Men of letters: In defence of monogramming

It's got a bad rap, but we're firmly behind putting your stamp on your wardrobe

You can say a lot with three letters. A-OK can tell others that you’re coping in times of trouble. WTF can tell them that you’re shocked. And TBT can tell them that you’re desperate for Instagram likes.

But, much to our dismay, there are three little letters that seem to label you boastful, brash and in the same yuppie-mingling, braces-twanging band as Patrick Bateman and Gordon Gekko. What are they, you ask? Why, your initials.

"You can say a lot with three letters..."

Individual monograms have been around for centuries, with lettering identifying you as a member of a group or city even longer. But in the post-war years, branding your clothes or possessions with your initials has been seen as ostentatious and profligate – a way of showing off your disposable income and flashing your wealth with a series of small, intricately-stitched needle strokes.

Here at Gentleman’s Journal, much like our defence of the oft-understood signet ring, we’re all in favour of some tasteful monogramming. But, like the subtle initialling itself, we know that less is more.

As such, and to save you from plastering your entire wardrobe in half the alphabet, we’ve written up a monogram manifesto. It’s partly defending the trend, and partly telling you how the modern man should monogram. Because this is an age-old practice that doesn’t deserve the stick it gets. In other words, monograms FTW.

Assess you initials

First things first. Monogramming is all well and good, but you need to have the initials to get away with it. It’s a cruel rule, and one your parents really should have bore in mind when inking your birth certificate, but the harsh truth is that some peoples’ initials lend themselves to monogramming, and some seriously don’t.

So alas, Andrew Stuart Stevenson. You’re probably better off joining the likes of Nicholas Oscar Briggs and Brian Owen Galbraith in anonymity.

Don’t go OTT

It may come down to personal preference, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere — and having every single one of your garments and accessories monogrammed is way past the line. As tempting as it may be to have every single pair of your boxer shorts, your vests and your satchel emblazoned with your initials, there’s a point where you’ll pass ‘quirkily dignified’ and start looking like a schoolboy.

There’s also no need to get certain garments initialled. Your blazers and slippers, or a fountain pen or keychain, will be seen and are therefore acceptable for monogramming. Your sock suspenders, on the other hand, should never be glimpsed by anyone but you, so they don’t need to bear your initials. Also, why do you own sock suspenders?

Only monogram what’s meant to be monogrammed

Sticking to a similar theme, there are certain items of clothing that the world will see, but still should never bear your name. While it’s perfectly acceptable to embroider your initials onto a shirt — more on that later — you should never monogram, say, a t-shirt. There’s a certain formality to the monogram, that should be adhered to at all times.

So don’t go slapping your initials on a pair of chino shorts or a baseball cap. Keep this badge of pride and identity for the days you need to dress up, show the world you mean business, and tell people your name.

Get your placement right

Okay, we’ve covered whether or not your name lends itself to monogramming, and what clothes and accessories it is acceptable to get monogrammed. Now, let’s focus on placement. Your monogram works best when it is not always visible, but can occasionally be flashed to show off your style and personality.

With shirts, perhaps the most commonly monogrammed garments, there are several places this works. You could get the top of the breast pocket initialled, either cuff, or the gauntlet (where your second cuff button sits). Additionally, you could initial the placket (the bottom of your shirt, directly underneath your buttons).

Paul Smith Men's Navy Leather Monogrammed Billfold Wallet

Paul Smith Men's Navy Leather Monogrammed Billfold Wallet


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Turnbull & Asser Monogrammed Silver Button Cufflinks

Turnbull & Asser Monogrammed Silver Button Cufflinks


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Paul Smith Damson Calf Leather Monogrammed Keyring

Paul Smith Damson Calf Leather Monogrammed Keyring


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These are the traditional places to get garments monogrammed, and save you from the temptation of getting your initials embroidered in weird places like the back of your collar or your hip. If you’re buying something from a brand that offers monogramming, like Paul Smith or Montblanc, you could always ask for their advice — they’ll be more than happy to stop you ruining one of their products.

Overall, be tasteful. You don’t want to turn yourself into a billboard, walking around advertising yourself. You want to be subtle, sophisticated, and respectful of monogramming traditions. And, most of all, you want to save yourself from being lumped in with the big-headed, chest-puffing, self-involved appropriators of initialling — especially if your name is Edward Greg Osborne.

Gentlemen's Journal is happy to partner with The Prince’s Trust RISE campaign, which is working to create a network of young adults aged between 21-45, who are passionate about social mobility. You can become a Prince’s Trust Riser by donating just £20 per month to the scheme.
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