Proudly stitched, stamped, or stuck on tea towels and baby clothes, luggage and stationery, even the rear windows of cars, monograms are ubiquitous in the South. They date back to early Greece and Rome, when rulers used their initials to authenticate currency. So why are monograms regarded as a Southern staple? Many point to a regional emphasis on family tradition and a love of family names.
- There is a right way to monogram. Beyond the traditional three-letter style, in which the initial for one’s surname is largest and centered, a host of etiquette rules govern the handling of hyphenated names, couples’ monograms, and other variations. (Who made these rules? Unclear. But like our names, we’re stuck with them.)
- In the Middle Ages, embroidered monograms helped identify a family’s laundry, which was washed communally.
- Monograms took off during the Victorian era as a symbol of wealth. An 1871 article in Appletons’ Journal referred to enthusiasts of the trend as “monogramaniacs.”
- Elvis Presley adopted the monogram TCB for “Taking Care of Business.” (The wives and girlfriends in his entourage received pendants inscribed with TLC—“Tender Loving Care.”) Graceland still sells merch emblazoned with the King’s famous logo.
- Proof that Southerners will monogram anything? Jon Grigsby, owner of 5 Flags Embroidery in Gulf Breeze, Florida, reports that he’s been asked to personalize bikinis, baseballs, yoga mats—even toilet paper.
- In the words of Southern celebrity Reese Witherspoon: “My rule is, if it’s not moving—monogram it.”
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Southbound.