified, Church Presidency Gives Permission, Style Change Optional With Wearer” – SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

1930: The men’s garment is modified to more closely match the women’s. The garment is shortened to the knees and elbows. However the full length garment is still required in the temple.

1934: The LDS church released an official publication written by Elder John A. Widstoe, which stated “there have been no changes in the garment” and that the recent changes were “just a minor thing, in line with our needs”.
– John A. Widstoe, “Answers to Seminary Teachers’ Questions,” 1934 pp 32, 33

1936: The First Presidency decides to allow sleeveless garments for women. This is to allow them to wear modern styles of clothing without any part of the garment showing.

1938: The First Presidency issues a letter stating that “strap garments are not allowable”. This would of course indicate that some women were modifying the garment in ways that were not acceptable.
– First Presidency Letter

1955: In November, the First Presidency issued a statement further clarifying what is allowed in garments and what was not allowed. This statement reiterated previous policies however allowed shoulder strap sleeveless style garments.
– First Presidency Letter, Dec 15 1955

1965: In May, the First Presidency also authorized the garment used in the temple to more closely match the one used outside of the temple. Prior to this the members were still using the original style with the collar, tie strings, and open crotch.
– David O McKay diary

1975: The old-style ceremonial garment was removed from all ordinances.

1978: In December, the First Presidency authorizes a two-piece garment, with a separate top and bottom, in addition to the standard one-piece that was used at the time. This is the only style used today however the previous one piece garments were very common.

2005: During the washing and anointing, the person is instructed to wear the garment prior to entering the washing room. Prior to this they were nude and wore a two-sided shield.

If there are other changes that I am unaware of, then please let me know and I can update this list.

Author: Patrick