The Wedding Series – The Formal Invitation – Part 2


 “Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations.”
― Oscar WildeThe Importance of Being Earnest

The size and shape of the formal wedding invitation is a rectangular portrait orientation, 5 1/2 X 71/2 inches. The folded variety opens like a book and is printed only on the front, with the inside blank. A very nice alternative, however, is the flat card, which I favor. Although a heavy card stock of white or cream is used, it’s generally less expensive to make and mail. (Check last week’s entry for information regarding wording and printing of the invitation and reply card.)

If you wish to observe tradition strictly you may include a sheet of tissue paper, but it’s not necessary. The original purpose of the tissue was to prevent smudging of the print, which is no longer a concern with modern printing techniques. By all means go ahead with the tissue if it suits your fancy and you wish to add a touch of mystery and romance. But if you’d rather save money and go green by reducing the amount of paper product you use, eliminate it.

Once you’ve nailed down all these details and ordered your invitations, it’s time to turn to the addressing of the envelopes.

Addressing the Outer and Inner Envelopes

The accepted etiquette for addressing formal wedding invitation envelopes, which should in white or cream to match the invitations, is to write them in an elegant hand. This can be done efficiently by asking a few close relatives, friends or members of your wedding party who have lovely handwriting to help you address them and dividing the envelopes among your volunteers. So, if you have 100 invitations to send, finding four helpers plus yourself will reduce the burden to only 20 envelopes each — easy! The hard part is tactfully and gently finding those with the required handwriting skills. You don’t want to ask someone and then reject them because their handwriting is either non-existent or not up to par.

Another option is calligraphy; as mentioned in last week’s entry it was often used to for formal wedding invitations and envelopes in the days before metal-plate engraving was invented. The practice has been carried over to modern times and if you want to go all out and produce the most elegant of addressed wedding invitation envelopes you could hire a calligrapher through your invitation stationer or elsewhere. If you have a friend, relative or member of your wedding party who knows calligraphy you could ask him or her to address the envelopes; however, as this is quite labor intensive — especially if your guest list is long and if you are using inner envelopes as well — there will be even more writing to do. Understand that this is a lot to ask and if you find one or more people who are willing to do this work you will be unbelievably fortunate, and you should reward them in kind, perhaps by picking up their hotel or travel costs, wedding party apparel or some other kind and thoughtful gesture.

As a last resort only your stationer should be able to help you select a printed typeface that matches your invitations’ typeface to ensure the elegance and personal touch a wedding invitation should convey. Just be sure the typeface for either the invitations or envelopes is not so artsy that it is unreadable. Whichever method you choose, the ink should be black.

The one thing you should never do is use printed labels; not only are they impersonal but they are beneath the formal wedding invitation’s style and character. After all the care, time and expense you’ve gone through to produce an elegant traditional masterpiece don’t ruin it by slapping labels on the envelopes!

The formal invitation usually is first inserted into an inner unsealed envelope that contains only the guest’s or guests’ name(s), and then into a second, outer, envelope that contains both name(s) and address and is stamped with the appropriate amount of postage for the size and bulk of the invitation, and then mailed.

This process helps to ensure that the invitation arrives in pristine condition even if the outer envelope becomes soiled enroute. Today, using the inner envelope provides a way to clearly list all the invitees at the same address; and it’s an especially gracious and private way to say “and Guest” rather than listing those words on the outer envelope (see list of envelope-addressing conventions below). However, again, many couples opt to go green as well as save money by omitting the inner envelope.

In addressing the outer envelopes:

  • Write out names in full; social titles such as “Mr.” may be abbreviated, but professional and military titles are written out.
  • Use full middle names but not initials.
  • Fully write words such as “Street,” “Avenue” and “Post Office Box”; they are not abbreviated.
  • Write the state name fully or use the two-letter P.O. abbreviation
  • Write, emboss or print the return address on the envelope flap or in the upper left hand corner on the front of the envelope (don’t include a name but use the address to which guests should send replies and gifts).

The addressing of both the outer and inner envelopes carries some additional conventions, as follows:

  • Married Couples – Both members are included in the address even if the wedding couple knows only one spouse or that only one can attend. The traditional way of addressing is “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith”; you may use this or the more modern approaches of “Mr. John Smith and [Mrs.] [Ms.] Susan [Jacobs] Smith” or “[Mrs.] [Ms.] Susan [Jacobs] Smith and Mr. John Smith” or “Mr. John Smith and Ms. Susan Jacobs (if the latter has retained her own name). The inner envelope, if used, should contain only the social titles and surnames: “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Mr. Smith and Ms. Smith,” “Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Smith,” etc.
  • Unmarried Couples Living Together – Use the same convention as you would with a married couple who have different last names: “Mr. Peter Jones and Ms. Courtney Lane.” The inner envelope would be addressed, “Ms. Lane and Mr. Jones” or the reverse, “Mr. Jones and Ms. Lane.”
  • Plus Ones (If you know the name) – If you know the name of your guest’s plus one you may include it on the outer envelope in the address to your guest but on a separate indented line:  Ms. Angela Rossi and Mr. Leonard Caplan.
  • Plus Ones (If you don’t know the name) – If you don’t know the name of your guest’s plus one, address the outer envelope: “Ms. Angela Rossi and Guest.” If you will be using an inner envelope, address the outer envelope with your guest’s name only, and on the inner envelope write “Ms Angela Rossi and Guest” to indicate or confirm that your invited guest may bring a plus one.
  • Minors – Children under the age of 18 may be included in their parents’ invitation (anyone 18 or over should receive his or her own separate invitation). If you are using only an outer envelope, address it to the parents and add the children’s names separately on separate, indented lines. If there are more than three children in the family under 18 living at home and they are all invited you may simply add “and Children.” If you are including an inner envelope you may address the outer envelope to the parents only and on the inner envelope list the parents’ names along with the name of each child. As a guideline, for young boys seven and younger you may use the social title, “Master”; boys between eight and 18 use no title. Girls younger than 18 should be addressed as “Miss” unless they express a preference for “Ms.” If you are close to the adult invitees you may use the children’s first names only on the inner envelope, under their parents’ names. Note: If you are only inviting children over a certain age it is important to list the names of the children who are invited so there are no misunderstandings. Thus, you would list Sandy, who is 11, but not Trevor, who is seven.
  • Professional and Military Titles – As in the invitation itself, professional (doctor) or military (lieutenant) are written in full on both the outer and inner envelopes, and again first names are used in the address on the outer envelope but omitted when writing the names on the inner envelope.

Please join me next week as we look at the overall invitation packet.

Until next time,





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