What's in a Wedding Invitation?

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."


EMILY POST



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.


Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Lee’s 1906 wedding invitation

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.


Like this:


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

Together,


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.


Like this:


First Name Middle Name

and

First Name Middle Name Last Name


First Name Middle Name

and

First Name Middle Name


First Name

and

First 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?

Your wedding!


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


and where?

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

Portland, Oregon


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.


attire?

How should your guests dress? If it's a formal event, I recommend including this information on the invitation itself.


Garden party

Cocktail

Come as you are

Black-tie optional

Black-tie

White-tie



Insert Cards:

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.





QR codes

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.





COVID-19 wording

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!


RSVP

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


Accommodations

noun a place of residence, usually temporary


Hors d'oeuvres

Appetizers

noun, plural

a small bit of appetizing food served at cocktail parties or other gatherings where drinks are served with no other food.


Merriment

noun

cheerful or joyful gaiety; mirth; hilarity; laughter.


Attire

noun

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!


xo,

Andrea Woodlee