123. Making Things Personal in a Decorative Fashion

28 Feb

k pillowIn the South, if you leave a tote bag, towel, or drinking glass unattended for too long, someone’s liable to come along and embellish it with initials. (The Pacific Northwest equivalent is to “put a bird on it.”)

If there’s anything Southerners like better than the sound of our own voices, it’s the sight of our own initials. How else do you explain the obsessive compulsion to monogram everything from pillow cases to table cloths, not to mention all the jewelry and clothing in between. If anyone can figure out a convenient way to etch initials into casserole dishes, I will buy plenty of shares when your company goes public.

In an effort to provide y’all a little background on the tradition, I took a quick stroll around the Internet and got so overwhelmed I had to sit down and rest a spell. Monogramming is a topic far too broad to tackle in a single blog post, so I’ll just tell y’all what I know about it and encourage you to explore the subject on your own. Google will direct you where to go.

il_570xN.418700762_10crFrom as far back as anyone alive can remember, Southerners have embellished household treasures like silverware, linens, and crystal with the family’s initials. Using a single initial to represent one’s surname would be easiest, but then there wouldn’t be much to argue about. Consequently, most monograms expand to include three initials. The question becomes: “whose?”

Frankly my dears, I haven’t a clue. So many variations exist, it makes one long for the days when swooning was fashionable. Often, monograms consist of two smaller initials flanking the left and right side of a larger letter. For single folks, the formula is pretty simple: small letter on left represents an individual’s first name, large letter in center represents the surname, and small letter on right represents the middle name. (Now that I think of it, you hardly ever see “Jr.” as part of a monogram, so I don’t know how men from consecutive generations know whose personalized camo hat is whose.)

Get your own beer, Bubba!

Get your own beer, Bubba!

Marriage complicates things, including monograms. Folks start asking, “Is what’s mine A. Mine, B. Yours, or C. Ours?” When it comes to whose initials go on what and in which order, opinions vary. Shocker, I know…

These days when Southern brides register for linens, cutlery, and the like, they often opt for a joint monogram featuring the couple’s soon-to-be surname in the center, flanked by his and her first initials. Some say the husband’s initial gets top billing; others say that honor goes to the wife. I imagine at least a handful of engagements flame out before the registry is finalized. In the interest of fairness, I recommend tossing a coin or playing “rock, paper, scissors.” Or why not mix it up–he gets towels, she gets pillowcases.

I don't just make this stuff up...

I don’t just make this stuff up…

For personal items like hair bows (seriously, y’all) or golf club covers, stick with individual monograms. Like peeing standing up, selecting a monogram is much easier for a man, seeing as his initials rarely change. For married women, the question becomes: should the initial right of center represent one’s maiden name or middle name? Decisions, decisions.

You may be wondering: “What about folks with hyphenated surnames?” Well, y’all, correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine folks who hyphenate surnames aren’t exactly the monogramming type.

At the risk of losing some of my Southern cred, I must admit that I, myself, have never developed a taste for monogramming. I did once buy a purse with a “K” on it, but that’s about it. I’m far more inclined toward objects featuring words, such as a vase that says “bloom” or a pet bowl that says “drink.” And, yes, I realize that flowers and cats aren’t exactly known for their reading comprehension skills…

Apart from the occasional piece of jewelry, my mom wasn’t much of a monogrammer either, with one notable exception: sunglasses. Ever since I can remember (and probably before), my mom liked her sunglasses large and monogrammed. While she liked to be stylish as the next person (or more, if we’re being honest), she never could bear to compromise when smaller frames became de rigueur. She had me always on the lookout for generously sized lenses suitable for the task at hand. For a while this search was about as fruitless as my current quest to purchase jeans of any type other than “skinny.” (Attention merchants: Not all of us are!)

Rockin' Mom's sunglasses

Rockin’ Mom’s sunglasses

Of course, the summer after she died, every store on the planet stocked ginormous sunglasses, each pair larger than the next. Thanks, fashion industry, for that extra dash of salt.

My dad, ever on the hunt for a bargain, once happened across an incredible deal on a wool sweater from a fancy menswear store. Sure, it had someone else’s monogram on it, but my dad is nothing if not resourceful. This was back in the 80’s when Izod was all the rage, so he simply repurposed a lizard from a pair of socks and stitched it over the erroneous initials. Problem solved.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen monogrammed? Do you like adding your initials to stuff? If so, what?

Photo Credits: K pillow available at the HAWthorne Etsy shop; vintage-inspired napkins available at the KristinesEmbroidery Etsy shop; monogram hair bow available at the LittleGoodieTutus Etsy shop; me in sunglasses courtesy of Holloway family archives.

18 Responses to “123. Making Things Personal in a Decorative Fashion”

  1. Amy February 28, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Oh, there’s a way to etch your monogram glass baking dishes! A gift shop in Birmingham, Alabama, makes a killing doing it all day long, Cake plates too!

