that which we call an RSVP
By any other name would still take as long to receive.
See what I did there?
"Etiquette is not a rigid code of manners. It is simply how persons' lives touch one another."
The invitation wording outlined in this post is abridged from Emily Post's 1970 Wedding Etiquette guide, where many of today's wedding etiquette originates. I've included modernized language to account for Post's lack of inclusivity, as well as today's COVID-19 conundrum and invitation protocol.
What, you mean you've not researched classic party etiquette dating back to 19th century Americana in preparation for your big day?
One thing I've heard from custom and semi custom clients alike, is that wording an invitation can be intimidating. So, I've put together this reference guide to answer your questions. Read on for the history of modern print methods, the cultural significance of your wedding day, seven questions you need to ask before deciding on wording, modern updates, and a word bank with some of those invitation words. You know, the ones you absolutely cannot spell without Googling? I got you.
You might be wondering, what's with the formalities? I certainly was, when I dove into invitation design without regard for the unwritten historic preservation responsibility. When I first started out years ago, I noticed a common revision coming in from my wedding clients. I pitch an invitation, my client approves, and shortly thereafter I receive an email saying:
"Hey Andrea, I just showed these invitations to my mom. She loves the design, but she says we need to make some changes to the wording. Apparently my parents want their names on the invitation? Anyway, she sent me this: 'Mr. and Mrs. ___ along with Mr. and Mrs. ___ invite you to the wedding of their children'. . ."
Eventually, I looked into the Why's of wedding stationery, as well as what I'm responsible for as your stationer. Buckle in for a quick history lesson.
We'll start with the historical context of invitations. So much to unpack here. *puts on reading glasses*
Invitations weren't really a "thing" in what is now America until the 1600's. In ye olden days, a communal celebration was announced by the town crier. Whoever heard about it was able to attend. Commoners were largely illiterate, and only the noblest could afford handcrafted invitations. Along came the printing press in ~1440 Germany, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the Gutenberg press. The printing press had a massive impact on global literacy over the following 5 centuries. By 1636, Mrs. Glover set up America's first press at the Massachusetts Colony's new college, Harvard. The printing press took what was once intended for only the mega wealthy and made it available to the middle class. And boy, did we the people run with it.
The early U.S. postal service was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1775 when he appointed the first Postmaster General. By the 19th century, lithographic and offset printing were the norm. And thanks to the industrial revolution, by the 20th century everyone and their mother was printing wedding invitations through local press operators. Typically only one ink color was used, and to prevent smudging, a layer of tissue was laid overtop. Digital printing wasn't made possible until recently, in 1983. Digital is now the fastest and most cost effective type of invitation printing. These days, there is no limit to how many colors can be printed.
This is why modern wedding invitations are often still printed on letterpress: it's a nod to the past. Other common print methods still preserved today include embossing, engraving, hot foiling, and vellum or tissue overlays. Hats off to the special artisans out there running antique presses today, preserving the craft. So rad.
Take a look at this invitation to the 1906 wedding of Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice. to Nich Longworth. If you're going for timeless, this is it. Look at that calligraphy! And the White House emboss! Ooh la la! Some 800+ people attended this wedding, meaning one lucky calligrapher hand addressed 500+ invitations, along with coordinating outer and inner envelopes.
History lesson over! There will be a vocal quiz at the end of this post. I'm kidding. Tuck those dates away in your mind for your next trivia night.
I also want to touch on the cultural significance of your marriage. No wedding is the same: Indian black-tie optional, Kentucky horse farm, Hawaii destination, Jewish garden party . . . each of these events has a unique atmosphere. Your invitations should communicate the vibe clearly to your guests. Now is the time to get creative! What elements of your union do you want to represent? We can bring in textures, vintage stamps, and motif patterns to create a totally unique suite that feels like you.
It's likely that your older guests have a basic understanding of this old school etiquette. Preserving the format of the past is a sign of respect in many ways. For many of us, throwing a wedding celebration is a family affair. Paying honor to those who are pitching in goes a long way! This can be done outside of just listing names on your invitation. Bringing in family heirlooms to your suite is a wonderful way to say thank you.
Invitation: who's hosting?
This is where we honor those who are paying for your wedding, and also unite the couples as a family. We can include one or both sets of parents if they are hosting, or you can share the hosting title with your families if it's a group effort, or we can simply honor the two of you.
if both parents are paying
Mx. and Mx. First Name and First Name Last Name
along with Mx. and Mx. First Name and Last Name
(invite you to the wedding of their children)
if one parent is paying
Ms. and Ms. First Name and First Name Last Name
(invite you to the wedding of their child
child of Mx. and Ms. First Name Last Name)
*child = son, daughter, or simply child
if it's a group effort
Together with their families/
Together with their parents
if it's the two of you
who's getting married? *etiquette: if you're taking your partner's last name, list your first and middle name, along with your partner's first, middle, and last name. If one or both of you will be hyphenating your names, list the couple's full names.
First Name Middle Name
First Name Middle Name Last Name
First Name Middle Name
First Name Middle Name
is it a religious ceremony?
If the answer is yes, we request the honour of the recipient's presence. Honour is traditionally spelled with a U here. If the answer is no, we request the pleasure of the recipient's company. I'm a fan of prefacing this request with the word "Joyfully," because what's more joyful than a wedding?
Request the Pleasure of Your Company/
Request the Honour of Your Presence
what's the occasion?
at their wedding celebration/
at the celebration of their union
when is it?
