Invitation Guide - From Will You to Thank You

A Guide to Wedding Stationery and Etiquette

He popped the question, and you said, "Yes." Or maybe you asked, and he said... Well, however it happened, now you're engaged. From this moment forward, stationery will help you organize, communicate, and celebrate your special day with friends and loved ones. Invitations are your guests' first glimpse into all the events leading up to your big day. More than just exemplify your wedding's style, they invite, guide, and inform. They "request the honour of your presence," get you to the rehearsal dinner on time, and tell guests that the engagement party is a luau, so leave the tux at home. A complete invitation includes more than just the date and location of your ceremony. Guests may need to know how to find the reception or where the married couple will make their new home. Likewise, a complete wedding includes more than just the ceremony: showers, parties, and notes of thanks are all in order. Because invitations convey information, you must remain sensitive to good etiquette. To some, etiquette means a full-length dress instead of a skirt and a curtsey instead of a handshake. Rather, etiquette is a set of social standards to help everyone the hosts, bride, groom, and guests be comfortable and avoid problems ahead of time. If you are hosting a black tie reception, inform guests with the invitation so they know what to wear and, even though you love it, consider leaving chili off the reception menu. (Your beautiful white dress will thank you.) Have a lot of questions? Good. We'll bring you up to speed on everything you need to know about wedding stationery, from "Will You" to "Thank You."

Getting Started Before You've Begun

Some Opening Questions

Your stationery and ceremony go hand-in-hand, so before you pick out your invitation you should have some idea of what your big day will be like. Will your ceremony be formal, semi-formal, or informal? Will your reception be traditional or contemporary? The formality of your celebration determines many of your invitation choices. For example, formal invitations are fairly standard: white or ecru cotton paper with black or dark gray engraved type. On the other hand, the more informal the celebration, the more flexibility you have. Colored papers, inks, or ribbons may accent your less formal invitations and emphasize your personal style. Consider the timing of your celebration. Will the season influence your wedding theme? Try invitations with blooming flowers for the spring or richly colored leaves in the fall. Is the time of year fairly busy for your guests? You may have to send invitations earlier than normal so guests can schedule around holidays, vacations, and, of course, other weddings. These are just the first questions you must answer before choosing the right invitation. Once you determine the venue, date, guest list, and who the groom will be, you can start ordering your invitations.

What Makes An Invitation?

Maybe you don't know what "black" engraved type on "ecru cotton paper" means. No problem. By learning a few key elements you can have a better understanding of what, basically, makes an invitation: printing method, paper type, and format.

Printing Method

Engraving is the traditional printing method for wedding invitations. In this process, wording is carved onto a copper plate which, pressed into the back of the paper, leaves raised letters and a "bruise" or impression. Ink is applied to the raised surface, making crisp, elegant characters.

Thermography replicates the look of engraving at a much more affordable cost. Thermography's special ink creates raised letters, though the type may be slightly shiny. This process leaves no impression on the back of the paper. Offset, most common for everyday use, leaves a flat surface.

Paper Type

Cotton Fiber Paper, the traditional standard for wedding invitations, has a soft, rich look and feel. It comes in white or ecru (ivory) of varying weights (thickness). In addition to looking and feeling more luxurious than wood paper, cotton is a good ecological choice that stands the test of time. Cotton is a renewable resource, and cotton paper does not yellow with age. Wood Fiber Paper, most common in everyday use and extremely versatile, can be made in a variety of colors and weights. Specialty Paper can be made from, seemingly, anything. Recycled paper makes a wonderful environmental statement, and alternative fiber papers can accent less-conventional, informal weddings.


Single Panel is a single sheet, usually of a heavyweight paper, with printing on the front of the card.

Side Fold is folded on the left like a greeting card, with printing on the front of the paper.

