The Question of Personalisation

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“Is something the matter Jeeves?” asked Bertie, quizzically. Jeeves turns around slowly and informs his young master that there appear to be some ‘curious objects’ in his wardrobe. “Curious objects?” parrots Wooster, pacing over to the wardrobe with furrowed brow. Upon seeing the items in question, Bertie looks at Jeeves innocently and proclaims; “They’re handkerchiefs Jeeves, handkerchiefs” to which the great valet frowns and smiles, knowingly; “I think not sir, they appear to have writing on them.”

This superb scene from the Granada production of Jeeves & Wooster, based on the fabulous Jeeves books by PG Wodehouse, aside from being one of my favourites, introduces rather nicely a topic which I feel needs addressing; the question of personalisation. The only thing I have personalised is a pair of black velvet Albert slippers. It has never really occurred to me to personalise shirts, handkerchiefs or other accessories. I can see the appeal; adding your entwined initials or even a family crest to small items can add personal value to the item in question. Your stamp is there to see, the item is uniquely yours. As Bertie quite rightly ripostes to Jeeves critique; “I think they look dashed smart!”

However, Jeeves’ equally powerful response to Bertie’s suggestion that “everyone gets things initialled these days”, that he thought the practice was “…reserved for those who were in danger of forgetting their name” is also a consideration. Does the man of style really need to add his monogram to his carefully chosen threads? Is it a requirement that he see his family letters, no matter how smartly arranged, on clothes and accessories? I, being one who has arranged letters in what is perhaps seen by some as a vulgar manner on a pair of honest slippers, cannot possibly pass judgment on the practice per se; decrying the use of personalisation would reek of hypocrisy. I still consider my slippers smart, but I have grown into the idea that they are a one off – I make no plans to initial cuffs or linen handkerchiefs. In one way, initialling cuffs to me looks untidy, no matter what the font; it draws the eyes of others because it looks unusual and a little out of place. In comparison, considering the Albert slipper, it always looks conspicuously plain without adornment. Thus, a monogram or a crest actually balances the slipper correctly, just as a bow or a buckle would.

Speaking to a rather opinionated chum of mine, who is of the opinion that initialling clothing is the sartorial equivalent of needing a personalised number plate, it seems that critics of the practice mock the insecurity of a chap who needs people to see his name stitched into his cotton and linen. While I can understand this viewpoint, I think it needs to be remembered that personalisation is precisely that – personal. Although there will be the armchair aesthetes who’d argue that real individualism requires no signature, many people of considerable style feel moved to identify some, or even all items of their wardrobe.

After my meandering thoughts, which had turned and retreated as many times as an Italic monogram, I concluded that personalisation is only universally tasteful when it requires a searching eye to identify it. I have seen gentlemen with initialled shirt collars, suit lapels and even shoes. Numbers sometimes accompany the letters, perhaps an ostentatious reference to the birthday of the wearer, or worse, even the number of shirts, suits or shoes he might possess. Such vulgarity is rare, but it is seen. When certain people reach the apogee of financial and social achievement, they feel confident and determined that the world know exactly who they are. They pay for the dubious privilege of having the world see their identity before they’ve opened their mouths, offered an ungloved hand or slipped them a card. Then there are the chaps that don’t feel comfortable walking around in clothing that, if it was mislaid, might as well belong to somebody else. Since they carefully selected their Sea Island shirts then they are inclined to brand them accordingly. This I can certainly appreciate, especially when handing over significant sums for the item in the first place.

The point is to brand stylishly and with subtlety; the choice of font is a top consideration, as is the colour – a contrast might be considered too outré whereas a tone-on-tone is much more subtle and requires more than one glance for identification, but the most important thing is where on the item in question you plan to personalise. To personalise on the inside of a shirt or suit is indeed subtle, but it smacks of a schoolboy inclined to lose his uniform. I think the idea is to imagine yourself in the position of a great artist preparing to add his signature to the masterpiece; if one is looking long and hard enough, one will see it. For this reason I believe it is better to add a subtle signature in a darker or lighter tone of the item in question, as anything else can look like graffiti. This is so that, just like the signature of a fine artist, you might mistake it for being part of the design.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Obadiah says:

    I think that clothing was first monogrammed in order to identify clothing at the cleaners. Nowadays, that’s less of an issue.