This is the date followed by the time. A bit of folklore for you: Marrying on the half-hour is said to bring good luck, while marrying on the downswing of a clock is bad luck!
Saturday, the nineteenth of August
Two Thousand Twenty-Two
at half-past six o'clock in the evening
This is the name of your venue, the address of the venue, followed by city and state (we do not need the zip code on here unless it's critical to the directions).
The Victorian Belle Mansion
1441 N McClellan Street
any plans after?
Whether it's a fully plated dinner and dancing or a luncheon reception, this is where we convey those plans.
Cocktail reception to follow means appetizers and drinks.
Dinner and Dancing, or Dinner and Merriment to follow means a full meal and a good time.
How should your guests dress? If it's a formal event, I recommend including this information on the invitation itself.
Come as you are
INSERT CARD #1 Rsvp and stamped return envelope. An RSVP is filled out by your guests to inform you who will be in attendance.
We have reserved __ seats in your honor
__ number of guests attending
INSERT CARD #2 Details This is where we communicate the not so pretty information to your guests. Some common details inserts include attire (if it's not stated on the invitation), your wedding website, driving directions, and a custom map.
INSERT CARD #3 Accommodations An accommodations insert includes your guests' hotel information, along with booking details. Accommodations can also be combined with other information on a general Details insert.
INSERT CARD #4 Separate Invitation(s) Rehearsal dinner the night before, welcome drinks downtown, the wedding shower around the corner... there's probably more than just your big day ahead! Save some time and include all invitations in a beautiful card pocket.
INSERT CARD #5 Whatever you want! Because that's the joy of going custom: you get what you want. If you're having a week long celebration, we'll put together a booklet for your guests. If you bought plane tickets for your wedding party, we'll include an emblematic boarding pass keepsake. There is no right or wrong number of insert cards, but the more we include, the higher the cost of postage.
Modernization of the classic wedding invitation
Let me just say, you are not obligated to uphold traditional etiquette. If you want your invitation to say "We're gettin' hitched, who's in?" I'm all about it. Breaking the rules on purpose is cool. It's also different than unknowingly misrepresenting your wedding ceremony.
If you want your guests to wear black-tie attire, sometimes it takes a bit more than "black-tie attire" on the invitation. You want your guests to open that envelope and think, "I'd better wear my fancy suit for this one!" before they even get to the attire insert card. The overall invitation should reflect the event, in its design and its language.
When I got married, I was like, "I don't want to see a single pair of khakis." My brother-in-law was like, "there is nothing you can do about someone deciding to wear khakis to your wedding." And guess what? I have no idea if anyone wore khakis. Don't get caught up in the "rules". It's your day.
THE FUTURE IS NOW. Hear me out. I know. I just listed all the reasons we should preserve formality and history in your wedding invitations. But y'all, if we're listing a registry website or a hotel reservation link or an online RSVP, we could make it sooo convenient for your guests.
In case you haven't heard, wrangling your RSVPs isn't always easy. Online RSVPs could be a good fit for your invitations if those in attendance are familiar with technology. I've heard good things from my couples about the promptness of online RSVPs. They're also the first thing I recommend when a couple is looking to save a bit on their custom suite.
One way to keep your suite tidy is to utilize your website for the lengthier information. I recommend Zola. However, if you do choose to include a direct link in your wedding invitations, a QR code is the way to go. It's small and neat, and yes, it works.
Typing out an https:// link is tedious. Opening your smartphone's camera is a breeze! Is it tacky? Not as tacky as a copy and pasted website link. I'm just sayin'. Custom, baby.
While the worst of COVID-19 is hopefully behind us, events aren't quite in the clear. Your guests deserve to know the precautions you are (or aren't) taking before they choose to attend. If your venue is requiring that all in attendance wear masks, this is best communicated somewhere within your invitation suite.
A simple catch-all to include is, "We are taking every necessary precaution to ensure a safe celebration. We ask that you respect the safety of our guests in attendance by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing."
Another approach is to include more detailed information on your wedding website, and directing your guests there: "Due to ever-changing circumstances, we will keep our guests up to date with any change of plans. Please refer to our wedding website for our venue's COVID-19 protocol."
tricky word bank
Confession: typos have happened. That's why I had to learn all of this. Never again.
Here are some common words that are tough to spell, along with their definitions. Don't make the mistake I did!
Repondez, s'il vous plaît
verb RSVPed or RSVP'd, RSVPing or RSVP'ing.
to reply to an invitation
noun, plural RSVP's.
a reply to an invitation
noun a place of residence, usually temporary
a small bit of appetizing food served at cocktail parties or other gatherings where drinks are served with no other food.
cheerful or joyful gaiety; mirth; hilarity; laughter.
to dress, array, or adorn, especially for special occasions, ceremonials, etc.
AWD's guide to wedding attire:
Garden party = daytime cocktail
think: floral sundresses and button downs
Cocktail = semi formal
think: cocktail dresses and a suit and tie
Come as you are = casual
think: daytime clothes
Black-tie optional = formal
think: fancy cocktail or floor length gowns and a nice suit
Black-tie = even more formal
think: floor length gowns and tuxedos
White-tie = the most formal
think: floor length gowns and coattails
Marriage is more than just a piece of paper. Likewise, your invitations represent more than just event details. Understanding the symbolism behind wedding traditions might make the whole thing more fun.
I have a future post on American wedding folklore to come. "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" and all those folksy traditions. Stay tuned!