The monogram has come a long way since its beginnings in Greek and Roman history. What once was used as a mark on coins to recognize a particular ruler of an area is now quite the Southern fashion staple. But how did we get here? We are going to give you a rundown on monograms from their ancient beginnings, all the way to their place on Longchamp bags today.
For those who perhaps were not born and raised in the South and find the monogram a blaring question mark over their heads, here is a quick briefing. Monogram, by definition, is the artful and intentional placement of letters (initials) as a way to represent and identify yourself. There are many ways to make a monogram, and most widely we see the Victorian format, which puts the order of initial as: first initial, last initial (in a larger, more pronounced size), then middle initial last. This places an emphasis on the last name and therefore, an emphasis on family, something we Southerners hold near and dear.
Mudpie Monograms and Gifts in Charlotte, NC, is a monogramming hotspot, offering monogramming on everything from scarves and hats to tumblers and t-shirts. Image: Mudpie Monograms and Gifts
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start with some monogram history. In the middle ages, the monogram was a way to claim your art. Local artisans would sign their work with their initials as a way to claim it as their own. In the 6th century, the monogram found its place on coins in Ancient Rome as a way for the rulers of the area to authenticate the coins. Fast forward a bit to the 8th century, when Charlemagne is credited to a widespread usage of the monogram on goods as a way to represent his power and authority over an area that he conquered. From there on out, the monogram was often used by royalty or military to show their power and position of stature by marking things with their initials.
Carolingian dynasty coins show a primitive form of monogramming. Image: CNG Coins
We can’t forget to mention the monogram’s roots in Christianity, with the Chi Rho, the monogram of Jesus Christ. The first two Greek letters in Christ are the Chi and the Rho, which look like an “X” and a “P” to us westerners. These letters combined make a symbol that represents Jesus Christ. Most popular is the story of the Chi Rho and Emperor Constantine I. Nervous about leading his army into battle, Constantine prayed for strength and looked up to the sky, where he saw the Chi Rho symbol accompanied by the words “in this sign you will conquer,” (or in hoc signo vinces in Latin). This vision then led to him dreaming of Jesus telling him that this symbol would be a safeguard to him in battle. Thus, Constantine had the Chi Rho put onto his soldiers’ shields and sure enough, he won the battle. To this day, the Chi Rho is a common symbol Christians look to for strength and guidance. While you don’t often see it on necklaces and such as much as you do the traditional cross, it is popular among men (particularly in the military) as a tattoo or ring.
The Chi Rho tattoo is flanked by the Alpha and Omega letters, as well, other well-known Christian symbols for the beginning and the end. Image: Net Luxury
Back to modern times, as fashion enthusiasts, we have to touch on the impact of the high fashion monogram. Most notable is the famous Louis Vuitton “LV” printed in caramel font over chocolate-colored luggage, handbags, wallets and everything in between. This iconic monogram deserves its own spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame due to its cameos in countless films, such as Sex and the City, Titanic, Charade (if Audrey Hepburn approves, so do we!) and Sweet Home Alabama. Many fashion labels have adopted their own monogram of their company initials, such as YSL of Yves Saint Laurent, the mirrored “C”s of Chanel, Diane Von Furstenberg and Vera Wang. The fashion monogram is an easy way for fashion houses to brand themselves and differentiate their products from competitors.
Monograms of some of our favorite fashion houses
Many sources give a list of rules and regulations for monograms, but we feel as if you can do whatever your initial-loving heart desires. As mentioned before, the Victorian format is most commonly used, and the emphasis is on the last name. However, initials can be used in a monogram in the natural order of first initial, middle initial, then last initial, as long as they are all in the same size.
In the past few years, the married monogram has become a hot trend. The married monogram has the woman’s first initial first, the couple’s last name initial in the middle (in a larger font), and then the male’s first initial last. For example, Mary and Stephen Allen’s married monogram would be “mAs.” Of course we aren’t counting out same-sex couples here — they can just choose the order of whose first initial gets placed first.
With modern technology adding to the ease of monogramming things quickly, there are endless variations from which to choose. Decisions, decisions! Image: South of Hampton
Just a sampling of the monogrammed finds you can discover on Etsy. Row 1 (L to R): 1, 2, 3; Row 2: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; Row 3: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
If you take a dive into Etsy, you can find anything your heart desires in monogram form. Do we need panties with our initials printed on them? No. But wouldn’t that be fun to have? Yes! If it can be monogrammed, it has been monogrammed. We live in a world of fast-fashion and immediate satisfaction. With so much access to it all, what makes any of it special anymore? Customization in the form of monogrammed items allows customers to obtain products that let them to stand out in a sea of mass-produced goods. The range of options that can be customized is growing constantly, leaving consumers with endless opportunities. Car decals, stemware, pocket knives, flip-flops, bed sheets, phone cases, rain boots, flasks, keychains, bathrobes, do we need to go on? While some might prefer the more traditional monogram on powder room towels, and others tend to prefer an engraved shot glass set, the monogram is alive and well, and we don’t see this trend going anywhere anytime soon!