Written wedding invitations are no new concept. Once hand-delivered by horseback, they’ve been a cultural staple of western weddings for hundreds of years. Although the world has changed much since those days, wedding invitation etiquette has not. We’re living in the internet age, yet paper invites still remain a huge part of the wedding industry.
Why? Tradition plays a role, but it’s more than that. To me, it’s about sentimentality. There’s something simply more personal and meaningful about receiving a physical letter. Plus, receiving real mail (i.e. neither junk mail nor a bill) is an exciting experience!
Which elements of wedding invitation etiquette have survived the test of time? What has become passé? Are some areas of etiquette more flexible than others? Grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine if you’re inclined, and let’s do this. I’m here to answer all of your burning questions.
Table of Contents
- Who should I invite to my wedding?
- When should I send out my wedding invites?
- How do I address my guests using proper wedding invitation etiquette?
- What content do I include inside the invitation?
Who should I invite to my wedding?
Weddings come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing they usually include are guests!
Before you start blasting out invites, discuss your ideal wedding size with your partner. If you agree, excellent! If not, you’ll eventually need to compromise (which is a great skill to sharpen early on in married life).
Once you’ve arrived at a number, it’s time to think about the people you want and the people you need to invite to your wedding.
You should invite every member of your immediate family, whether you like it or not. Think long and hard before you make the choice to not invite someone from this circle. Even if you have some bad blood with a sibling or parent, it’s best to make amends for the occasion if possible.
If you ask one aunt to attend, you generally need to invite all of your aunts and your uncles too. You have three polite ways to approach family invites:
- Don’t invite anyone (if you’re having a completely private ceremony)
- Invite only your immediate family
- Invite your entire family
Cousins & different sides of the family
If you invite one cousin, the traditional practice is to invite them all. If you’re a lot closer with one side of your family, it’s acceptable to invite only cousins from that side.
Kids & teenagers
Kids are cute, but they can be a handful. If you don’t want any children to attend your wedding, it’s okay. The trick here though, is to get this message out without including it on your wedding invitation card. One way to handle this is to make phone calls and spread the word. If that’s too tedious, you can include an extra card which mentions children won’t be invited, and that you’re happy to help them find a suitable babysitter.
Teenagers are tough, but you can set the cut-off age at 18 (“old enough to accept an invitation on their own”) or 21 (“old enough to legally partake in adult beverages & festivities”). It’s hard to make everyone happy, but if you keep things consistent your guests should be content with your decision.
If you feel bad about leaving children out of the wedding, shift blame to the venue! “We regret to inform you that our wedding venue doesn’t accommodate children, please let us know if you need help finding a babysitter,” or something similar should do the trick.
Love is in the air at a wedding, and many people feel most comfortable having their own romantic partner along for the occasion. Current etiquette is that married couples, long-term relationships, or cohabiting partners should always be invited. If you want your single friends to be happy, it’s polite to allow them to bring a date as well.
If singles aren’t allowed to bring a date, don’t leave them out to dry! Introduce them to as many people as possible — not only other singles, but anyone willing to socialize and make some new friends. They will appreciate it, and it will keep the wedding vibe positive and groovy.
How to Uninvite a Guest
Uninviting someone is a serious white glove to the face. Think long and hard before following this path, because it could cause unwanted drama during a time that should be filled with joy, flowers and fun. If you invited someone and later had a falling out, your best course of action is to let them personally decide to not attend. If they still insist on going, it’s best to take the high road and be courteous. Only for an emergency (the venue had to be changed due to a natural disaster) or if you absolutely can’t stand the thought of having that person there should you uninvite someone.
How you and your fiancé handle your guest list is up to the two of you. Do your best to keep the feelings of family and friends in mind, and you’ll be fine! Everyone’s life is different, so if you are tactful and use wedding invitation etiquette as more of a guideline than set-in-stone rules, you can avoid stepping on toes (except maybe on the dance floor, if you’re as clumsy as me).
When should I send out my wedding invites?
Another big element of wedding invitation etiquette is timing. When do you send invites out? What about save the dates? What if the wedding is a destination wedding? When do you ask for an RSVP by? You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.
Save the date
Save the dates are a pretty new concept, which makes the guidelines about them more flexible! They are sent out before the invite, and depending on the type of wedding you are hosting you can adjust your timing accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to send out save the dates three months before the wedding at the latest, but four to six months is the industry standard.
If you’re planning on a destination wedding, make it earlier. Even a year in advance is acceptable, but try not to get too carried away!