So what should you use? For printing, engraving is traditionally standard for formal occasions but requires more time to print and is usually more expensive. Still, the luxurious look and feel of engraved type will always make a stunning impression. If you prefer raised lettering but need a more practical alternative, thermography is perfect. Cotton paper compliments raised type beautifully. Wood paper's variety of colors and weights can accommodate any style. As for format, both options work wonderfully. The most formal invitations use a side fold, and the single panel card, once considered less formal, is now completely accepted.

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Every Card For Every Wedding

What Comes First?

Now that you know the basics of wedding stationery, you just have to choose which invitations and announcements you need. Prepare ahead of time. Any invitation must be sent weeks in advance. Also, many pieces of wedding stationery (invitation, enclosures) should be printed together to ensure the same look. On the other hand, unique pieces (engagement announcement, rehearsal dinner invitation) are great opportunities to use your personal style.

Engagement Announcements

When to send: as soon as you get engaged

Who to tell? Parents, whether they "knew" or not, should be told, in person, first. Immediate family and close friends should follow, also told in person. Fortunately, you do not have to call everyone in your address book. Engagement announcements do the work and make treasured keepsakes. Announcements should not include a date and need not match the style of the wedding invitation (chances are the wedding planning has only begun). In fact, they are a perfect opportunity to reflect an interest the couple shares. Love the sea? Try an ocean theme.

A public announcement (newspaper posting) should follow receipt of the announcements you send. A friend or relative's feelings may be hurt if he or she first learns of your big event in the paper. Think ahead! This is also an opportune time to print thank-you notes. Couples usually order one set to use throughout the engagement, and brides-to-be often get another set with their maiden name for bridal shower gifts.

Save-the-Date Cards

When to send: as soon as you choose the date

Typically used for holiday weddings or when guests must travel long distances, save-the-date cards simply inform guests when the ceremony will occur. The card may match the invitation, though not necessarily. Often, the card will note, "Invitation to follow." Save-the-date cards should only be sent to people on the guest list. They give guests plenty of time to make travel arrangements and might include contact information for a particular travel agent, if one is coordinating the wedding arrangements.

Engagement Party Invitations

When to send: four to six weeks in advance of the party

A party proves a wonderful opportunity to celebrate an engagement with close friends and family, especially if your entire family hasn't met your future spouse. If the couple lives far away from one or both families, parents may wish to host a party where they introduce the newly engaged couple. The party can range in formality from a black tie cocktail party to a backyard barbeque, and invitations should be themed accordingly. With the right wording, any party invitation can make a great engagement party invitation. If you are announcing your engagement at the party, the event must precede any public announcement (otherwise, no surprise).

Engagement/Bridal Shower Invitations

When to send: four to six weeks in advance of the shower

Typically an event for the bride-to-be, showers are quickly becoming popular for couples. They are intimate gatherings of close friends and relatives who "shower" the bride or couple with gifts. The shower can be anything you'd like or need it to be. Just be sure to inform your guests with invitations themed accordingly. If you are moving into a new home, a room shower is a wonderful idea. Assign each guest a room for which the gift should be appropriate. You can have a round the clock shower (each guest gets a time of day), alphabet shower, kitchen shower, lingerie shower, linen shower, stock-the-bar shower. . . . The options go on and on. Keep in mind: neither you nor the wedding hosts should host it, and never invite someone not invited to the wedding.

Bachelor / Bachelorette Party Invitations

When to send: three to four weeks in advance of the party

Originating in ancient Greece as a dinner for the groom and his closest friends the evening before the wedding, the bachelor party mourns the passing of the groom's bachelor status. The host? The best man, traditionally. The party? Whatever you dare make of it. As time went on, brides realized they, too, had a loss to mourn. In today's culture, the maid or matron of honor organizes a very quiet, solemn evening of classical music, whispered stories, and long games of checkers, or so fianc s would like to think.

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Rehearsal Dinner Invitations

When to send: four to six weeks in advance

(When the wedding hosts also host the dinner, invitations can be sent with the wed- ding invitation. Otherwise they should go out at least a week later.)

