The Garment and the Veil

With snow-white veil and garments as of flame,
She stands before thee, who so long ago
Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe
From which thy song and all its splendors came;
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’ve always been pretty orthodox in my garment wearing. I’ve worn them under the bra as I was instructed. I also wore both tops and bottoms together, feeling that the garment wasn’t complete unless I wore the set. I found that I get the most out of my garments when I think about the symbollism of the Atonement. They play an important part of an archetypal story that goes like this:

Eve found herself vulnerable outside the Garden of Eden. Her world was now open to strife, sickness, and death. Then Jesus, the Creator of Earth, told her that He’d make a way for her to overcome these ills of the new world. He would descend to Earth and lay down His life for her and her posterity. And as a promise that He would do this, He gave Eve a coat of animal skin, a sacrifice in similitude of His own future sacrifice: A sacrifice that would serve to cover up Eve’s vulnerability to this new world and the death that exists there.

Because this is the narrative I use to understand the garment, I have appreciated wearing it. I tend to look better with more clothes on, so making sure it’s covered hasn’t been an issue. In many ways I liked the sense of equality, that both men and women got to wear it, and that ordaining women to wear the Garment of the Holy Priesthood has got to mean something about an endowed woman’s Priesthood power, even if we don’t fully understand it yet.

I also view the garment as a type of veil. It shields us from the outside world. I’m not comparing it to a burqa, but to the temple veil (ETA: the veil that hangs in the temple). The garment is similar to the temple veil in distinct ways, and we can learn about the meaning of one by learning about the meaning of the other.

This last year, however, I made a conscious decision to not wear the garment, or to not wear it in an orthodox sense. When I was planning for the birth of my baby, I purchased some nursing tops for the garment. But when I was hit with mastitis the day I came home from the hospital, my plans changed. I wasn’t able to wear a nursing bra, much less the garment. As I healed, and I began to get the hang of nursing 20 times a day (and I have the recorded times to prove it), I began to feel that it wasn’t right for me to wear the garment as I’d been instructed. This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on the symbolism I enjoy with the garment, but that I found it was necessary to make a temporary modification.

What I felt is that I needed to be close to my new tender baby. I wanted to feel him close to me, skin on skin, wrapped in only a diaper and under a blanket big enough for the both of us. I wanted him to know my touch, to smell my skin, to lay his head on my chest and hear my heartbeat. I couldn’t imagine anything holier than my touch on his skin, and the gentle dependence he had on my body. Although he was born full term, I wanted the benefits of Kangaroo Care, the ability to incubate my baby outside of the womb by holding him close to my skin during feedings.

I found the nursing tops to be a hindrance to this closeness. To lay my baby on my constantly milk-soaked top, and only give him access to the bear minimum part of myself didn’t seem to bring us the bonding I wanted. I felt when I wasn’t wearing the garment top, and I could lay him right on my skin, I could quickly wipe up any excess milk off of his skin and mine. This was the practical consideration, but there was a spiritual consideration too.

I remembered the garment as a veil. I thought about this veil separating me from my newborn infant son, who relied on me for all his nurturing. And I remembered Heavenly Mother. I thought about the veil that separates us from Her, the veil that some say the Father put between Her and us so that we cannot touch Her and defile Her with our coarseness. “A veil to protect Her from Her children,” some Church leaders have told me. I thought about the times I have ached for Heavenly Mother, those desperate times in my life where I wished the veil to part so that I could be held against Her and sob into Her chest and have Her nourish me. I looked at my own newborn son, and I decided I could not bear any longer to have a veil placed between us.


Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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37 Responses

  1. motion de smiths says:

    That was a beautiful story. Thank you.

  2. Emily U says:

    Your description of nursing your son is really lovely. I also have worn garments in an orthodox way for the most part, but I took a break from them for about a month postpartum. And I loathe the nursing tops. Big, swollen breasts combined with nursing pads, a bra, and the bunchy fabric flaps of the nursing top, all under a shirt, is more than I could handle. Now that my baby is a few months old and I feel we’ve got nursing pretty much mastered, I just wear the garment top over my bra.

    I’d never heard the idea that Mother in Heaven needs a veil to protect her from her children. What a sad thought. It can’t be true.

