Dandy Ink

By Film Noir Buff

This monogram is for those who “Think pink”.

Why do I start so many essays with a question?

Let’s jump into this, there isn’t any time to waste. Sartorial principles are changing quickly, are you changing with them?

“Casual shirts allow for more expression such as a grey letter surrounded by a black circle.”

From the start of the new millennium we have had a seemingly uninterrupted sequence of national, nay global disasters from actual Tsunamis to financial ones, from a new type of war to a new type of president.

Further signs of the apocalypse include professional sports teams winning championships for the first time ever. Admit it, how many of you checked the heavens for a giant rogue meteor for months after the Red Sox won their first in 86 years?

But, unlike the upheavals of the 1960s and 70s we seem to sit as if a nation of theater patrons watching the tragic-comic film of our planet. Rather like the Mystery Science Theater 3000 format, we are catatonic voyeurs on a space craft hurtling towards a whimpering end. And what “B” movie do we view on the screen?

Huge social rifts taking place, conventions and social norms altering, viewpoints disappearing and new ones springing up.

What was once rock solid, is now no more. Enter the dandy. No, not me…the inner dandy in all of us. The inner dandy is that need to assert one’s individuality and sense of control, success and bonhomie. Oh, and faith in ourselves— when faith in just about everything else is shaken.

Navy blue monograms for work shirts. This one sits best on the pale stripes.

Take the shirt monogram, there was a time when, for the most part, it was gauche. Of course, there were exceptions. If you had custom shirts made up and the initials were small, handmade and placed discretely on the left abdomen or the nipple, then it was alright; if the monograms were free, then they were a coup! The machine made ones were always considered plastic; and if you put them on your collar or cuff—shockingly low brow!

I remember seeing an Irish trader come to meet some of his trader friends. He had his initials machine sewn in some Gothic font on his collar; bright red on white cotton. He was quite arrogant too, this wrong-side-of-the-tracks dandy. I was astonished that he was so brazen, so unconscious of his faux pas in all his be-mulleted splendor. I subconsciously categorized him as the sort that wore nylon Speedo underwear, hardly “People like us”, as we used to say.

White monogram on white linen keeps it light and summery.

Although I still react negatively towards people who wear monograms on their cuffs and/or collars (especially those runic, middle earth fonts), this does not mean that they are not part of the smart dresser’s arsenal.

Fred Astaire, is pictured wearing his initials on his shirt’s forearm and while this may make a good photograph for a sartorial immortal, most people would think you repaired damage to your shirt.

Some can suffer temperature changes from seeing monograms on another man’s shirt. Other men say, they don’t need monograms because they know who they are. Yet others justify getting monograms only because they are in an out-of-sight spot on the shirt’s tails which serve to help identify at a commercial laundry.

This Oxford shirt gets a purple monogram in between the stripes.

Then there is the currency trader who wears four watch cufflinks at once; each one of his French cuffs has two rows of buttonholes and under each is the monogram of one of the four city names he trades in. Cool, eclectic, sartorially mad—I love it.

Still other men get fonts so small, they are hard to see in low contrast or matching colors; which rather obviates the effort. It seems somewhat ironic that the humble monogram triggers so many reactions and justifications which the high priced sports car rarely does.

Is the monogram a window to the ego? Is it a brash or tacky advertisement? Or is it simply a decorative way to more deeply enjoy clothes? The answer may lie within the state of society. Perhaps when things were stable and established, the monogram’s presence and absence told a lot about the wearer’s background but during a time of upset, who mans the watch tower of propriety? And do we even care what they think anymore?

Tailored clothes are now a luxury. They are no longer bought simply for the rigors of the office but also for self assertion. Medieval knights knew well the difference between the heavy unadorned battle armor and the light, decorative tournament armor. Tailored clothes are today’s tournament armor; the panoply of the intelligentsia. And monograms are heraldic devices on that armor.

Monograms are part of the current whimsy. Perhaps, as hinted at By Jeremy Hackett in his book “Mr. Classic”, tattoos are now so common on skin that adorning one’s clothing is a comparatively trivial decision.

The English like white for casual shirts. This “Cambridge” cotton by Acorn fabrics is a three ply that breathes.

Since the new millennium began, American professional shirt choices have changed radically. Solid white and blue no longer reign supreme. Instead, quite colorful and patterned shirts are often worn to the office which means that monograms are not immediately noticeable. As a result, monograms are feasible in both stronger colors and larger, more ornate styles.

The current monogram etiquette permits a variety of sizes, fonts, initial or initials, letters, pictograms, placement and colors all subject to individual tastes. However, even within this celebration of the self, some guidelines should be kept in mind. These are the author’s opinions:

Size: Too large and you distract, too small and you waste your money.

Font: Simple is good, too ornate can look like a designer logo.

Color: Up to the wearer but unless carefully chosen, matching colors to the shirt background can look like repaired damage. Instead, complimentary or contrasting colors will do nicely. Sometimes more than one color can work but this is a complex subject the author has every intention of chickening out of discussing here.

For work, monograms should be simpler and smaller but this is more of a guideline than a bright line rule.

Decorative doo dads around the initials like a circle/diamond or a ring of dots/stars can be very smart but again too ornate just looks like a mess.

Images, animals or symbols, whether heraldic or fanciful, should be outlines to avoid looking like mass produced logos.

A monogram should be clear and simple. Handwork should be chosen over machine.

Now, some things change, some things go in and out of style and still others never change much at all. There is no guarantee that monograms will still be acceptable in five years time but it is ill advised to live one’s life worrying that you might regret a sartorial choice at some point in the future. Let our motto be: “Live, drink and be dandy, for tomorrow we buy.”

Our monograms are our dandy livery, a modern badge of our aristocratic, if apocryphal, lineage. They announce to the world that we are individuals of quality and merit.

Why do I start so many essays with a question? Because I want you to think and arrive at your own conclusions.

  1. Nicholas Storey    Dec 4, 10:42    #

    By ‘be-mulleted’ do you refer to the heraldic devices?

  2. — FNB    Jan 28, 00:00    #

    No, he actually sported a mullet hair style.

  3. Gentleman's Gazette    Apr 3, 16:22    #

    I really like the idea of having a circle around the letter. All monograms look beautiful by the way.

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