Be prepared to host everyone that received a save the date to your wedding! Some people will interpret these as actual wedding invitations.
It’s always better to play it safe when it comes to snail mail. If you’re having a local wedding with friends who live in the area, mailing your wedding invitations six weeks before the event should be fine. On the other hand, if you’re hosting a grand gala on a tropical beach in Southeast Asia with companions from around the world, you better get those invites out earlier.
Standard etiquette here is to send wedding invites 8-12 weeks in advance, and even earlier if you’re trying to get people to attend your destination wedding (which may require four to six months or more advanced notice).
When to ask for an RSVP
For the soon-to-be bride & groom, organizing RSVP’s is an important (and sometimes flustering) part of wedding preparation. Giving an “RSVP no later than (desired date)” card inside the wedding invitation doesn’t guarantee that your guests will respond by that point, but enough should so that you can track the remaining individuals down as necessary. Ideally, you’ll have most RSVP’s returned to you a month in advance, or even earlier for a wedding located in a remote place.
Put your address & a stamp on the RSVP envelope contained within your invitation to ensure as many people as possible return their response. Plus, make sure the address you use belongs to whoever is organizing the wedding!
How do I address my guests using proper wedding invitation etiquette?
In the past, a person’s title & family name carried significant value. Although there’s been a push away from this in recent years, many people (especially those who are more traditional) expect to be properly addressed. Writing their name or title incorrectly could possibly hurt their feelings or make them upset. Let’s take a quick look at etiquette for addressing your wedding invitations so you can avoid such scenarios!
Traditionally, the outer envelope has a person’s title and full name spelled out, whereas the inner card only has their title plus last name. For a married couple, it will (usually, remember you’re the boss) be Mr. & Mrs. HUSBAND’S FULL NAME on the outer envelope. We cover most possible scenarios in our comprehensive guide on how to address wedding invitations if you’re unsure how to proceed.
The outer envelope must be written by hand! If your handwriting isn’t elegant you can entrust this task to a close friend, or discretely print the address on each envelope using a printer (with light colored ink) and trace over it to achieve that hand-written feeling.
You can always contact someone before sending out your wedding invitations if you don’t know their preferred title or last name. There’s a reason all of this wedding planning stuff happens so far in advance. Better safe than sorry!
What do I include inside the invitation?
Did you know that putting a wedding invitation in an envelope within an envelope was originally done to keep it looking perfect after a long journey by horse? A romantic remnant from another time, the double-envelope tradition continues on — even though its use is more symbolic than functional today. What little moving parts & cards are traditionally included within a wedding invite? Has anything changed over the years?
The invitation card
This is the centerpiece of your invite, so make sure it’s prominently located within the envelope! It should be pleasing to the eye and include the proper wedding invitation wording (primarily info that will get your guests to the wedding). Things like the time, date, and location are simple yet critical pieces of knowledge for a guest, and will ensure you have wedding attendees!
The RSVP card & envelope
An RSVP card with a pre-stamped envelope is necessary, unless you plan on having guests respond to your invitation online. In this case, you can include a website card.
If you have a wedding website, include a small card that informs guests of the website’s address. Websites are great because you can provide your friends and family a link to your bridal registry, and they can easily choose which gifts to purchase for you. You can also include maps of the venue, nearby lodging options, and even take care of RSVP needs if you’re so inclined! Although weddings are brimming with traditions, it’s just simply more convenient to use a website to handle various wedding needs.
Registry card (don’t include one)
Having a card that gives information about a wedding registry is usually frowned upon — tradition dictating that the registry should be spread by word-of-mouth via close friends and family members. I personally believe it’s best to avoid including registry information in a wedding invitation. You didn’t invite the guests for the gifts, so it’s best to steer clear of registry cards to avoid giving off this impression.
Schedule of events & Maps
If you don’t want to put this information on a website or you’re afraid that grandpa may have trouble navigating the internet, it’s great to include a schedule of events card and/or a card with a map of the venue. This is an optional touch and totally up to you, but it does add some spice.
If you follow our guidelines to wedding invitation etiquette, you’ll be well on your way to sending those invites out and building some wedding hype! Although the rules associated with wedding invites might seem like a bit much sometimes, remember that these traditions have been compiled over hundreds of years and are often flexible. Don’t stress — yours will turn out just fine!
Feel free to leave comments below, I’m happy to clarify anything for you. Best of luck with your wedding planning!