Wedding Stationery 101: Your Guide to Invitation Etiquette
Written by Emily Conley | Photography by Photography by Lauryn
You’ve got invitation questions, and we have answers! These days we don’t send or receive formal invitations often, so it can be confusing knowing how to address them, how to word the invite itself and who to include in the address. But etiquette matters: your wedding invitations generally set the tone and expectations for your big day, so you want to get it right. Read on to find out exactly what to do and what to avoid.
WHEN DO I SEND MY INVITATIONS?
Choosing the correct time to send your invitations is critical. You want enough time between sending the save the date and the invitation that people can make plans, but not so early that they forget or discard the invite.
We recommend sending your save the dates (and yes, you do need to send those) about four months before your wedding date. This gives everyone enough time to block off your wedding day in their calendar and make necessary arrangements. Once the save the dates are sent, you can wait to send your formal invitation until about eight weeks before your wedding.
There are some extenuating circumstances that would change your invitation timeline a bit. If you’re having a destination wedding, you should send your invitations earlier.
We suggest sending out your save the dates nine to 12 months in advance for an international destination and six to eight months in advance for a domestic destination. Your formal invitation will also go out earlier — three to four months before your wedding date.
If you send someone a save the date, they should always receive a formal invitation. Because save the dates go out significantly earlier than your wedding day, if you think there’s a possibility you won’t want to invite someone once it’s close to the event, don’t send them a save the date. You can always send a formal invitation to someone who didn’t receive a save the date, but make sure to invite everyone who received a save the date.
WHEN SHOULD WE SET THE RSVP DEADLINE?
The RSVP, or répondez s’il vous plaît (which translates to “respond, please”), is an important part of your invitations. Whether people mail physical RSVPs or respond online, you’ll need to set up a clear and easy way for guests to let you know if they will attend your big day or not.
We suggest giving guests roughly four weeks to respond. You need to allow some extra time, as some guests will be late or forget to RSVP. While it would be great if every single wedding guest responded on time, it’s not the norm. The location of your wedding and of your wedding guests will influence the RSVP deadline as well. If your wedding is in your hometown and most of your guests are local, you can extend the RSVP deadline a bit longer, asking guests to respond within at least two weeks of your wedding date. The goal is to get as accurate a headcount as possible, so waiting until closer to the actual wedding date should help you encounter fewer changed plans.
And if you’re having a destination wedding? Give guests at least eight weeks to respond and make their travel arrangements. If you send your formal invitations four months before your destination wedding, your RSVPs would be due about two months before the wedding date. It’s not likely that people would make or change international or extensive travel plans at that time.
If just reading about RSVP deadlines and imagining having to chase down your guests for a response makes you anxious, you may want to get help. Some stationery companies provide RSVP tracking as part of their services, and many wedding planners will also include this service. And if you’re working with a travel advisor to plan your destination wedding, ask if they also track RSVPs. Knowing you have someone who will stay on top of all responses can take a huge weight off your shoulders.
HOW DO WE WORD OUR INVITATIONS?
This question is one of the most researched wedding planning questions out there! The formality of wedding invitations can feel overwhelming, especially when most invitations we get these days are sent online. But getting the wording right matters. Your formal invites set the tone for your wedding and show guests what to expect.
The beauty of modern wedding invitations is that you aren’t obligated to one, standard format. The best guideline is to match your invitation wording (and design) to the tone of your wedding and your personalities. Being a little creative and personalizing the wording on your invitations will help your invitation stand out.
Many people still follow the traditional wording when it comes to writing their wedding invitations for a ceremony that is held in a church, temple or place of worship. This tradition dictates that “request the honor of your presence” is reserved for weddings held in places of worship, while “request the pleasure of your company” is saved for weddings in non- religious venues.
When it comes to wording the host of the wedding, there are many options available. You and your partner should choose how to include parents for your unique situation. If one partner’s parents are paying for the wedding, it’s standard practice to use a phrase like: “Mr. and Mrs. Last Name request the honor of your presence…” If all parties — both sets of parents and the couple — are contributing, then a more inclusive “Together with their parents” is appropriate. If the couple is hosting the wedding themselves, they can choose to forego a “host” line altogether. At the end of the day, the invitation should reflect what you and your partner want, so if that means honoring all parents, even if only one side or neither are paying for the wedding, you can do that.
When wording your invitations, make sure the information is clear and easy to understand. Include the names of the people getting married, the location(s), and the time and date of the ceremony. There are other small details to reference, too. When referring to guests on your invitation, you can choose to use “they” or “their” to be more inclusive than “his” or “her.” Remember to be intentional and considerate with your words.
