The Creative Corner

How to Style a Monogram

Monograms. They’ve been around for well over 150 years in popular use and culture. Women’s magazines from 1865 and before show monogram styles that could be used to decorate linens, clothing, and more. The letter writer often used initials to seal an envelope in wax.

How do you put a monogram together, and where can you use it? From the 1910s to the 1950s, a monogrammed handkerchief made a nice, thoughtful gift for a friend. In the 1930s to 1960s, shirts and blouses with a monogram looked sharp and trendy. The 1980s saw a resurgence in monograms on sweaters and purses, among other things.

1920s-30s monogram alphabet illustration in blue, orange, green, and purple.
Monograms were huge for those who wanted to mark their stuff in a stylish way. This pattern advertisement shows available single monograms that purchasers could apply to all kinds of things.

No matter what decade of vintage you love, you can find a way to work your monogram into it. Or the monogram of someone you love. However, just how do you do that? Believe it or not, even something as simple as monogramming has rules.

The Rules of Monograms

There are certain ways to put a monogram together, whether you plan to decorate your bedsheets or your writing stationery.

  • If you want to use one letter only, it’s called a single monogram. You can use either the first initial of the first name, or the first initial of the last name. In a single monogram it doesn’t matter. Mostly, it depends what you want to project. Do you want S for Smythe, a last name, or A for Annabelle or Adonis, a first name?
  • When you use two initials, you use the first initials of both first and last name. Each initial is the same script style, and they are the same size. One letter is not larger or smaller than the other one.
  • If you plan to use three initials, it’s called a triple letter monogram. And there are two ways to do it. If the name is Adonis Stanley Laurel, and all the letters are the same size, they read left to right: ASL. If one initial is larger than the other two letters, which you often see in stylized or stylish monograms, that large letter in the middle stands for the last name. So the monogram looks like this: ALS.
  • If you want a monogram for two married people, the usual way to do it is Spouse-Last-Spouse. So if Adonis marries Dana, their combined monogram is ALD, with a larger L in the middle.

What You Can Do with a Monogram

Monograms are versatile. They mark your stuff. But more importantly, they mark your style. Are you an Old-English-Gothic kind of person? A monogram will reveal that. Do you tend toward Art Deco? Monogram everything in sight, and everyone will know.

Monograms are the personalized automobile license plate of the past. A nicely done monogram on a party invitation indicated that you had good taste. Nicely monogrammed hand towels transmitted not only that you knew who you were in the world, but it also showed off your skill with a needle. A blouse with a monogrammed first letter broadcast whether you were playful – or not, depending on the lettering style.

In a world where much of the fabric was white, monograms came in very useful. Everyone carried a handkerchief. While that little square could be made of silk, linen, rayon, or cotton, it was almost always white. Two people dropping handkerchiefs at the same time could end in chaos! Not really, but having a monogrammed handkerchief did help if there was any confusion or if an article got left behind.

Monogrammed sheets and towels were the sign of a well-appointed linen closet. Putting an initial or two onto the top bedsheet and pillow cases not only gave these white linens a bit of decoration, but the effort also acted as a This Is My House label. It signified to friends and family that this was a house that took order and ownership seriously. Or not too seriously, depending on the initials’ style.

Paint your monogram onto a Welcome sign for your front entry. Or put your initial onto clothing or luggage. Make an initial into a pin that can move from item to item. Cover a favorite book, and decorate the cover with your monogram. Make table napkins or placemats and decorate with your monogram. Take a boring stretch of wall space and spice it up with your monogram. Bring this time-honored tradition back to life, and celebrate the initials that signify you.