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Field Report: On the Emerging Preference for Cheap Personalized Accessories

SPY agents, tasked with intercepting communications between in-the-know assets and engaging in constant, tireless cultural reconnaissance, regularly file field reports on new and meaningful trends. Some of the trends they monitor will change how we live. Field Report captures those early leads to keep you informed on what might be the next big thing.

Personalized products are suddenly ubiquitous. Pick up a pen left in a board room and turn it over. Likely as not, it will say something like: “JOHN DOE’S PEN – YOU BETTER RETURN.” Cigarette lighters are getting engraved again, still with vaguely blue-collar tone poetry: “Hell or High Water;” “Burned Bright;” “Next Year in Jerusalem, New York.” Embroidery is climbing back onto the breast pockets of blue oxford shirts like so much ivy.

All of this makes perfect sense. Times are tough. Trend chasing is more expensive than ever. It’s now more affordable to make an object into a totem than to buy a totemic object. A monogrammed phone case is much cheaper than something heavily branded and feels just as good in the hand. Better really. Empowering.

But personalized products, which are really a sub-genre of merch, require considerable consideration. Custom engraving and embroidery makes sense when it is enhancing a close relationship with a product. If you hate using pencils, a box of 200 with your name on them in embossed gold leaf isn’t worth a dime. On the other hand, if you’re a pen person, a personalized ballpoint stuck in a breast pocket looks cool and is, on a practical level, more likely to find its way back to your desk if left in, say, a board room.

If you wear a dress shirt and tie every day, a monogram provides just a bit of color. It’s branding, but in a livestock sense. You imply that you graze on your own ranch, which is a nice thought even if it isn’t true.

An important note from the field research is that personalized accessories ought not to be brandished like letters of mark. None of the recorded intelligence suggests that buying a big hat with a funny saying stitched into it or a painted denim jacket with a Looney Toons character circa 1998 is going to win friends or influence people. Reports show personalized goods are meant to be discovered. One does not offer people a pen with one’s name on it until they ask to borrow it. Maintain covert ops by not flicking the flame on an engraved lighter. When someone asks for a lighter, allow them see the inscription for themselves and inquire – or not.

Not is the key. Personalization, done right, should feel personal. If no one ever asks or notices, that’s fine. It’s your business. Not all statements need to be made in public.

Courtesy of Land’s End

$41.97 – $55.96 $69.95

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This no-iron-necessary shirt is an easy one to revamp an otherwise mundane office wardrobe. Buy six and make it your go-to staple with a small monogram of initials or a word that helps you stand apart from the rest of the Midtown Uniform–wearing finance bros. 

Courtesy of Merchery

$5.65 – $7.15

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Pens are always best in bulk. These can be a bit pricey when you consider that you’ll be buying them by the 100, but think about all the pens you’ve gone through in your life. Put your name on them and you’ll never lose them again. And the slight amount of heft and metal shaft makes each one worthy of keeping an eye on. 

Courtesy of Very Troubled Child


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Admittedly, this one is a little loud, but it’s funky and fun, which is perfect for the start of the summer. We all have our phones out all the time, and with so many cases being described only as “Blue,” you could stand to punch up a little bit with this initialed one.