The Monogram Mystery: Why We Love Our Initials So Much

Along with her height and Austrian heritage, my mother passed down to me a love for monograms.

On my first Big Girl bed she painted a gilded BSI on the headboard. I remember asking her why I would want my name on my own furniture. After all it wasn’t like there were other beds in the room; I could easily pick out that this one was mine. Still, I liked the idea that even if all of the world’s beds were lined up in a row, everyone would know that this one was for me.

A stamp of just three letters, it almost feels silly to care so much for one’s own initials. Even still, for being an industry focused on the individuality and expression of its consumers, the fashion world can sometimes become a sea of well-dressed clones. We all race to buy that same pair of Adidas Superstars or that one Free People slip dress, only to make us matchy matchy with every other girl’s closet. In contrast, a monogram, whether its printed on stationary or stitched on a sleeve, holds out as one of fashion’s earliest signs of personal branding.

First found on ancient Roman and Greek coins, monograms detected territory. Rulers would stamp their initials on their region’s coins, declaring dominance over that currency and the people who used it. In this way the monogram was first a sign for ownership, clearly marking what’s mine and what’s yours. But on the flip side, a monogram could symbolize where you belonged. Simply through his pocket change, a man could show the lands where he lived, worked and visited as well as the ruler who he followed. As much as those initials expressed an ownership over him, they also expressed the roots he had grown throughout his  entire life.

With time the monogram evolved to not only show a dominance over people but also an ownership over things. Royals learned to classify their belongings with initials, branding all posessions from their robes to their china. This trend (like most do) then trickled down the social hierarchy, next finding its way into the work of artisans of the Middle Ages. After finishing a piece artists now included their initials in the bottom righthand corner. By showing either the prestige of a royal or the skill of an artist, monograms became a symbol of pride, differentiating the life and work of one man from that of all the rest.

Fastforward even more and the monogram showed unity. For the 1950s household, society endorsed couples finding happiness through a spouse and family. After finding that happiness, there was no better way to celebrate a new family name than with printing it on everything in sight. Appliquéd on matching bath towels or stitched onto the end of a table cloth, a monogram symbolized a family’s bond and hopeful legacy in the future.

Now in an era where fashion can express almost anything we want,  you’d think the need to personalize each of our possessions would have passed. Because we have so many styles and looks to choose from, why would we need to distinguish ourselves any further?

Simply put, out of every way to characterize ourselves in fashion, what better way is there than using your own name? A monogram shows individuality, three unique letters prescribed to you at birth. A monogram shows ownership, a symbol for the very person who’s wearing it. And most importantly, a monogram shows pride, whether that be a pride in yourself, your style, or the fact that your initials just look great together.

Brielle Saggese

Editorial Contributor, Indiana University Major: Journalism/Fashion and Cultural History Her heart belongs to: snail mail, vintage dresses, a solid cat eye and french press coffee Her guilty pleasures: crafting more than the average kindergartner, singing showtunes and bringing back the scrunchy

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