I have a favourite book of reference at the moment, for the 1930s. It’s called Fashion at the time of Fascism and it’s all about the influence and effects of the Fascist regime on fashion in Italy.
The book explores many different angles of the industry, including beauty, the rise in fashion houses and italian celebrities of the time.
Today I’m only looking at one very small aspect of it – as I shall no doubt use many more for future posts!
It’s all about Monograms.
Watching “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, monograms take centre stage. When Tom (Matt Damon) pretends to be Dickie Bird, arriving off the boat from America, Meredith (Cate Blanchett) remarks that his names doesn’t match his luggage. Tom claims he travels under his mother’s maiden name, to detract attention, and so the big pretence begins.
I thought monograms were just a way of expressing one’s identity – a trend? Or a kind of distinguished etiquette?
However, reading between the lines from this extract, taken from author Mantica Barzini (1936), there was an a rather more risqué, ulterior motive for the Italian ladies of the 1930s:
“ The woman who is perhaps original is she who has embroidered upon her handkerchief her phone number instead of her initials, a symbol or a coat of arms….
More innocent, even though too personal, her morning or sports outfit, closed, by a series of wooden buttons – as many as the letters in her name – upon which the vowels and consonants of her name have been carved or placed in relief. Ada must suit herself with a waistcoat, but Filomena must also lace up part of her skirt.
Take care when two buttons come loose, to place them in the right order. And expect in every way, to attract attention. Just see how people observe the large monograms that at times adorn purses and belts, pockets and cuffs. It seems that in these details each person wishes to recreate the rest of the mystery every stranger hides within for those who pass by.”
Monograms were big business and, in addition, an underground dating device!
So when I discovered that every fur coat of my mother’s has her initials embroidered into the lining – I had to think twice! I’m sure it was innocently intended back in South Africa in the 50s.
More disturbing, however was the prevelance of the M monogram in Italy in the 1930s, expressing the domination of Mussolini’s dictatorship.
Speaking in Bologna in 1921, Mussolini declared “Our symbol is not the Savoy coat of arms, it is the lictorian fasces, Roman and also, if you please, republican”.
The lictorian fasces took many forms but were generally represented as the Duce’s head or, more popular, the M for Mussolini.
The M took its place as a repetitive pattern in women’s shawls, or as M shaped buckles and brooches and monogrammed dresses.
I can’t quite imagine people wandering around today with David Cameron’s initials on their jumpers and dresses! Thank God for democracy!
The only thing I have owned which has bared my initials was my school aertex top and PE skirt. But there is always time. Particularly since these 1930’s designs are really quite eye catching:
So, if these have inspired you – Land’s End offers a monogram service on your purchases – perhaps not as ornate as those above. Or if you’re lucky you might even find a monogrammed accessory at a vintage fair which matches your own?
Perhaps the best place to start is a monogrammed bag – after all one wouldn’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention – politically or romantically!