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Invitation Wording Etiquette
Etiquette defined: the conduct or procedure prescribed by an authority to be observed in social or official life in order to demonstrate good breeding and sophistication.
Save the Dates
Proper save-the-date etiquette is no more complicated than simply a modern application of traditional etiquette standards. The first thing to remember is that you are inviting your guests to "save the date" of your event. All of the logistical information will be following in an invitation, but it is important to keep in mind that you are most definitely issuing an abbreviated invitation. Be sure that you don't include anything that would be in poor taste on any other kind of invitation. For a list of things to avoid in general inviting, read the rules here. For specific save the date etiquette and some wording samples, follow our links.
Wedding invitation etiquette has two main classes of distinction: etiquette based on traditional (early American) standards, and etiquette based on good manners. Creative wording should not be used if the invitation is traditionally designed. If you choose to be more colorful in your design decisions, you might take a liberty or two with your wording, but it is advised that these liberties in etiquette be avoided. Use this list to find in-depth breakdowns of your wedding invitation card.
- Mailing Envelope - The name of the family, for example, Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Paul Gillion, is used on the mailing envelopes. If children under 18 from the household are invited, each of his or her names only appear on the inner envelope. If there is no inner envelope, list childrens names on the outer envelope. If names of children are not listed, they are not invited to the wedding. If there is an inner envelope and an envelope liner is preferred for design purposes, the outer envelope is not lined.
- Inner Envelope - See above for addressing. This envelope should not be gummed. Lining this envelope is a modern convention and can certainly be skipped. It is considered overkill to line both envelopes.
- Ceremony Card - Many people refer to this as the "wedding invitation." While the invitation is actually the entire suite, this is the piece inviting guests to the ceremony itself. In some cases, including an invitation to a reception is included on this card. It is perfectly acceptable to do so. There are many points of etiquette on this piece. Use our modern line-by-line etiquette guide to create wording for an invitation for your upcoming nuptials, or copy and paste from our sample wedding invitation wording. If you are a purist at heart, and especially if your wedding is formal, use our traditional wedding invitation etiquette guide. Your wedding invitation will be beyond reproach from even the most conservative critic. More modern etiquette questions have to do with the modern conventions of handling cell phones and social media direction of guest, here is a list of modern etiquette guidelines.
- Reply Cards and Envelopes - Reply cards are commonly included in wedding suites, and in most cases a necessary modern addition. Reply cards do not have to be included in your suite. By traditional standards, they are not recommended, however in today's culture, if you expect a response from guests, you may need to send a reply set prompting each guest to give you the information you require to make proper arrangements for entertaining them. For any social affair, a postage stamp should be included on the envelope. The most common point of etiquette missed in reply card sets is that room for your guests to respond with a short note should be allowed. It is not correct to write on the back of notecards. Cramming your reply card with so much information that guests cannot properly respond is not elegant. Click into our posts to learn more about how to layout response cards and how to properly fill out the response cards you may receive.
- Reception Cards - To be clear, no cards other than your ceremony card are required in the wedding invitation suite. If your reception is in another location, or the ceremony card seems to be too full of information, a reception card can be added. It is considered impolite to invite guests to the ceremony and exclude them from the reception. The additional card is not meant for this purpose.
- Additional Information - We agree with Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) when she advises that one not litter the wedding invitation with loose cards like a corporate pamphlet. If you do feel the need to include information such as itineraries, accommodation recommendations, photo ops, hashtags, wedding websites, direction maps and the like, do so in as few cards as possible, or in a very organized, deliberately designed fashion. Do not slip in last minute additions that don't coordinate with the suite.
- The Naughty List - Get familiar with the thou-shalt-nots of the wedding world, first and foremost, the things you shouldn't put into print. In our etiquette posts we explain many of the reasons these rules apply. In some cases, however, it is simply a matter of taste and elegance.
There are several schools of thought on modern monograms and an extensive history as to how monograms have been used throughout the ages. In short, whose initial–man's or woman's–comes first depends on which culture and era you refer to. Today there is no right or wrong. While three-letter styles gained popularity in the United Stated during the Victorian era, two-letter styles were most common with royals of the UK and Canada. Since there are so many designs and points of reference you could choose to follow in creating a monogram for yourself, there is really only one rule and one tip to take into consideration. The rule, never use a monogram bearing an initial you do not yet legally have. For example, on a wedding invitation, never use the bride's initial in tandem with her future married surname. More on that below. And the tip: when using more than two letters, the surname initial is typically most prominent. Depending on your particualr design, it may or may not be placed in the center, but be wary of crossing over from savvy to silly by enlarging just any letter simply because you like the way it looks.
