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What You Need To Know About 2013's Surprise Monogram Revival

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.

J.Crew does this for you now.

Dear Monogram-Hungry Shoppers Who Want Something Special,

It wasn't so long ago that we plebeians could beg but not choose in terms of our clothes—what was there was what we got. There was no monogramming; and if your proportions weren't what suitmakers dictated proportions should be—well, your jacket might fit okay but you'd be swimming in your pants.

A lot has changed though—especially in the last few seasons. Whatever the reason—added value for cash-strapped shoppers, or a need to differentiate in a homogenous universe, or a link to the all-things-artisanal Etsy movement—there are a lot more semi-custom options out there for shoppers at all ends of the price spectrum right now.

Last month, Brooks Brothers—a brand that isn't exactly known for innovation so much as really great oxford shirts and American-made bowties—announced men's semi-custom suiting. Coming to their website his spring, the suits will feature mix-and-match sizing in four fits plus a multitude of fabric and lining choices. The store will also launch customized shirting. No, this isn't a bespoke suit—but a bespoke suit doesn't only cost $700.

In December, Nordstrom launched custom panties—women's underwear that can be embellished with glittery slogans such as "You & Me."

eShakti

Another outfit, eShakti, dubs its wide range of womenswear "Real Fashion for Real People," and it practices what it preaches. Every item on offer—think poplin day dresses and vintage-inspired frocks in sweet, super-flattering silhouettes—come in sizes 0 to 36. Further, each is cut to said customer's exacting specifications; and is often available in varied lengths or with custom modeling (don't care for your arms—add sleeves!) That's a lot of custom for a little—many dresses are only $79.

Badichi Cusomized Belts has five stores in New York City, but recently—like many other retailers embracing this semi-customization trend—they've gone on-line and ship internationally. Their website allows you to virtually build the belt of your dreams (and considering said belt is the belt of your dreams—the prices are pretty friendly).

Meanwhile, Burberry has been offering custom signature trenches on-line—sized for you in the length and fabrication you want. Not looking to spend $2,400? Converse has quietly offered custom sneakers for a awhile now. Choose the model, mix and match colors and fabrications, add graphics, even custom messages—for around $70.

And Ralph Lauren let's you pick out your very own pony color with their Create Your Own program online. Monogramming is optional.

Aside from wearables, West Elm added the option to engrave, embroider, or emboss any number of their mass-produced home accessories back in 2011. And late last year, Williams-Sonoma announced a brand new brand and e-commerce site, Mark and Graham. Mark and Graham sells stationery, objets, lacquer boxes, and luxury throws—basically any number of gift and home items. Each and every item can be engraved or monogrammed in any number of styles and typefaces. And it's all included in the item's price.

Speaking of monograms, some history: Wikipedia tells us that the first "monograms" were used thousands of years ago on Greek and Roman coins. Later, clans developed crests and familial woven tartans and monks began using signature initials in their illuminated manuscripts. But, it wasn't until the Victorian era that the general populace (at least the well-heeled general populace) started plopping their intials on linens, jewelry, and other household items. The founder of the Amid Privilege blog even surmises that this era of monogram-mania reflected Victorian class anxiety. True or false, class and classism certainly played and plays a role in who, what, how (here are some rules from a southern lady), and why objects get monogramnmed.

All said, monogramming is once again having a major moment. It's a way for both customers and retailers to stand out; and a way stores are teasing sale-accustomed shoppers into paying retail again. And it appears to be working.

C Wonder

To wit: J.Crew has launched an on-line Monogram Shop allowing shoppers to have initials or "cheeky phrases" added to cashmere sweaters, dress shirts, and even boy's tops.

Madewell, J.Crew's hip younger sister, has also dipped a tentative toe in the waters of monogramming—offering customers the opportunity to "Monogramit" on a handful of bags and totes. Meanwhile, C.Wonder offers a lazy (yet inexpensive!) version of mass-customization: They simply stock belt buckles, charms, and even cheeseboards featuring almost every initial (you might be out of luck if your name is Zelda). Of course, L.L.Bean has been happy to monogram almost anything they sell—and they sell almost everything—since always. For $6.

And then there's Monogram Lane—a sugary sweet website selling monogrammed everything. It seriously makes Lilly Pulitzer look like Hot Topic. But it's kind of awesome! Who needs a custom flag to hang from their wraparound porch?

· Love, Frank [Racked]