The groom's parents traditionally host a dinner following the rehearsal as a gesture of goodwill toward the bride's parents. The dinner itself has now become a custom in the United States, regardless of an actual rehearsal. The guests include everyone in the wedding party, the immediate families, out-of-town and special guests, and the clergyperson or officiant and spouse. This final celebration before the wedding should truly capture the couple's style. It can be formal or casual, although it should never overshadow, in style or substance, the wedding day.

Wedding Invitations

When to order: three to five months in advance

When to send: six to eight weeks in advance

Your wedding invitation is a complete package of the information your guests will need throughout the celebration. Who, what, when, and where are communicated in the theme of your ceremony. Enclosures, in the same paper, design, and typestyle, provide any additional information. In the past, invitations were limited to one design (now the standard formal design). Wording was engraved in black ink onto the cover of heavy white or ecru cotton fiber paper folded on the left like a greeting card. Reception cards were often included because not everyone was invited to the reception. Response cards did not exist, as guests replied on their personal stationery. Times, of course, have changed. Tissue used to be required. The oil-based ink used in the engraving process could smear or smudge, so tissue was placed over the invitation. Now, it is included in formal invitations customarily. The use of inner and outer envelopesis another custom originating from necessity. When mail was delivered by hand, envelopes would arrive in horrible condition. Thus, outer envelopes were essential. The postal system may be better now, but outer envelopes still remain a wonderful choice. Envelopes should be addressed by a professional calligrapher who matches the typestyle of the invitation. If you wish, you can do it yourself with a black fountain pen.

Most importantly, envelopes should never be typewritten, though your return address should be pre-printed with your invitations. The outer envelope should be addressed to the household. The inner envelope has only each guest's title and last name. If children are invited, write their first names below their parents'. If you wish the invitee to bring a guest or escort, indicate so. Children older than eighteen and single adults who are roommates should receive separate invitations.

To assemble your invitations, place all enclosures on top of the invitation with the largest piece on the bottom and smallest on top. If cards have a fold, that edge should be inserted first. With the inner envelope face down and back flap up, insert the cards printed sides up. Then put the inner, unsealed, into the outer envelope so the inner's addressing faces the outer's back flap (see page 13). To determine proper postage and avoid returned mail, weigh the invitation and all enclosures in the envelope(s) together at the post office. Invitations can be larger and heavier than a typical letter, so don't be surprised if you need more postage than normal. When ordering your invitations, remember to add at least 10 for keepsakes and 15-25 more for last minute guests or guests who misplace their invitations. Always order at least 25-50 extra envelopes. When handwriting addresses, errors are common. Printing invitations or envelopes after the fact is much more costly than getting extras with your original order.

Reception Cards

Invitation enclosure

Formerly a standard enclosure, the reception card is now often replaced with corner copy, a line of text printed in the lower lefthand corner of the invitation in a smaller font ("Reception to follow"). If the reception follows the ceremony immediately at the same location, no notice is necessary. If, however, the reception is held at a different location or later in the day, an enclosure is a wonderful convenience for you and your guests. Just as in the past, if not everyone is invited to the reception, enclosures are mandatory.

Response Cards

Invitation Enclosure

Response cards exemplify tradition giving way to necessity. Traditionally, invitations included RSVP lines as corner copy, but today, unfortunately, many guests do not reply to RSVP requests, and response cards are often necessary. Fill-in cards with self-addressed, stamped envelopes are convenient. (Still, many guests forget to write their names on the cards. You can carefully mark each response-card envelope with a number corresponding to the guest list. Be subtle: many guests will check their number out of curiosity. Use a pencil lightly and hide the mark.)

Within-the-Ribbons Cards (Pew Card)

Invitation Enclosure

At larger weddings, especially those in churches or large halls, front seats or pews are reserved (with a ribbon) for immediate family, close friends, or special guests. Anyone seated there should receive a within-the-ribbon card to be presented to the ushers.

