Etiquette is intended to make life easier, not more difficult. That’s why it can be a useful guide to staging emotion-laden events such as weddings. But sometimes traditional protocol just doesn’t rise to the contemporary occasion.
It was much simpler when the bride’s parents hosted the wedding and issued the invitation. Today, families are more complex and models of marriage more diverse – and those changes are reflected in the language of wedding stationery. Don’t hesitate to write a message that is a true reflection of you and your situation and that expresses your own understanding of your commitment.
The only must-haves?
•The date and time of the ceremony
•The location of the ceremony and the location of the reception
The following guide will help you organize the process of preparing and sending your invitations. Sit down with a calendar, mark the date of your ceremony, and work backward from there.
Six to 12 months in advance
Send save-the-date cards six months in advance – or up to 12 months in advance if yours is a destination. Is your wedding less than a year away? No problem. Just start as soon as you can.
Before you order your invitations, you’ll need to determine
• The number of invitations required. Couples and families receive only one. But if an adult child (over the age of 18) still lives at home, you may wish to send him or her an individual invitation.
• The date, time, and location of the ceremony and reception
• Who is hosting, and how they want their names to appear
• To whom the RSVPs should be sent. (That would be you, if the guest list is your responsibility.)
• Your wedding theme or color palette. If you want the save-the-date cards to match, this needs to be selected even earlier.
• If you will include a map or directions card
• Your budget
It’s a good idea to order at least 10 extra invitations. They’ll come in handy in case of damaged mail or addressing errors, and they can serve as reminders for your florist, officiant and wedding planner.
Four to six months in advance
Order your wedding invitations and book your calligrapher.
While your stationery is in production, review your guest list and organize it for your calligrapher. Check the type of format he or she prefers. Typically, the list needs to be alphabetized or numbered in a Microsoft Word document or in an Excel spreadsheet.
Be meticulous: Returned mail will cost you time and money.
Two to four months in advance
Mail your invitations eight weeks before the big date – or 10 to 12 weeks in advance if it’s a destination wedding.
Once you have a complete invitation in hand, weigh it at the post office. Never assume that standard postage will be enough! Inserts and special stock are heavy – and nothing would be worse than having your invitations returned because of inadequate postage.
The wedding stationery ensemble comprises an array of coordinated pieces; your selections will reflect the formality, size and budget of your occasion. To determine what you will need, it helps to understand the functions of all the pieces in the ensemble.
The save-the-date card is the first official announcement of your wedding date. This piece can be very informal; it’s sometimes sent as a postcard to save money. Ideally, it will match other items in your ensemble. If you know your wedding colors, use them. If you haven't chosen your colors but know the theme, use a design element to tie these cards to your wedding.
Your save-the-date card should include
• Your names
• The wedding date
• The location, if you know it, so that out-of-town guests can begin making travel arrangements
• A phrase such as “invitation to follow."
• The URL of your wedding website
This piece is optional, but it's a smart choice for destination weddings or if you're expecting lots of out-of-town guests. Enclose it with your save-the-date cards to help your guests book their travel and lodging.
It might include
• Hotels near the ceremony and reception sites
• Airfare or other transportation information
• Maps of the area
The wedding invitation is the centerpiece of your stationery ensemble.
It should feature the following key information.
• The names of the hosts (traditionally, the parents)
• The names of the bride and groom
• The day, date and time of the ceremony, as well as the location
The invitation is accompanied by the following, all enclosed within the outer envelope.
• An unsealed inner envelope
• A reception card, especially if the reception will take place at location other than that of the ceremony. The date, place, and time of the reception should be included.
• An RSVP or reply card, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope
• A map or a directions card indicating ceremony, reception and event sites and nearby hotels.
Events or Itinerary Card
A destination wedding or weekend-long celebration calls for an events card. It details planned activities, such as sailing or tea barbeque, so that your guests can pack accordingly. Include boxes for guests to check off the events they want to attend, and ask them to return the events card with their response card.
Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
Traditionally, the parents of the groom issue this invitation. Because this isn’t your responsibility, it's not necessary that it match your wedding invitations. Discuss this invitation with your future-in-laws, and let them determine how to proceed.
At a formal, seated dinner at a banquet table, a menu is customarily placed at each setting. If you’re using numerous small tables, it's acceptable to have just one menu at each table. The menu may also be incorporated into the individual place cards.
Menus should include
• A description of what will be served. (If you’re serving a special dish, you may wish to explain its significance.)
• Wine and beverage choices
• If you’re serving cocktails, a list of options or the ingredients of your signature drink
Seating cards tell guests where to sit, and the options for doing so are endless. You might tie them to a tree with ribbons in your wedding colors, pin them to a decorated board or place them among a bed of flowers so that each guest can pick one upon entrance.
Each seating card must display the guest's name and his or her table number.
Identify each table with a name or number to help guests find their seats. Creative signs add to the festivity; use clever names for the tables or designs that reflect your wedding’s theme. Print the text in dark colors, as reception lighting is often dim. The cards can be tented or displayed in holders.
Traditionally, place cards are arranged at the head of each place setting. But there are many creative ways to show your guests to their seats. You might hang the cards from ribbons attached to the backs of chairs. Or attach them to an object related to your wedding theme. For example, if the reception is at an orchard, tie each name to the stem of an apple. For a garden wedding, lean the cards against tiny bud vases.
Another idea: Coordinate the colors of the place cards with the entrées. You can choose pale green for the vegetable dish, pink for the salmon, and so on. This will enliven your table, and the waiters will thank you!
Favor Tags and Cards
Many couples have favor baskets or bags at the reception or waiting for guests in their hotel rooms. Tags on these gifts typically include
• A personal message, such as "Thank you for celebrating with us!"
• Your names
• The date of your wedding
If you're making a charitable donation to celebrate your marriage, the favor tag is ideal for mentioning the charity you’ve designated.
For a fully personalized or themed event, many couples display customized signs at the reception. These signs can indicate buffet selections, cocktail choices that aren’t on the menu, and the men's and ladies' rooms.
Order thank-you cards in anticipation of early gifts, and to thank bridesmaids and the host of your bridal shower. Traditionally, these have "thank you" on the front and space inside for your personal, hand-written note. This card also provides a good opportunity for sharing your new address.