And if you opted for an elopement or very intimate wedding, you will probably want to send out wedding announcements to formally share the news with your friends and family. An announcement should include the date and location of the elopement. These announcements can be formal — “We’re honored to announce the marriage of Name and Name on Date in Location” — or more relaxed, “We did it! Name and Name tied the knot on Date in Location.” Pick the wording style that feels the most authentic to you and reflects the nature of your elopement or intimate ceremony.
WHERE SHOULD WE LIST OUR WEDDING WEBSITE?
It’s a good idea to include your wedding website on your save the date, as it will give guests a better idea of what to expect, how to plan and what to buy from your registry. They will have more time to peruse the information on the site and make appropriate travel plans. You can also include the website on your invitation, but this probably isn’t the best choice if you’re opting for traditional or formal invitations.
To include your wedding website without directly printing it on your formal invitation, consider including a “details” card along with the invitation. This can also feature any other important details you want your guests to be aware of. Just make sure you don’t ever list your wedding registry on your save the date or invitation. The registry links are best saved for your wedding website. You can also share the links with your wedding party and ask them to share it with anyone who asks for registry or gift details.
WE’RE NOT INVITING KIDS TO OUR WEDDING. HOW DO WE MAKE THIS CLEAR?
Hosting an adults-only wedding or reception can feel complicated, but if you follow these basic instructions, you should be able to communicate your wishes to your guests without ruffling any feathers.
The first, and best, indication of who is invited is on the invitation itself. Be very clear and explicit when addressing your invitations. Don’t list children’s names or “The Last Name Family” if you don’t want the whole family to attend.
You should also clearly state on your wedding website that the ceremony, reception or entire wedding will be adults-only. You don’t have to explain your reasoning or make excuses — if this is how you envision your wedding, that’s all you need to say. If you want to go the extra mile, you can include convenient babysitting information or other childcare details on your wedding site. You can always point this out to guests with a note — “Babysitter info can be found here, so you can relax and enjoy celebrating with us while your kiddos are well cared for.”
If, despite your careful attention to detail, someone RSVPs and includes a child by name or in the guest count, call or text to kindly let them know that your event is for adults only. This is also a great task for a best man or maid of honor! It’s your wedding, so don’t feel pressured to invite kids if you’d rather they not be present.
WE HAVE A SPECIFIC DRESS CODE. HOW DO WE TELL OUR GUESTS?
If you are implementing or requesting a specific dress code, you should clearly state it on the wedding invitation in the lower left corner. You can also explicitly state the dress code on the “details” card. While the style of your wedding invitations should clue guests in to the expected level of formal dress expected, you’ll want to communicate the expected dress code clearly and in more than one place if you want people to follow your request.
Try listing the dress code, along with examples of what attire is included, on your wedding website. Include detailed lists of “do” and “don’t” options, along with photos to make it even easier. Commonly used dress codes include: black-tie, black-tie optional, cocktail and dressy casual.
When choosing a dress code for your big day, consider the location, season and weather. If you’re having an all outdoor affair in the summer, black-tie might not be the most comfortable choice for your guests. If you’re worried a friend or family member will show up dressed inappropriately, have someone talk to them before your wedding day. If it’s a family member, one of your parents should be able to address the concern. If it’s a friend, a member of the bridal party who knows them might be the best choice.
HOW DO I ADDRESS AN INVITATION TO SOMEONE WHO IDENTIFIES AS GENDER NEUTRAL?
It’s important to be mindful of personal preference and identity when addressing invitations. The first step is to ask people for their pronouns when collecting address info, especially if the guest isn’t someone you’re close to. Asking for pronoun information up front will help you avoid any unintended offenses or incorrect assumptions when addressing your invitations.
For guests who identify as gender neutral, non-binary or gender-fluid, you can use the prefix Mx. (pronounced “mix”) just as you would use Mr. or Mrs. If you’re in a situation where you are unsure and unable to verify their preference, simply use a guest’s first and last name without a prefix. Also note, the non-heteronormative format for addresses lists names in alphabetical order instead of male-first.
The key here is to be intentional and considerate with your invitations. You want to make sure each invited guest feels respected and appreciated. Simply asking shows that you care.
DO WE NEED TO USE SPECIFIC STAMPS ON OUR WEDDING INVITATIONS?
While there’s not a required “wedding invitation” stamp, there are some things you can do to make sure your invitations are delivered. Make sure you weigh the envelopes before addressing, as most invitations will require more than the typical single postage stamp. Once you know how much the required postage will be, make sure you set aside any international invitations, as those will need to be stamped separately.
Any stamp in the necessary amount will get your invitation delivered, but you might want to take a little extra effort to choose aesthetically pleasing stamps. Post offices sell wedding stamps with hearts, flowers and other pretty designs, or you can order monogrammed or personalized stamps online! Check with your stationery designer to see if they offer custom stamps as well. It’s those small little details that set your wedding apart, even on your envelopes.
Start the search: Find your Chicago area invitation and stationery vendor here.