Directional Cards

Invitation Enclosure

A map or directional card should be included for anyone unfamiliar with the area or if the reception is at a different location. Maps should be professionally printed. A badly photocopied sheet reflects poorly on the whole invitation.

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At-Home Cards

Invitation Enclosure

When the couple chooses to make a new home, at-home cards spread the news. They simply state when the couple will be at the new address and which name the bride will use. If you do include them, you may do so with both invitations and wedding announcements.

Additional Invitation Enclosures

Feel free to provide any other necessary information such as an alternate location for an outdoor wedding, parking, or travel information. If many enclosures are necessary, you may choose to mail them when guests have positively responded.

Menu Cards

A menu card is placed at each table or place setting before the reception if the caterer has prepared a choice of entrees. These cards should be in the same style as your invitation.

Place Cards

These are necessary if your reception has specific seating. Guests' names are hand-written onto small cards or paper tents cut from the same stock as your invitations.

Wedding Announcements

When to send: the day after the ceremony, or later

Wedding announcements are for anyone not invited or unable to attend the wedding and should be sent by a friend the day after. Never send them before the ceremony. Announcements use the same design as your invitation. The wording is also similar, though written in the past tense.

Thank-You Notes

When to send: two to four weeks after gifts are received

Don't forget the thank-you notes! You'll encounter many instances where you will need to write a formal thank you or drop a quick note of thanks. When you order your invitations, have your thankyou notes custom printed in the same style. A great alternative to the traditional thank-you note is one printed with a photograph of the bride and groom. An engagement photo thank-you note makes a treasured keepsake for everyone. This time is also ideal for ordering your first personal stationery as a couple. Use your wedding theme in your correspondence cards or letterhead. You could borrow paper, typestyles, or colors from your engagement announcement or rehearsal dinner invitation.

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Words, Words, Words

The invitation you chose is beautiful, but what should it say? At this point, you feel confident about wedding stationery. Then proper wording comes along, and you panic. Apparently, wording, or verse, has more rules and guidelines than a proper tango. Most questions concern different hosts, divorced parents, and strange spellings like "honour," but proper wording follows a basic formula and, in most cases, is surprisingly simple. Invitations are typically written without punctuation. Line breaks take the place of commas (except for city - comma - state). The "u" in "honour" and "favour" is the British spelling, used in formal and/or religious ceremonies.

The basic line order is as follows:

  • Host line
  • Request line
  • Bride and Groom line
  • Date and Time line
  • Location line
  • Reception and RSVP line (optional)

Each line is a section of the wording and can take up multiple lines on the invitation. For example, the bride and groom line usually takes three lines: one for the bride's name, another for "and" or "to," and a final line for the groom's name.

The host linelists the names of those hosting (paying for) the ceremony, traditionally the parents of the bride. It should come first on the invitation and is reserved only for the hosts, whoever they maybe. If the couple hosts, their names are listed first and "at their wedding" follows the request line. More and more commonly, the couple wishes to have each parent's name on the invitation, no matter the host. In these cases, as the host line is still reserved for the ones paying, a "son of" or "daughter of" line appropriately follows the groom or bride's name. If both families host, the bride's parents are listed first.

The request line, on the other hand, is very simple. For religious ceremonies, "request the honour of your presence" is standard (with the British spelling). Informal or non-religious ceremonies should be worded, "request the pleasure of your company." The bride and groom lines have your names. The date and time line should be spelled out (i.e., the first of April and Two thousand and one), though you may use a numeral for the year. When stating time, only write the hour (half past two or ten o'clock). Do not include "am" or "pm." If time of day is unclear, write, "in the evening," or "in the morning." The location line gives the name, street address, if necessary, and city and state (no abbreviations) of your venue. If your celebration requires a reception or RSVP line, it is traditionally printed as corner copy (in the lower left-hand corner and in a smaller font). Never include corner copy or an enclosure indicating where the couple is registered.

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