    • Alisa says:

      EmilyU, What I most often hear as the explanation of why we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother or pray to her is that she is too sacred. I’ve heard speculation that Heavenly Father loves her too much and has wanted to protect her from having her name taken in vain, etc. One nearly every Mother in Heaven post on Exponent, you can find someone giving that explanation. My seminary teachers were especially fond of that explanation. I agree–it’s a very sad thought, on multiple levels.

  3. CatherineWO says:

    This is beautiful, Alisa. My husband and I were traveling over this past weekend and had a discussion about the temple garment. As a member of our stake presidency, he conducts many temple recommend interviews. He said that the most commonly asked questions he gets from people concern the wearing of the garment. His answer to them is to approach it prayerfully, taking into consideration individual circumstances. Though some people would like to be commanded in all things, we need to make personal choices that work for us. What a beautiful choice you have made for you and your baby.

  4. Carla says:

    What a beautiful post. Sometimes nature compels us to remove the artifices that we embrace as part of our daily lives, not reject them, but put them aside. The need to be close to your child was more important than your need to be protected from the world, the need to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice by the garment’s symbolism.

  5. Madame Curie says:

    Beautiful, Alisa. I also had very positive imagery associated with my choice to wear the garment, such that when I made the decision to stop wearing it, I could look back without regret on that time of my life.

    In contrast, I have had a difficult time finding any sort of positive imagery to associate with the veil, such as the one worn in the Endowment. For that reason, I almost unilaterally did Initiatories when I returned to the temple, and avoided the Endowment entirely.

    Friends, how have you made a positive association with the veil? I tried, but have found it impossible.

    • Alisa says:

      Ah, the veil women wear is an entirely different issue than the one I was thinking of, which is the veil we all go through at the end (the one with the same markings as the garment). Huh. I wonder why I *completely* blocked out the veil women wear when I wrote this.

      Although, I was thinking of how Heavenly Father is behind a veil, but because we can pray to Him and have contact with Him it seems that Heavenly Mother is behind even another veil, a double veil. I guess that compares to the temple.

      I know the veil women wear is a big concern for many of us, but from a feminist standpoint it’s been one of my lesser worries because I think the meaning is more vague and could have multiple interpretations. How it could be interpreted positively from a standpoint of gender equality, I do not know. I’ll need to think about it.

    • DefyGravity says:

      I had a professor of Christian history tell me that a veil, meaning the one that is worn, meant that a women was ministering in the priesthood in Old Testament times. It was a symbol of her priesthood authority for whatever reason. Generally I don’t think much of religion professors, but this man knows what he’s talking about. I’m not sure where he got that info, but I can find out if anyone is interested. That helped me with the veil in the Endowment.

      • Alisa says:

        I would be interested in knowing the source, both for a better feeling about the veil and also for examples of women ministering in the Priesthood. That’s interesting.

      • spunky says:

        I’d like to know more as well– full references, if possible! 🙂

      • DefyGravity says:

        I’m looking at “The Lost Language of Symbolism : an Essential Guide for Recognizing and Interpreting Symbols of the Gospel,” by Alonzo Gaskill, who was my religion professor. In that book, on pates 78-82, he talks about the various meanings of the veil. One meaning is pulled from 1 Corinthians. 1 Cor. 11:10, in some translations (I can’t find which one he’s using) says women “ought…to have power on her head because of the angels.” Some read this to say that women should have authority exercised over them, but he claims that this means what it says, that women should exercise authority. On page 81 he quotes Leon Morris saying, “Far from being a symbol of woman’s subjection to man…her head-covering is what Paul calls it (referring to 1 Cor. 11:10) -authority: in prayer and prophecy she, like the man, is [acting] under the authority of God.” The quote is from Leon Morris’ 1 Corinthians: Tyndale Commentary New Testament Series. He then quotes Matthew R. Brown, The Gates of Heaven: Insights on the Doctrines and Symbols of the Temple, saying that the JST uses the word “covering” instead of power, which confuses the meaning. He also says that in early transcripts, often the word “power” was replaced by the word “veil,” as though the veil was a symbol of power to the point that they were considered interchangeable. This is really long, but it’s only a bit of what he has to say about the veil as a symbol of authority. It’s a good read.

      • Corktree says:

        So perhaps the veil was a misinterpretation of women’s power, and not a necessity in the endowment?

