10 Wedding Invitation Etiquette Rules Brides and Grooms Should Follow
These essential wedding invitation etiquette rules will help you spread the word that you are getting hitched—without a hitch
You bought the ring, popped the question, booked your venue and set a date—now it’s time to send out invitations to your guests. While this next step might seem less significant than other big milestones in your wedding-planning journey, you shouldn’t take it for granted. Believe it or not, following proper wedding invitation etiquette is crucial to setting the tone for your entire event, according to experts.
“This is your first impression as a couple and your first chance to show how much consideration you have for your loved ones,” says Heather Wiese, a Dallas-based etiquette expert and the founder of Bell’Invito Stationers. “It’s worth putting some time and thought into the invitation details, but more important, it’s worth getting expert guidance to help you put your best foot forward and learn something as a couple.”
Turns out, there are a lot of etiquette standards to be aware of when it comes to addressing and sending out wedding invitations. These rules can be a little overwhelming to anyone planning a wedding for the first time, which is why I turned to etiquette experts to learn the ins and outs. Together, they helped me sum up the top wedding invitation etiquette rules to follow, as well as the mistakes and faux pas you should avoid. Read on for their top tips, from wedding etiquette customs for addressing the envelopes to sharing details about requested wedding attire.
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more etiquette tips, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.
Send out invites at least 8 to 12 weeks in advance
When it comes to wedding invitation etiquette, the first rule of thumb is that “the more advanced warning you can give, the better,” says Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute.
Jackie Vernon-Thompson, founder and president of From the Inside-Out School of Etiquette, agrees. “Considering that everyone has different schedules and circumstances, it is always advisable to give the guests ample time to make arrangements and gather the necessary funds for airline tickets, hotel accommodations, etc.,” she says. “You certainly don’t want to cause your guests to experience anxiety trying to hurriedly meet a deadline.”
Post recommends sending save-the-dates between six months and a year in advance, depending on how far your guests may need to travel. A good time range for mailing the invitations themselves is 8 to 12 weeks (about two to three months) ahead of your wedding date, she says. If you did not send out save-the-dates and most guests would need to travel to your wedding, Wiese suggests sending invitations at least 10 to 12 weeks out.
Place the most important information on the front
The front of your wedding invitation should share only the most important information about your wedding. “You want to be really clear about who is being invited by whom, to what event, when and where,” Post says. Wedding tradition dictates that the bride’s and groom’s first, middle and last names are on the invitation, and the bride’s name is listed before the groom’s. The message should also include the date, time and location of your wedding.
Although some couples might choose to include a link to their wedding website at the bottom of the invitation, any additional details—like the address of the reception, suggested wedding attire or even directions—belong on a separate card. That’ll help you avoid cluttering the invitation. (More on that later!)
Post notes that certain language can help indicate where the wedding will take place. For example, using the phrase “honor of your presence” customarily means the ceremony will be at a house of worship, while using the phrase “pleasure of your company” often suggests the wedding will be located at a more casual venue, like an outdoor space.
Include RSVP instructions
Aside from details about your wedding itself, two of the most essential pieces of information to include with your invitation are instructions for how to RSVP and the date by which guests should do it. Omitting that information will cost you significant time, money and stress, according to Vernon-Thompson. You’ll have to either reprint and resend the invitation or contact guests to provide an update.
“Having to communicate this pertinent information via text, email or phone call makes it clear that you failed to add this information in the invitation envelope, and you were not thorough,” she says.
Stumped by the RSVP date? According to experts, you should choose a date no later than three to four weeks before your wedding to allow time for the caterer and other vendors to make the proper arrangements. Guests should also have at least two to three weeks to get a reply back to you after receiving the invitation—another reason it’s important to send out invitations within the recommended time window, Wiese says.
Vernon-Thompson recommends making the RSVP process as convenient as possible for your guests. For example, you can include self-addressed and pre-stamped envelopes with the invitations to make it easy for guests to mail the RSVP, or you can create a spot for guests on your wedding website to either accept or politely decline the invite.
Use a separate card for additional details
If you want to share additional details about your wedding—such as transportation or lodging information—experts recommend including a separate card, perhaps smaller than the actual invitation, inside the envelope. “This is a great way to inform guests about details regarding your wedding, give directions [and] talk about attire, children and anything else that might not be right for the memorable wording of the invitation card itself,” says Wiese.
There is also a practical reason you should use a separate card rather than printing this info on the back of the invitation. “When higher-end invitations are specially printed, such as those my team and I create at Bell’Invito, there is what is referred to as a bruise on the back of the card,” which prevents printing on that side, Wiese says. “While this may sound negative, it is actually the telltale sign that a high-quality print method was used, so it’s the desired result. This is why adding an insert card is usually preferred.”