    • Kim Holloway February 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      Oh my, why did I not know that when my sister lived in Birmingham?? That sure beats the masking tape and sharpie identification method that I’ve seen folks use.

  2. Hope February 28, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Well, sitting here in my monogramed CHAIR, I think the sunglasses story is a very sweet and fun way to remember your Mom. Bless your (unmonogramed) heart.

    • Kim Holloway February 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

      Thanks, Hope! Monogrammed chair? Don’t that beat all?

  3. msshe February 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    My daughter is getting married, and I have already begun to think of the monagram issue. She is not sure she will use his name, or hyphenate. What’s a southern mother to do? I am sure we will figure this out, but it makes one pause and think for a moment that there are these issues. Mykentuckyliving.wordpress.com

    • Kim Holloway February 28, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

      Congrats to your daughter and her fiance! Good luck getting that worked out!

  4. Kat Bar February 28, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Again, you are right on the money. My big fat Italian wedding 7 years ago did not escape the southern monogramming craze. As a matter of fact, I had a “wedding monogram” designed as my theme. It was on my invitations, and the it tied into all of the matchy (of course) paper goods. I am a print buyer/creative director, so the paper parts had to be special. The name cards, center pieces and menus all carried the Wedding Monogram. But my all white fancy smancy cake…took the cake as the second tier had a white on white box monogram as well. But it did not stop there. My bridesmaids were honoured with a special tote bag monogramed with the knick name I had for them over the years, and was filled with all kinds of goodies. And of course, I had one for me too, with my NEW monogram on it.

    And then, if that wasn’t enough, I found a beautiful burlap bag at Kirklands that was pre-monogramed in aqua. Seriously??? Burlap, tote, aqua and my last initial in one place. It doesn’t get any better than that!

    • Kim Holloway February 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      Love, love, love this!! Coming from the advertising world, I understand completely about the importance of paper parts. I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent designing shower invites and birth announcements for my sister’s first baby! But I can tally up the time for her second child: none. Sadly, the first borns get all the glory. After that, folks tend to get lazy. By “folks” I mean me.

      • Malinda Knight Clay February 28, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

        Just found your blog and so excited that I did. I read your article on red velvet cake . I make (if I say so myself) some awesome Red Velvet cake balls. I also read your Southern expressions and I couldn’t help but laugh…I have grown up here in Mississippi hearing all of them!!!
        I am now going to bookmark you so that I can continue to get chuckles from your blog.
        Malinda in Mississippi

        • Kim Holloway March 4, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

          Thanks so much, Malinda! I would love me some red velvet cake balls! Yum!!

  5. Lisa in Alabama February 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Totally. As a Canadian transplant living in Alabama, this one has always jumped out at me, and I’m glad to hear that you as a bonafide Southerner aren’t completely smitten with this phenomenon either! I’ve received gifts of monogrammed note cards, which of course implies that I am supposed to actually send people notes with MY initials on the front. But something in me cringes when I receive such a note from someone else. It just feels…well, pretentious. Like they may as well have just written, “Hey, I’m so full of myself that I am writing you just to show off my shmancy stationery, not because I have anything to say to you that actually involves YOU.” But being the frugal gal that I am, I feel I can’t let it go to waste, and I certainly can’t regift it to someone with different initials, so I use it. I usually feel compelled to include a disclaimer in the note, along the lines of, “(Sorry about the hoity-toity monogrammed stationery. It was a GIFT!)” And just when I’m relieved to FINALLY be using the last of it, guess what I unwrap at my next birthday? 😀

    • Mallory March 1, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      You’re right. It is pretentious.

    • Kim Holloway March 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      Just remember not to include the disclaimer on a note to the gift giver! Oh, and you could regift it to my dad. I bet he’d use it!

  6. Hippie Cahier February 28, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    We’re not quite ready to go public, but would you be interested in becoming an angel investor in my camo-hat monogramming business? I think that would be a hit!

    I know a dyed-in-the-wool Jersey boy who wears custom-made business shirts with monogrammed French cuffs. He’s a bit of a dandy.

    • Kim Holloway March 4, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      HA!! I’m picturing you running this idea past Kevin on Shark Tank (Dragon’s Den for the Canadians among us).

      I believe the last sentence in your comment was redundant. 🙂

  7. Tiffany March 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    HA! This post is amazing – coming from a lady with monogrammed hand towels, regular towels, washcloths, soap dispensers, above-bed wall hangings, etc. I didn’t ever think that it was a “thing” until I read this! I guess I do have the monogram bug!

    • Kim Holloway March 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      Indeed you do have the monogram bug, Tiffany! Carry on!


  1. 131. Big Ass Bows, Not the Hunting Kind | stuff southern people like - November 19, 2013

    […] I’ve mentioned before, Southerners just love slapping their initials on anything even remotely decorative, so there’s an endless variety of monogrammed hair bows. From a single initial on up to all […]

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