      • Georgia says:

        I once had an institute teacher who told me that women veil their faces in the temple as a continuation of the teaching during the initiatory that we are made completely clean from our sins, while men are promised that they will be clean at some future point (not sure if I’m getting that totally right?). So the veil symbolizes Christ’s covering of our sins- we’re completely covered and cleansed, while they aren’t, yet, for some reason. It was a while ago and I don’t remember his explanation very well, but it always made sense to me.

  6. spunky says:

    Beautiful. I love the symbolism. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. Caroline says:

    Lovely, Alisa. Your thoughts on the veil and Heavenly Mother are so moving.

    I love how thoughtful you were about your decision to remove your garment top while nursing. I did the same, but it was just a very practical decision for me – it’s hard enough to nurse wearing a shirt and bra. Dealing with another layer – one likely to get soppy and dirty – was just not something I felt the need to do. And when I was pregnant my TBM sister in law told me to not even bother with the garment top when I was nursing. That opened my eyes to the fact that there was some flexibility out there about garment wearing during this very important time of life.

  8. Little old lady temple worker says:

    If it’s helpful, the temple handbook of instructions now directs matrons and temple workers not to prescribe the wearing of garments when instructing patrons. We are directed to avoid any particular description of how to wear them (under, over, during which activities etc. etc.). It is to be left up to the discretion of the patron.

    That said, there are plenty of us little old lady temple workers who just can’t seem to shake the notion that the way WE were told to wear them, decades ago, is really the best way to wear them and just can’t keep our mouths shut.

    So, please be understanding and forgiving of the temple workers and matrons and know that, according to current church instructions, how you wear them when you are nursing or at any other time is between you and God. There is a brief, general instruction at the end of initiatory and a brief query in temple recommend interviews but how you specifically implement those two phrases is between you and God. There are no specific, church directed details.

    Hope this helps.

  9. CuriousGeorgina says:

    Can someone settle a friendly argument? I am pretty sure there’s no covenant to wear the garment, just an implied promise to do so. I do not recall covenanting to wear the garment in the temple. My husband doesn’t remember it either. However, there’s an oft-quoted statement from President Hinckley that we covenant to wear temple garments. I used to be a temple worker. There isn’t any such covenant, is there?

    • Little old lady temple worker says:

      Pres. Hinckley wrote that in a letter from the first presidency in October of 1988.

      There have been many letters from the First Presidency about garments over the past 100 years or so and they are very interesting to read, particularly in light of the many changes that have been made in the construction and style of garments and the advice about wearing them. Those letters are not scripture. They are letters from the First Presidency which are treated as current policy guidelines. Many, as you may imagine, from the past 100 years are not in effect. Stake presidents have access to a list of which First Presidency letters still are. I don’t know if that 1988 one is on that list.

      And no, there is not a direct covenant specifically to wear them made in the temple. Whether or not any of the covenants you make with God in or out of the temple involve, in their scope, such a commitment on your part is for you to honestly and humbly discern. It seems to me that President Hinckley personally felt that they did. You are the one who made temple covenants with God. You should work out with God what those covenants involve and what he thinks you in particular should do and we should all avoid trying to define it for each other in order to feel okay about what we have discerned for ourselves.

      I do believe that peacefully and quietly wearing garments in the way you actually feel the Lord lets you know is good for you after thoughtful conversations with him is an outward expression of an inward commitment to the Lord. And I hope those conversations with him will continue.

      • Caroline says:

        Little old lady,
        Thank you for the information!

      • I know I’m late reading this post, but this comment was really helpful to me. I do not wear garments anymore, but it was not a decision I made lightly. Far from it. However, I’ve been shamed by those close to me who believe we covenant to wear garments and who can’t understand my reasons. This comment, on the other hand, is so compassionate and loving. Thank you.

  10. Corktree says:

    I love your view of the garment symbolism Alisa. I’ve been thinking more about my attitude and beliefs about them today aside from how they fit and when I wear them, (since I wear the chemise and pull down to nurse, it hasn’t bothered me as much. ) and I’m hoping to keep that vision of Christ’s sacrifice in my mind from now on. I happen to prefer the garments in some odd ways, but if that were to change, I’d need a better reason to keep wearing them. I love the thought you put into this and the very personally connected way that you view your relation to these things. It’s always inspiring and hopeful, even when it’s clear that it causes you frustration and pain.

