The Monogram Way
With more than seven billion people on the planet you have to make an effort to be somebody or you’ll fail on Facebook, get dropped on Twitter. Your name may be forgotten, your number lost. The solution to identity in an age of teeming masses is setting yourself apart stylistically.
Consider the venerable monogram—it’s a traditional nicety that has long been a mark of personal style. Today’s monogram consists of three letters: the initials of the first, middle and last names. I did the math and thought that there were more than 2.5 trillion possible permutations of three letters in 26-letter alphabet, meaning that it’s about as unique as your DNA. Then the math guy said it’s only 17,576. That still pretty exclusive.
We live in a landscape that is covered with corporate logos. If individuals are going to compete today, we need logos too. The monogram is an elegant way to make your mark. It’s your name boiled down to the essence, executed with graphic artistry. It’s as old as the coat of arms and it was used as a hallmark in metalwork, ceramics and graphics, marking the genuine article.
The wealthy took to monograms in the 19th century, marking books, cigarette cases, lighters, the silver, the towels in the bath, the bottles and the cellar and the shirts in the closet—things small enough to steal—but eventually the monogram became a matter of pride.
Famous men are known by their monogram. The typesetter’s friend, it enhanced the celebrity of well-initialed persons. TSE: T.S. Eliot. RLS: Robert Louis Stevenson. FDR: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Kennedy brothers: JFK, RFK, EMK. And the two LBJs: Lyndon Baines Johnson and LeBron James.
The shirt monogram began in grand households or colleges where many shirts laundered together–the elegant ancestor of today’s laundry mark. Now the monogram isn’t there for the laundry, but for the ego. It used to be said that the proper place in the monogram is over the heart. Flashier dressers have long favored the shirt cuff, as it will be noted in the handshake, at the card table, lighting a lady’s cigar. “Trad” guys may wince, but it’s your damn shirt!
When it comes to kids, you can’t start too soon. Monograms are nicer than taped-in names. If anyone is more likely to lose his shirt than a poker player, it’s a sixth-grader. My luggage is monogrammed and it’s one more “Hello!” to keep me from making a mistake at the luggage carousel after a long and disorienting flight.
Why limit monograms to your initials? My friend Andy Spade wear shirts monogrammed EDW. He bought them at a thrift shop and liked the randomness. And think of Elvis Presley, who had TCB (“Taking Care of Business”) monogrammed on everything. Three letters can spell out your interests and attitudes: FYI, TKO, BYO, ETC, IPO.
Why is your monogram TBD? My motto is “To Be Determined.” CWB? I won the shirt from Charles Barkley in a card game. LXI? I have 100 white shirts and this is number 61. If someone asks you about your monogram, tell them you’re thinking of getting a tattoo but you’re just trying it out first. Tell them the X stands for the unknown. Express yourself. Put it in writing.