Couple's Monogram, before the wedding - If you are actively using a monogram as a couple on any item before your vows have been exchanged, from home decor to wedding invitations, the only appropriate combination of letters is to use a two-letter monogram. The initials chosen should be consistently both individual's first initial of their first names or both individual's first initial of their surnames. In instances where a person goes by a second (middle) name, it is perfectly acceptable to use the initial of the name the person is known by. Avoid using a third initial. This is the most common mistake. As stated above, an unmarried couple should not use a monogram that shares a common last name until after they are married.
Couple's Monogram, after the wedding - A couple can choose to continue to use the above two-letter monogram or, they can choose to adopt a new three-letter monogram that includes their jointly used last name in one of the following ways (assume by "initial" we mean the first letter of the designated name):
- Traditional 3-Letter Style - His first initial, his (their) last initial slightly larger, her first initial
- Modern His/Her 3-Letter Style - Her first initial, his (their) last initial slightly larger, his first initial
- Modern His/Her 2-Letter Style - Her maiden last initial, his last initial either in that order or stacked and intertwined.
- Same Sex Couple 3-Letter Style - If one partner has taken the other's last name, partner one first initial, their last initial, partner two first initial
- Same Sex Couple 2-Letter Style - First or last initials can also be used, so long as they are consistantly both first or both last.
- Single Initial Monogram - First initial of the commonly used last name (traditionally his)
Single Female and Male Monograms - Unmarried individuals using monograms, follow the below guidelines.
- Traditional 3-Letter Style - First initial, last initial slightly larger, middle initial
- Modern 3-letter style - First initial, middle initial, last initial, all the same size
- Modern 2-Letter style - First initial, last initial side by side or stacked and intertwined
Traditionally Monogrammed Items - Of late, monograms are everywhere, but there are some household items that were traditionally assigned either his or her monogram after a couple was married:
- Her Monogram - Her first initial, her married last (surname/his) initial, her maiden initial or her first initial, her maiden surname, and if applicable, her middle initial
used on: bed linens, china, hand towels and soaps, tea service items, her personal stationery, bespoke gowns or other clothing
- His Monogram - His first initial, his surname initial, larger in size, his middle intial, or a two-letter monogram of his first and last initials
used on: luggage, handkerchiefs, bespoke shirts and suits, silverware, barware, his professional stationery
Cocktail Party, Showers and Dinner Party Invitations (Social Events)
Avoid the mistake of trying to apply wedding invitation etiquette to all other forms of invitations. For starters, sure, go ahead and suggest a dress code. Things you wouldn't list on a formal invitation are perfectly fine for an informal event. Read below for points of clarification.
- Mailing Envelope - Be sure to address your envelope to exactly who you would like to come. Don't assume a guest will know to bring a friend or partner if his or her name is not included on the envelope. To assume this would be a misstep for the guest.
- Event Invitation - Get the "five w's" covered: who (is hosting), what (is happening), when (day, date and time), where (address without the zip code!), and why (are we celebrating?). Other helpful information includes to whom guests should respond and any specific information they might need the night-of, like if there is valet or a dress code at the location.
- Valet Parking - At most social events, if valet is required, the guests should assume that it is being provided by the hosts, at no expense to the guest. "Valet" or "Valet Provided" are appropriate additions to the bottom right hand corner of the suite in a traditional layout. "Valet Parking" is mostly considered redundant, unless you have someone helping gentlemen dress at the door.
- Registries - Simply put, indeed! The notion of not including a registry comes from the traditional belief that it is in poor taste for a host to ask guests to bring gifts for herself or her immediate family. For this reason, showers are traditionally hosted by someone other than an immediate family member, and registry information is quite helpful for those wanting to shower the guests of honor (mothers, aunts and grandmothers, or brides and mothers, etc.) with gifts and well-wishes. If you are hosting your own shower, or a shower for your daughter or sibling, consider letting someone else do the honor, or spread the message of registry by word-of-mouth so that guests can have the opportunity to show interest in bringing a gift before you assume they will.
- Attire - As a rule of etiquette, guests should know how to dress according to the time of day, and the wording and look of the invitation. Suggesting a theme in attire, however, is perfectly acceptable. Avoid ambiguous language that seems cute but errs on the side of giving guests little actual direction.