    Of course, now I’m fretting over why I was never really concerned about the women’s veil in the temple. I mean, I always questioned what was behind it, but it didn’t actually bother me until now. I just allowed myself to feel uncomfortable, but I went along with it! I’d be interested in that info on its connection to priesthood use as well.

  11. MB says:

    Pardon my ignorance. What’s “TBM”?

    • Caroline says:

      It stands for “true believing Mormon” So it just signifies someone who is pretty orthodox.

      • Naismith says:

        Well, yes and no. Caroline does seem to use it that way, merely to signify someone who is “orthodox” in a fairly neutral manner.

        But in most contexts that I have seen/heard, it is used dismissively, with the connotation of a mindless sheep who follows all the rules like the horse in Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM. Thus I personally don’t like being referred to as a TBM and would never refer to anyone else that way. Of course if someone wants to call themselves that, it’s up to them.

      • Caroline says:

        Hmmm… I had never thought of it being a pejorative term (I’m sure I’ve referred to my fabulous husband as TBM), but I can see that it could be taken to be so, in some contexts. I’ll have to think twice before I use it again.

      • Sarah says:

        You know this is why I use OBM instead (Orthodox believing Mormon). I think all of us to a certain degree are true believing mormons, except I do understand how that can be viewed as derogatory based on some articles I have read, that interpretation is certainly open.

        Just my view.

  12. Linda says:

    Alisa –
    Thanks for this moving and poignant post.

    I love your take on the symbolism of the garment. As a temple worker my most enthusiastic feelings surround the whole initiatory process. I love that after being purified, anointed and blessed through and through, God provides a kind of seal-coating with the garment (a far less beautiful image than you described), a reminder every day that we have in fact been washed and anointed to fill the measure of our creation. It’s a little peculiar, I suppose, to be so jazzed about the garment and wearing them but I, too, love the symbolism, the skin representing Christ’s sacrifice as the ultimate covering for us. (BTW, There’s a “should” in there, an expectation that one will wear them, no stern dictum. To me “should” is good enough.)

    Another beautiful thing to note is that our brains and intellects are given double duty. How cool is that?

    Your choices about how you negotiate nursing sound appropriate and practical.

    Someone in another comment mentioned the other veil (the one women wear) and here’s my take, unorthodox as it may sound. That extremely intimate space between my face and where the veil hits my nose is actually the God/Linda sacred space. It all depends on which side of the veil you think you’re on when you wear it. It’s private, warm and powerful – just like I want my connection to God to be, so that by the time I come out of that (someone claustrophobic) space, it’s to join a larger community. It helps me, anyway.

    I still have major questions about some of the other implications of the endowment (and wonder why someone with ability to change things doesn’t say, “Whoa, let’s refine this to more accurately reflect Truth.” I doubt that will happen any time soon. I also doubt that anyone with the ability to change these things would say “Whoa!”) Meanwhile, I go and participate because I can’t shake the convictions I have about so much else related to the Gospel. If there is one thing the temple teaches, it’s the expectation of “further light and knowledge” so I cling to hope.

    Thanks for your candor, and for your seeking heart.

  13. nat kelly says:

    Wow, Alisa. Reading this at work was a mistake, as I now have to hide the tears coming from my eyes. This was simply incredible. What a profound understanding of the garment, of nursing, and of your own role.

    Seriously, you guys here at Exponent are just hitting home run after home run. Great stuff.

  14. jks says:

    I hating nursing so it only brings up post-partum feelings of infections and PPD.
    Of course I wore the garment over the nursing bra, it wouldn’t work any other way. I also wore the garment over the one leg support hose while pregnant or it wouldn’t have stayed up. I never felt unorthodox doing so. I’m a pretty orthodox person. I got married in 1992 and the instruction I received from my mother (or maybe the matron) was that it was supposed to be worn as underwear (nothing more specific than that).
    Luckily, the only time a little old lady said something out of line (told my husband he was supposed to tuck his shirt in???) I knew she was only stating her opinion.

    • Two of Three says:

      I know this is off topic, but I also hated nursing. I never felt it made me any closer to my children. It made me wet, annoyed and hurt. Always thought that there was something I was missing, but can’t for the life of me think of what!

