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Wedding Invitation Etiquette and Wording Thursday, November 26, 2010 ~ 12:44 p.m.

I named this blog, "A Paper Proposal," because I think that a wedding invitation is a couple's proposal to their friends and family. Some may think that's an overstatement, but by sending someone an invitation to your wedding, you are formally proposing that they share in your occasion; asking if they will do you the honor of celebrating your union, and supporting one of the most important decisions that you will ever make.

In The Wedding Book by Mindy Weiss with Lisbeth Levin (great book my mom gave me when I first got engaged - I highly recommend it!), famed and talented wedding planner Mindy Weiss says, "Invitiations embody a central premise of the wedding itself: the public recognition of a private commitment...Invitations give you an early opportunity to help your guests feel taken care of."

While every bride must consider her budget, cut corners here and there and make some compromises out of practicality, I was not going to skimp on my wedding invitations. To me, the invitation alludes to what's to come. It has the potential to get your guests excited about your big day, and communicate how excited you are about it, as well. Nowadays, I feel like I see the same invitation over and over again -- the white paper, black font, with a bow tied on top. Maybe a vellum overlay or a piece of tissue paper slipped into the envelope, as well. While this option is functional, and is by no means unappealing, it doesn't communicate anything about the event that it is presenting.

When I began working with a designer on my wedding invitations, I struggled a bit trying to balance what was considered the "right" way to do things, with my desire to personalize them, and make them represent Dale and I as a couple. I eventually went traditional and followed "the rules" in some ways, and ignored some others in order to make it less stuffy and personalized. After getting our invitations done and out the door, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on which rules to follow, and which rules are okay to throw out the window.

Invitation format

Rule #1 : Use the third person for formal invitations

Personally, I think this rule is silly. Especially if the bride and groom are throwing the wedding themselves. If you feel as though the invitation is coming from you, then communicate that its from you. The question you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to follow this rule is, "Are we throwing this party, or are mine and/or my fiance's parents throwing it for us?" If its the latter, keep the wording in the third person: "Mr. and Mrs. Robert Craig Smith request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their daughter..." If you're footing the bill and feel as if its your party, then feel free to use "we" : "We invite you to celebrate our marriage..."

Rule #2: Use "request the honor of your presence" for a ceremony in a house of worship; for all other venues, use "request the pleasure of your company."

I'll be honest. I had absolutely no idea that one line implied "church," and the other one didn't. But I don't think that there's any harm in following the rules on this one. Church ceremony - use "honor", not a church - "the pleasure" of your company.

Rule #3: Addressing the envelopes - "Mr. and Mrs. Howard Johnson"

I enjoy when a man stands up when I enter and leave a room as much as any lady does, and I'm not a huge feminist by any means, but this one bugs me. I struggled with this rule the most, BY FAR, when working on my guest list for the calligrapher. Why is it that the woman's name gets dropped out of this line? Better yet, why does it sound like the wife either doesn't have a name or is being addressed by her husband's name? It kills me. Really. It does. I even plan on telling my DJ beforehand that if he announces us that way at the reception, I'll have to lower his tip significantly.

So it should come as no surprise that I think this rule should be ignored. Either omit the first names entirely, or put them BOTH in. A woman may take her husband's last name when she gets married, but she never takes his first!


Rule #4: Never mention gifts or registries.

I agree with this rule completely. Greed is never pretty - especially when printed in black and white - so never mention what you "think" you should be getting in return for sending an invitation (no matter how pricey an invitation it may be!). Look at it this way - weddings happen every single day, and have happened for hundreds and hundreds of years; people know what to do. And if they don't know what to do, what to get you, or how much to spend, they ask someone who does. Registry information can go on wedding websites and wedding shower invitations ONLY. Anywhere else is just plain tacky.

Rule #5: The very important "Repondez s'il vous plait," commonly known as the "RSVP".

Personally, I decided to have a little bit of fun with our RSVP card, given that it was for a destination wedding, but I don't see any convincing reason why they can't all be unique. A conventional card says something along the lines of, "The favour of your reply is requested by the fifth of December," along with a line for name(s) of the guest(s), and "Accept" and "Decline" lines that may be checked off by the potential guest. This works fine, but I encourage you to change it up a bit, if you feel so inclined. Just make sure you include everything that you want answers to, and be as clear as possible - don't make things too cryptic in exchange for creativity.

Ours went something like this:

Kindly reply by the tenth of December


___ Yes, our bags are packed!
___ Sorry, we burn easily.

Expected dates of travel:

___ Number attending
___ Will require a vegetarian menu

Another clever (and money saving) idea is to use a Reply post card, instead of another card with another envelope. It saves paper, postage and cuts down on the costs to get more envelopes made and addressed.

Man in suit Rule #6: The elusive dress code

I think these are getting slightly out of control. "Country Club Casual" "Formal Boating Attire" "Black-tie" "Black-tie invited" "White-tie" "Beach Formal". I'm lost.

I am all for creativity and personalization in wedding invitations, but the dress code is definitely not the place to do it if you don't want anyone showing up to your formal wedding in flip flops. Don't make stuff up, because nine times out of ten, your guests won't interpret it the same way that you meant it. Keep it simple and stick with one of the following:

"Black-tie." Tuxedos for the guys, and gowns for the ladies.

"Formal." Think high school prom. Some people wear tuxes, others wear a suit and tie. Some girls go floor length, while others do short cocktail dresses.

"Cocktail Attire." Collared shirts, suits or jackets with long pants for the men, nice pants, skirts or cocktail dresses for women.

And if you want to communicate something specific about the venue, then just say it. "The service will be held on the sand in direct sunlight. Please wear appropriate shoes and headware." Works for me.

Rule #7: Never use pre-printed labels for envelopes

I am probably against the modern majority on this one, but I am in agreement with this tradition, and I think the addresses on your wedding invitation envelopes should be handwritten. Whether it's by you, a gifted friend, family member or a professional calligrapher. It's a given that your invitations will most likely be printed, rather than handwritten. The addresses are a great way to incorporate a personal, human touch into your invitations. Personally, I don't think there's anything more beautiful than calligraphy done by hand. It's definitely worth the extra effort.

Laura Hooper Calligraphy Caligraphy by Penned and Pretty

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