  2. Nicola Linza says:

    Winston,

    This line in your article caught my eye, “I concluded that personalisation is only universally tasteful when it requires a searching eye to identify it.” I absolutely agree with you there, that is right on the mark. I was thinking the same as I read the article. I am not one for monograms, per se, but I do prefer them when done to be highly discreet. This is a great topic, rarely covered. I enjoyed reading it.
    Regards,
    Nicola

  3. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says:

    In this day and age, only the “lower orders” should be wearing initialed or “name-tagged” clothing….hnless you’re in the military or a police/life-safety apparatchik. For professionals and serious businessmen it’s an out-of-date affectation for those who are arriviste’or climbers.

    Besides, some of us are “blessed” with initial-combinations that spell-out unfortunate or very un-PC concepts. I refuse to use or go-about in public bearing the moniker of a dread desease, nor a failed low-cal Cola drink….

  4. Vickan says:

    I think personalization is a nice thing, and not at all out-of-date (not in a bad way that is).

    I especially like when it is done on towels or sheets. It looks old-fashioned (in a good way) and it takes you back to different times where everything seemed to be oh so much easier and prettier!

  5. Simon Crompton says:

    Great article Winston, and I agree with Nicola’s comment.
    To add my two cents, I believe monogramming is something that is acceptable if it is not seen, akin to keeping your working cuffs done up.
    I have my shirts monogrammed at the bottom of the front-right panel. It is thus never seen by others and is merely a pleasurable reminder to myself.
    Also, monogramming something that would have another symbol on it otherwise can only be an improvement – cufflinks, ties and slippers fall into this category. Better your own initials, or club crest, on these rather than RL, GA or somesuch.

  6. Winston says:

    To Nicola and Simon,
    I agree with what you say. Monograms are acceptable when they are discreet or even, in Simon’s case, never seen at all. It’s interesting that Obadiah brought up the issue of clothing at the cleaners being identified by sewn initials. Of course, most of these initials were in unseen areas of the garment – inside or on the bottom of the garment. They were certainly not decoratively placed on cuffs or under shirt pockets, which is the modern phenemenon of ‘personalisation’; the idea that something personalised thus is a symbol of status in itself. Vickan touched on a point that personalisation can be charming. I remember the opening scenes of The Great Gatsby, a man who would never have sent his clothes or linen to a public cleaner, with monogrammed sheets, towels, hair brushes and even cushions. The effect? Well, it was intended to persuade the viewer that he was a ‘man who had everything’ and that he was a man who sought social acceptance and establishment appreciation. It is no surprise that personalisation today is not seen as an arbitrary issue for identification at Jeeves of Belgravia; there is a sense that personalisation automates a history and a background.
    To Simon’s point on monogramming something that would otherwise have another symbol on it – I agree entirely. Ralph Lauren’s polo player and his initials still feature in his collections and I remember seeing a pair of Albert slippers, made by Edward Green for Ralph Lauren, with a rather fabulous gold-stitch monogram; predictably ‘RL.’ Unless your name happens to be Ralph Lauren, or Richard Little or even Rawston Latchkey, these slippers are merely a beautifully crafted advertising space for Mr Lauren. It is certainly far better to have your own initials.

    Winston

  7. Alex says:

    I think this is so ridicoulous. So American and so banal. In Monte Carlo nobody would ever do such a thing. Perhaps a child.

  8. Vickan says:

    Alex: American? This prob started before America was discovered.

    And few people would ever accuse Monte Carlo for being stylish ..

  9. Nicola Linza says:

    Brava! Vickan.
    N

  10. Sophie says:

    Alex – what utter rubbish.

    I have many friends who live in MONACO and have monogrammed shirts. No self respecting Monegasque would ever refer to old Monti as Monte Carlo – not even the Italians