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Monograms and Films... Two Things We Love Come Together

One upside of lockdown has been enforced evenings on the sofa catching up on films we've been meaning to watch for ages.  We find ourselves recommending the latest great film or Netflix series to eachother over our team's morning zoom catch up meeting, necessary insight before getting down to real business.

Perhaps it’s our obsession with monogramming or just our meticulous eye for detail, but we just can’t help noticing how prevalent monograms are in the films we have been watching.  It's fair to say that we test the patience of families and friends as we excitedly interrupt yet another film to point out a monogrammed dressing gown or bath towels, occasionally requesting a rewind so we can have a closer look at the font style and thread colour.

One recent example is You've Got Mail, a film that resonates on so many levels and has been part of a Nora Ephron-themed binge of late.  It's a classic New York film, about a small independent business woman who sells children's books and who happens to carry around a monogrammed handkerchief in her pocket.  And it stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan... what's not to love??  There are endless classic lines that resonate as much now as they did when the film came out in the 1990s, but the one that really makes our skin tingle appears as Meg Ryan's character reaches for her handkerchief when a child in her bookshop sneezes.  The child asks, "What's that?", to which Kathleen responds, "It's a Kleenex that you don't throw away.  My mother monogrammed it for me with my initials and a daisy, because daisies are my favourite flower."   

We decided to take a closer look at monogramming in film, to see how movie stars' costumes on set, from as far back as the start of motion pictures in the 1930s, have influenced fashion and popular culture.  In fact, the popularity of monogramming in the US can be attributed to product placements in some of the most popular movies in the 30s, 40s, and beyond.  We'd suggest that, otherwise, the European tradition of monogramming might otherwise not have taken hold so firmly in America.

Here are a few of our favourite monogram moments in film, starting with the 1930s. 

Films of the 1930s

These early films featured actors and actresses whose on-screen glamour has provided endless inspiration.

Dinner at Eight and Twentieth Century - In both these films, John Barrymore's characters wore a monogrammed smoking jacket and dressing gown.  The Barrymore acting dynasty is currently represented by Drew Barrymore, who is known to love a monogram.

    

In Top Hat and Shall We Dance, Fred Astaire's monogrammed dressing gowns brought this fashion trend to a wide audience.  

   

In Stage Door, Katharine Hepburn wore a monogrammed satin jumpsuit that would sell out in a minute today, and in Babyface, Barbara Stanwick's character wears a fabulous monogrammed scarf.  Both films brought the monogramming fashion trend to women's apparel.

   

Gone with the Wind made Clark Gable into an International heartthrob.  Rhett Butler made monogrammed handkerchiefs a must-have accessory.

The 1940s

Disney came on the scene in the 1940s with Mickey Mouse leading the charge.  In Mr Mouse Takes a Trip, Mickey has his monogrammed suitcase in tow with Pluto inside it, because no dogs are allowed on the train.  Mice are evidently no problem.  Our Paddington Suitcase would make a nice travelling case for mice or even children.

 

The Philadelphia Story featured the iconic Cary Grant wearing an equally iconic monogrammed robe, with the monogram featuring crossed tennis racquets and his character's two initials.  A new style of monogramming was born.

In Rebecca, Hitchcock placed monograms at the heart of the plot.  Monogrammed napkins, a blanket, a handkerchief, a notebook and a lingerie case offer visual clues as to the presence of Rebecca.  

   

The same plot convention was used in My Name is Julia Ross.  Monogrammed accessories are used to help convince the lead character that she is someone she is not.  Which is the corollary of the old adage, "If it isn't monogrammed, is it really even yours?".  

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In June Bride, Bette Davis wears a decadent blouse with her character's name Linda embroidered in huge letters.  The start of yet another monogramming trend.  

The 1950s

Royal Wedding features Fred Astaire back in a monogrammed dressing gown.. in technicolour! We can't get enough of him, actually.

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In Autumn Leaves, Joan Crawford's unbelievably chic monogrammed handbag set another trend in motion.  It also shows how some letters look the same upside down as right side up.

In Pillow Talk, Doris Day and Rock Hudson rock some really great monograms, including a monogrammed shower curtain with matching towels in their racy bath scene.

In North by Northwest, Cary Grant's character dramatically reaches for his monogrammed handkerchief when he cuts his finger.  Swoon.

The 1960s

Through the all-things-go decade of the 60s, we see monograms being used more creatively, with more unconventional font styles and placement.

In Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, the male lead Bert Freed, wears a monogrammed dress shirt done the Savile Row way, with the embroidery over the left chest.  

 

In Gypsy, Rosalind Russell's character has her monogram emblazoned boldly on her dressing room door.  We love this idea!

In The Thrill of It All, Doris Day has a huge monogram on the back of her dressing gown rather than the conventional placement on the front left chest.

In Mel Brookes' film The Producers, the male lead wears a silk scarf and a velvet smoking jacket with a big, elaborate B on the pocket.  Two monograms at once!  

A Man for All Seasons shows how monograms would have been used in the Middle Ages, to show ownership or loyalty to a king.

In Funny Girl, Barbara Streisand's character wears elaborate B on her lavender dressing gown.  It's a fashion trend left over from the 1950s and we still love it here in the 2020s. 

