The Mormon Church is asking its members to answer an online questionnaire about temple garments in order to assist the Church in “providing for the needs of members worldwide.” The questions focus on things like garment fit, style, and fabric. According to Fox13 News, “[Church] Officials are looking for changes or improvements that could be made.”
In the old days, Mormons believed that every aspect of the design of temple garments was revealed to Joseph Smith via revelation from God. As such, they could not be changed or altered. In his book, The Mysteries of Godliness, author David John Buerger includes the following account describing the construction of the very first Mormon temple garment:
“It was while they were living in Nauvoo that the Prophet came to my mother, who was a seamstress by trade, and told her that he had seen the angel Moroni with the garments on, and asked her to assist him in cutting out the garments. They spread unbleached muslin out on the table and he told her how to cut it out. She had to cut the third pair, however, before he said it was satisfactory.” (The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship, 142)
Early Mormon apostles Heber C. Kimball and George A. Smith, and member of the First Presidency Frederick G. Williams, all testified that Jesus Himself was wearing a temple garment when He allegedly appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple in 1836 (ibid., 144-145).
These early temple garments differed substantially from what Mormons wear today, though they carried the same marks of square, compass, etc. In 1883 Zebedee Coltrin, a General Authority in the Mormon Church, was asked “ ‘about the kind of clothing the Father ha[d] on’ at the Kirtland temple epiphany.” John Taylor related Mr. Coltrin’s reply:
“He said it was the pattern of the garment given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and it all had a sacred meaning. The collar: My yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Crown of the Priesthood) the strings on each side have double meaning, the strings being long enough to tie in a neat double bow knot, representing the Trinity; the double bow knots the marriage covenant between man and wife. The Compass: a guide to the wearer as the North Star is a guide in the night to those who do not know the way they should go. The Square: representing the justice and fairness of our Heavenly Father, that we will receive all the good that is coming to us or all that we earn, on a square deal; the navel mark: meaning strength in the navel and marrow in the bones. The Knee Mark: representing that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. The whole garment to be a covering and a protection from the enemy. The sleeves reaching to the wrist, and the legs to the ankles. This pattern was given to Joseph Smith by two heavenly beings.” (The Mysteries of Godliness, 145-146)
“The garments worn by those who receive endowments must be white and of the approved pattern. They must not be altered and mutilated and are to be worn as intended, down to the wrist and ankle, and around the neck. Admission to the temple will be refused those who do not comply with these requirements. The Saints should know that the pattern of endowment garments was revealed from heaven, and 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” (Joseph F. Smith, “Temple Instructions to the Bishops,” Messages of the First Presidency 5:110. Quoted in Buerger from Improvement Era, June 1916).
In 1923 Mormon Church leadership authorized some modifications to the temple garment pattern, prompted by the preferences of Church members. The directive from the First Presidency noted,
“It may be observed that no fixed pattern of Temple garment has ever been given, and that the present style of garment differs very materially from that in use in the early history of the Church, at which time a garment without collar and with buttons was frequently used.” (The Mysteries of Godliness, 150)
At the time of these modifications, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that younger members of the Church were happy about the changes, while many among the “older membership…look upon any deviation from the old order as a departure from what they had always regarded as an inviolable rule” (Salt Lake Tribune, June 4, 1923, quoted in The Mysteries of Godliness, 151).
Thirteen years later the temple committee recommended another round of changes feeling “sure that such a modification will greatly please many good women throughout the Church” (The Mysteries of Godliness, 153).
Changes to the “authorized pattern” of the garments have continued over the years. The current online questionnaire, and the changes that will likely result from it, are probably not tremendously significant to today’s Mormons; Joseph Smith’s teaching that the garments were patterned after those worn by angels and the Savior Himself has long-ago been discarded. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see to what degree the Church is willing to alter the current pattern of its sacred temple clothing in order to “greatly please” temple-garment-wearing Mormons. And we will see it — assuming the Church continues its recent efforts toward greater openness and updates its Sacred Temple Clothing video to reflect any new changes.