- Come-and-Go Wording - It is very important that your guests know if you want them to stay or to simply stop by for a while. For wording suggestions for come-and-go occasions, view our post.
- Enclosures and RSVP Invitations - Soliciting a response is perfectly acceptable by leaving a telephone or email address in the lower left corner of the invitation. All guests should know to reply to a social invitation, but inevitably some need a little prompting. You can write, "Kindly reply" or "R.s.v.p." in some form in the lower left corner and include a date if you would like, but it is not necessary.
- Formal wording - Formal wording, such as "half-after" and British spellings are reserved for formal affairs. If the hour of day is not evening, and the event is not formal, refrain from this type of wording. If you would like to spell out the time of day and your event is on the half hour, use "half-past."
Thank You Notes
Taking steps to follow etiquette protocols when saying thanks ensures that your expression of gratitude is perceived as sincerely as you intended. Since technology has become more important in our lives, your discernment in when and how to use technology and when to use pen and paper is more important and telling than ever. For a complete list of who should receive thank you notes, what to write and what to avoid, click here to read full thank you note etiquette.
- Personal Notes - First and foremost, be yourself. Avoid adjectives that are overly exaggerated, as they can come across as insincere. Thank the person for their gift or gesture specifically. Tell them in one or two lines how you will use their gift or how (positively) you felt about it. Close your note with a valediction appropriate for the tone of your message, and respectful to the recipient. This should written be on personal stationery.
- Professional Notes - The post-interview thank you note is one of the most powerful punctuations you can place after your professional interview. Post interview thank you notes should be professional and to the point while still sincere. Post-interview thank you notes should always be hand-written on your personal stationery. Notes of appreciation and thanks to professionals, vendors or clients that pertain to professional topics should be hand-written on company stationery. For a quick note of thanks, sending a professional email from your work account is perfectly acceptable. However, for calling out something special or thanking a co-worker or vendor for a more grand gesture than a typical daily occurance, use your professional stationery. For thanking clients for purchases, always send a handwritten thank you note.
- Text vs. Written - If you understand the rules of etiquette as a device for exhibiting your knowledge of manners–assuming good breeding includes an education on this topic–as opposed to a way to demonstrate your prowess in championing elitism, you get this simple rule: match the effort you are thankful for with an effort in how you show your gratitude. If you are thankful for a quick gesture of kindness, send a quick text. If you are thankful for a job interview, a gift, mentorship, or someone's financial or time contribution, make the effort to procure stationery, write something sincere, put it in an envelope, address, stamp and mail it. Make an appropriate effort to show your gratitude. Typically, this means you should send a handwritten note.
The etiquette of holiday cards is a convention of the late nineteenth century, as the notion of sending holiday cards themselves is first credited to Sir Henry Cole in 1843. That said, if you choose to make this endeavor, there are a few things to keep in mind. For more on this topic, including who should get holiday cards, and when to send them, read our Holiday Card Etiquette post.
- Signature - Whether or not you hand-sign all your cards, write a personal note or simply stuff and stamp is a more a matter of taste than etiquette. A handwritten, personal message is more sincere than a generic printed one. So, however you choose to go about being perceived, when you print or sign your signature, keep the rule of not separating a man's first name from his last. If you choose to be formal, Mr. and Mrs. John Richard Prather is correct. Commit to the middle name or leave it out. Don't use a middle initial. IF you choose to be less formal, Margaret and John Prather is correct. If you are signing just first names, keep in mind that people get holiday cards, and they will want to know which one is yours. If there is no photo or other identifying visual, include last names. For first-name only cards, the lady's name goes first.
- Addressing - Use the same rule as above when addressing the envelopes. Using children's name in birth order of oldest to youngest is preferred, but if you do not know all the childrens' names, using "and family" is just fine.
- When To Send - Generally speaking, holiday cards should never be sent before Thanskgiving. When they need to arrive is more a function of which holiday you are celebrating. For a thorough list, hop over to our Holiday Card Etiquette post.
- To Whom Should I Send? - Establishing the holiday card list can be daunting. For original list set-up and some organizational and who-to-include help, link to Holiday Card Etiquette: Who Makes The List? If your concern is secular versus religious and you need general information about how to handle diverstity in holiday card sending, jump to Holiday Card Etiquette.