Don’t add a link to your wedding registry
The biggest faux pas when it comes to wedding invitation etiquette? Sharing your wedding registry information on the invitation. “This moves the focus from ‘I want to invite you to this major milestone moment in my life’ to ‘I really want to make sure you know exactly where to go to get me a gift,'” Post says.
She suggests directing people to your wedding website from your invitation instead. In addition to the link to your registry for wedding gifts, the website will offer information that is relevant to your guests, including transportation and hotel blocks. This makes it more appropriate to share on your invitation than a registry, according to Post.
Registry information is also fine on invitations issued by hosts of your shower and any other parties not hosted by your immediate family, according to Wiese. That means the host of your engagement party can mention your registry for engagement gifts. “The role of the family is to graciously invite and accommodate guests,” she says. “Gifts are, of course, customary but not a transactional requirement of attendance or being invited [to the wedding].”
Include the official start time for the event
Although it may be tempting to put a start time on your wedding invitation that’s slightly earlier than the actual go time (you know, to avoid tardy guests), experts advise against it. “If you start messing with the time too much, it could backfire on you,” Post says. Many weddings tend to run late, so guests who were told to arrive earlier could get antsy and frustrated if they are stuck waiting.
Instead, she suggests pulling aside any guests who you know tend to brush off proper party etiquette and run late; ask them to arrive a little bit early if they can. Otherwise, there is not much you can do to avoid non-punctual guests. “Those who happen to be tardy will miss a portion of the ceremony,” Vernon-Thompson says. “As they say, ‘The show must go on!'”
Keep the wording clear and simple
There is nothing wrong with a creative design, graphics and even wording on your invitations—but make sure your creativity doesn’t come at the cost of good grammar and a clear message. “I love a unique, creative, cleverly worded invitation, but this can and should be done well, without showing a lack of education,” Wiese says.
This can become an issue when couples try to get clever with the language for suggested attire at the event. The instructions end up being unclear, confusing and annoying to their guests, Wiese says. If you want a more creative invitation, she recommends working with an expert who can help you with the design without compromising on a clean and straightforward message. Your wedding planner may be able to act as a sounding board if you’re questioning the clarity of the wording.
Address guests by their titles
Addressing the envelopes is another important part of the process, so don’t overlook wedding invitation etiquette at this stage. Vernon-Thompson advises couples to do diligent research on each guest’s first and last names, as well as any honorifics or titles, such as Dr., Chief, Pastor, Reverend and so on. No matter how formal or casual your wedding will be, “that invitation should speak for you and represent you as a couple,” she says. “It is the first impression of your nuptials.” And you never want the first impression to be a misspelled name or mistaken title.
Double-check the details
Make sure your spelling, verbiage, grammar, structure, addresses and any other pieces of information on the invitations, cards and envelopes are correct before sending them out. Wiese says that mixing up grammar, dates, titles and formality is one of the biggest mistakes she sees couples make on wedding invitations.
To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, ask two or three other people to read the invitations and point out any typos or errors. Vernon-Thompson recommends double-checking your website address and any other links that will appear on the invitation. “It is not the classiest thing to share links for this or that and the links do not work,” she says.
Don’t feel obligated to give everyone a plus-one
Plus-ones are some of the trickiest wedding invitation etiquette situations to navigate. According to Vernon-Thompson, proper etiquette calls for you to invite a guest’s spouse or significant other if they are in a long-term, committed relationship. “Apart from those two categories, the plus-one is at the couple’s discretion,” she says.
She suggests making the number of guests who are invited clear on the RSVP card—or addressing the invitation with the names of the guests—to leave no room for guessing or misunderstandings. Language such as “Mr. and Mrs. Doe” or “The Doe Family” makes it clear that you are inviting just the couple or the entire family.
If someone asks you if they can bring a plus-one, there are a few ways to politely say no. “It’s an awkward moment, but it doesn’t have to be one to handle without confidence,” Post says. She recommends being honest and clear by saying something like “I’m sorry, but no, we can’t accommodate a plus-one. I hope you’ll understand.”
Need advice on navigating other tricky wedding etiquette situations? We’ve got you covered with tips on how to say no to kids at a wedding, how to follow proper wedding gift etiquette and how to write the perfect wedding wishes for someone’s big day.
About the experts
- Heather Wiese is a Dallas-based etiquette expert and the founder of Bell’Invito, a stationery company that designs luxury wedding invitations.
- Lizzie Post is the great-great-granddaughter of renowned etiquette expert Emily Post and the co-president of the Emily Post Institute. She co-hosts the institute’s weekly podcast, Awesome Etiquette, and has published several books on etiquette, including Emily Post’s Etiquette, The Centennial Edition.
- Jackie Vernon-Thompson is a certified etiquette expert and the founder and president of From the Inside-Out School of Etiquette in Miami. She trains and certifies aspiring etiquette consultants around the world through her five-week certification course. She is the author of Transformative Etiquette: A Guide to Love and Refining Self.