The Hebrew word ʼad·deʹreth (from a root meaning wide, great, noble) describes that which is “majestic” (Ezek. 17:8; Zech. 11:3) and, in its references to a garment, evidently refers to a wide cloak or robe, perhaps worn over the shoulders and made of skins, or of cloth woven from hair or wool.
Evidence that the term describes a hairy garment is seen in the description of Isaac’s firstborn Esau. At birth, he “came out red all over like an official garment of hair; so they called his name Esau.” (Gen. 25:25) His resemblance to an official garment was likely not his reddish color but his hairiness.
The Septuagint uses the Greek word me·lo·teʹ (meaning sheepskin or any rough woolly skin) when translating ʼad·deʹreth, for the official garment used by Elijah and Elisha. (1 Ki. 19:13) This suggests that the garment was made of skins with the hair left on, similar to the garb worn by certain bedouins. Paul’s description of persecuted servants of God who “went about in sheepskins, in goatskins,” may refer to the dress of such prophets of Jehovah. (Heb. 11:37) John the Baptist wore clothing of camel’s hair, though it is not stated that this was his official garment as a prophet.—Mark 1:6.
However designed, these official garments of hair appear to have been an identifying mark of certain prophets. When King Ahaziah heard the description of “a man possessing a hair garment, with a leather belt girded about his loins,” he immediately recognized that it was the prophet Elijah. (2 Ki. 1:8) This official garment served as the anointing instrument that was thrown upon Elisha when he was ‘called’ to leave the plow and follow Elijah. (1 Ki. 19:19-21) Later, at the time Elijah went up in the windstorm, this garment was left for his successor, who soon used it in dividing the Jordan River, just as his master had done. (2 Ki. 2:3, 8, 13, 14) False prophets, it appears, sometimes wore similar garments of hair to deceive the people into accepting them as reputable prophets of Jehovah, thus making their messages seem more credible.—Zech. 13:4.
The term ʼad·deʹreth was also used in reference to costly and royal garments, like the one stolen by Achan, “an official garment from Shinar, a good-looking one.” (Josh. 7:21, 24) Ancient Babylon or Shinar was noted for its beautiful robes. The king of Nineveh “put off his official garment,” undoubtedly a splendid robe, and clothed himself with sackcloth to show his repentance.—Jonah 3:6.