  15. Katrina says:

    I really love this post and resonated with so much of it. I’ve always rather liked wearing my garments–until I was nursing a new baby in the middle of summer. That added layer is such a bother when you are leaking and sweaty and hot. I would often only wear them when out of the house those first weeks.

    On a practical note, I hate the nursing tops. I wear the round neck tops with my bra over them and pull down. Works quite well.

  16. zina petersen says:

    Women wear the veil because women *are* the veil. We *are* that magical half flesh half mystical physical/spiritual locus on this earth that is parted and often torn in childbirth so that Gods’ child can come from the home above to this sphere. And the garment is not ssociated with any covenant other than its promise TO US (not ours to it) that it stands for the Atonement–the reason it had to be animal skin, instead of plants was that it had to show Adam (who bamed those animals–they were his friends) how in this world, the only way we can survive is that someOne has to shed (lose) blood for us. The garment is a gift, not a threat. A sad, sweetly ultimate gift, if we can see it that way.

  17. Lisa Kemper says:

    I would be concerned with a belief that our Heavenly parents find us so abrasive that our mother in heaven cannot interact with us. My own interaction with parents has been in seasons of close interaction with one parent at a time for various reasons and not all reasons are of divinity. The seasons of distance are tutoring me about mental health and about the oneness of couples.

  18. Jamie says:

    Wow! It has been a long time since I have read such a thought provoking article and comments.
    Having been born and raised in the Church garments were just a normal part of life. When I was endowed I gave little thought about whether I would or would not wear them as instructed…that is until I began to nurse my infants. With baby one and two I internally struggled with trying to do the “right” thing by wearing them the way I was taught. No one ever suggested that I modify my wearing of them to accomodate nursing. I continued to nurse with my bra over the top, alternately trying the much despised nursing tops with awkard flaps that opened in a different direction than my nursing bra. By baby three I was ready to try something different and began, with much trepidation, to wear my bra on the inside (gasp) and forgo the nursing garments! I felt like I was sinning a little but was more than ready to try something different. I went with this “new” way of wearing my garments and happily nursed my son. I obviously kept this little secret to myself (and spouse) but would have been thrilled to discover that others adapt their garment wearing to suit their needs, as needed.
    Thank you for a fresh, spiritualy directed, reflection of our duty and promises to our religion.

  19. Randy says:

    If I think of temple head wear worn by both men and women as padding for a future crown, I feel much differently about it. I will eventually appreciate the cushioning, and the presence of it reminds of what I have to both earn and look forward to if I live up to my covenants. Garments, too, are more tolerable (they are sometimes irritating to my sensitive red-headed skin) when I remember the love and protection of the Savior and His covenants that offer spiritual protection.

  20. Sarah says:

    Okay only a couple months have gone by without a comment, so I don’t feel too late to this one. I am, as I said elsewhere, getting my Temple endowments on Tuesday.

    Garments: Symbol to me of Baptism, we get baptized, get confirmed, then seem to me to get another confirmation through another Baptizing and Confirmation we call the Washings and Anointing. It is in this way I can disassociate the garments from the Endowment, with which I know I will have problems with and keep them strictly on something I have absolutely no problems with.

    Viel women wear: Really dislike them, I lean toward finding them unnecessary though i can appreciate the symbolism of them being about us being able to birth, there are quite a few unintended messages of that I dislike. I really dislike anything remotely sexist. But we will see how I feel in the Temple. Seriously will probably cry, I may feel very hot and faint, I have hypotension (Not medically diagnosed, but I’ve had enough symptoms of it, to be sure that is exactly what I have) and if I faint during that part of the ceremony, I would not be surprised. So goody, I guess I have that to look forward to.

    Overall I love your post. I have heard that about Heavenly Mother too, and I do not really like the separation, and that defacto it must be the man, because I believe that is a gross misinterpretation of the power of our Heavenly Mother. She gave birth to our spirits (One way or another), and she knows messy from her own earth experience. She is not capable of handling her own children? No, I don’t think so. I think we should stop speculation of why she is hidden, and just pray that she is unhidden.

    I really liked this article. I feel like I have some peace to deal with the Temple, I hope that I can more articles to help me along the way.

  21. Rachel says:

    Thank you for this, Alisa. Thank you.

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