The 1970s

We are delighted that monogramming features prominently in some of the best films of this decade.

In The Godfather II, Michael Corleone of course has monogrammed sheets.  Let's not even ask why the monogram doesn't include his wife Kay's initials, as traditional dictates.

And of course James Bond (played by Roger Moore) has a monogrammed robe in Live and Let Die.

In Murder on the Orient Expressmuch is made in the investigation of an antique handkerchief bearing the initial H, but the handkerchief's monogram is never clearly shown in the film. However, the murdered Mr Ratchett's monogrammed robe can be seen hanging on a hook. 

 

Superman created one of the most famous monograms in modern popular culture. Superman's red initial S and jewel-shaped border with yellow background on his blue suit.  It's the start of a long affiliation between superheroes and a great monogram.  It's all truth, justice and the American way...

 

The 1980s

Mommy Dearest is a cinematic flashback to the 1950s when oversized monograms had their mainstream fashion moment.  Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford wears a great one in this film.

Scarface - Tony Montana's monogram can't be missed on the back of his leather office chair. Love the font.

In All of Me, Lily Tomlin's extravagant character pulls gorgeous monogrammed linen handkerchiefs from a box normally designed to hold disposable tissues.

 

Working Girl is another one of our all-time favourite New York movies, Harrison Ford's character Jack presents Tess with a monogrammed lunch box... which is so damn romantic, it gets us every time.

 

The 1990s

In Home Alone the McCallister's monogrammed doorknob (yes that's a thing) becomes a branding iron when Kevin hangs an electric charcoal grill lighter on the inside of the front door knob.

In A League of Their Own, Geena Davis, who we adore, wears a gorgeous monogrammed cardigan in this fantastic girl power film.

In Get Shorty, Danny DeVito's character has some seriously fabulous monogrammed cushions in his sitting room.

Casino, a Martin Scorsese film, is not short on thoughtful details.  Here Sharon Stone's character Ginger wears a lovely monogrammed robe.

In Sense & Sensibility, a monogrammed handkerchief belonging to Edward becomes a means of manipulation when wielded by Lucy Steele.  Elinor had already been given one by Edward earlier in the film.  A monogrammed handkerchief given as a love token... we absolutely love this idea.

Air Force One, a below-the-radar Harrison Ford film which features monogrammed hand towels in the US President's plane.  No doubt the current President has them monogrammed in solid gold thread... 

The 2000s

Erin Brokovich - If you're on a Julia Roberts binge, you won't want to miss this film. You'll have to watch carefully to see the monogram on the pocket of her boss's shirt, a script monogram with the letters ESM.

in The Princess Diaries, monogrammed soup is served.  Why not...

In Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo di Caprio's character is rebuffed by this prim bank teller wearing a fabulous 50s-style monogram.  It changes his life.

Harry Potter films feature monograms in many forms.  Ron's handmade sweater with a big R on the front makes a frequent appearance.  We also love the intertwined MM of the Ministry of Magic's monogram.  

    

In the most recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the signature W worn by Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka shows how a monogram becomes a personal logo.

In Over the Hedge Alison Janney's hysterically funny character has some great monogrammed satin pyjamas.

The Queen and Young Victoria illustrate that monarchs have great monograms. On everything.

     

Hairspray - Edna's monogrammed robe is as classic as John Travolta's performance.

 

As we watched Juno, we couldn't miss the monogrammed hand towels as Jennifer Garner's character tidies up.

Julie & Julia is another Nora Ephron film featuring a classic monogram or two. Meryl Streep plays Julia Childs whose dress has a red monogram on the front pocket. As you can see, the JMC has the larger C in the center, as is traditional for the surname in American-style monogram fonts. We love this look in our own embroidery fonts such as Middle Surname, Modern Fancy or Intertwined. 

   

The 2010s

Easy A is one of many retakes on the Scarlet Letter which, in all its permutations, is the gold standard for featuring a monogram at the heart of the story.  In this modern version, the big red A is turned in to a social advantage.

 

We absolutely love that the Director of Hitchcock decided that an Art Deco inspired AH monogram on the bath towels was a necessary detail.

The Great Gatsby is one of the most overstated of all film sets and it features an utterly divine two-letter circle monogram on the bottom of the pool... yes, that scene.  The monogram design follows through to the credits, where each crew member's name is preceded by their monogram.  A pretty fabulous idea. 

    

The Greatest Showman - When all eyes are on you while you're building the Greatest Show on Earth, a great monogram is required.

 

And finally... the last of the 2010s:  the most recent adaptation of Little Women features Saoirse Ronan playing the iconic Jo March. You can find her with the most beautiful ‘JM’ stitched onto her nightshirt…we are waiting on a better shot of the embroidery itself but scrolling through stills of the film is wonderful colour pallet inspiration.

Enough Already?

We hope you've enjoyed this little romp through the modern history of the monogram through film.  And there are so many more examples out there that we just couldn't include.   If you're a monogramming fan, we hope that you will be looking with a closer eye to these little details in films and television programmes, and please do let us know what you find.  And if you're a costume or film director looking for guidance or inspiration, definitely get in touch!

In the meantime, play around with your own initials on some of our new Initially London products to create your own versions of some of these fantastic film props.

 

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