Get organized about a month before your desired send-out date. This should be six to eight weeks before the wedding, allowing your guests adequate time to respond and ensuring that you will get a reliable head count a week or two before the event. The address on a wedding invitation should be handwritten; printed labels are not appropriate (though calligraphy done by computer directly on the envelope is gaining popularity and acceptability).
Depending on your handwriting and the level of formality of your wedding, you may want to have your envelopes inscribed by a professional calligrapher. (To find one in your area, ask your stationer or wedding planner for recommendations.) You'll have to get your envelopes to the calligrapher at least two to three weeks before you need them; some calligraphers require even more time. Also provide her with a neatly printed guest list, complete with full addresses and social and professional titles (Mr. or Doctor, for example). Compiling the list, as well as making phone calls to parents or friends to acquire or confirm addresses and spellings, can take some time, so don't wait until the last minute to get started.
Though etiquette for addressing and assembling invitations has relaxed, there are still some requirements, outlined on the following pages (we've also included a few modern interpretations for more casual weddings). "The little things do matter," says Dorothea Johnson, etiquette expert and founder and director of the Protocol School of Washington, in Yarmouth, Maine. "When a couple uses the appropriate honorific and writes out an address in the correct way, it shows they've put thought into it." And when your guests receive your invitation, expertly assembled and addressed, there will be no doubt that you have done just that.
Social and Professional Titles
Your guests' names should be written in full on outer envelopes -- no nicknames or initials. Use the appropriate social titles as well, such as addressing married couples as "Mr. and Mrs." If a man's name has a suffix, write "Mr. Joseph Morales, Jr.," or "Mr. Joseph Morales IV"; "Junior" can be spelled out on a more formal invitation. It gets a little tricky when husband, wife, or both have different professional titles. If the husband is a doctor, for example, the titles will appear as "Doctor and Mrs."; if the wife is a doctor, her full name would come first, as in "Doctor Sally Carter and Mr. John Carter." If both are doctors, write "The Doctors Carter." If they have different professional titles, list the wife first: "The Honorable Pamela Patel and Lieutenant Jonathan Patel, U.S. Navy." If a wife has kept her maiden name, her name should appear first and be joined with her husband's using "and."
Spell out all words in an address on your envelopes. Rather than "St.," "P.O. Box," and "Apt.," use "Street," "Post Office Box," and "Apartment." This applies to city and state names as well; instead of abbreviations, write "Saint Paul, Minnesota," and "Washington, District of Columbia." House numbers smaller than twenty should also be spelled out.
Write out all words here, too. The preferred place for printing the return address is on the envelope's back flap. Traditional etiquette called for blind embossing, or colorless raised lettering, for wedding invitations; the idea behind this was that guests would get their first glimpse of the fancy engraving on the invitation itself. Blind embossing is still available, although the United States Postal Service discourages it, as it is difficult to read; today, most couples have the return address printed in the same method as their invitations.
Outer and Inner Envelopes
Sending out an invitation in two envelopes ensures that each guest will receive a pristine envelope, even if the outer one has been torn or soiled in the mail. Still, the two are not necessary; you may omit the inner envelope if you wish. The outer envelope includes all of the information the postal service needs for delivery. The inner envelope should have the names of the invited guests in the household (including children, whose names do not appear on the outer envelope).
For Married Couples
This classic envelope incorporates social titles and the husband's first name on the outer envelope, and only the titles and last name on the inner one. Note that all the words -- including the state and the house number, because it is less than twenty -- are written out. The writing doesn't have to be aligned on the left -- calligraphers often stagger the lines in eye-pleasing ways.
To some couples, omitting wives' first names feels too old-fashioned; including the first names of both husband and wife after their titles is appropriate. The house number, even though it is less than twenty, can be written as a numeral for a less formal feeling. And in keeping with a more personal style, the couple are addressed by their first names on the inner envelope.
Different Last Names
When a husband and wife have different last names, the wife's name is traditionally written first. Connecting the couple's names by the word "and" implies marriage. For an unmarried couple that lives together, names should be written on separate lines without the word "and." On the inner envelope, both are addressed by their titles and respective last names.
For Families and Single Guests
With Children, Formal
This outer envelope is identical to that of a couple without children -- its writing, which is for the purposes of the post office, should be as simple and clear as possible. On the inner envelope, the name and title of each invited guest in the household is written out. A boy under the age of 13 is "Master," not "Mr." Girls and young women under age 18 are called "Miss."
With Children, Informal
Parents' first names are both used on this less traditional version of the outer envelope ("Post Office Box" is abbreviated as well). For the inner one, the parents' and children's first names are written without titles. Since they are young siblings, the word "and" (which implies marriage when used with adults' names) linking the children's names is acceptable.
For a single woman, either "Ms."or "Miss" is appropriate; many people find the former preferable. The guest's name is the only one that appears on the outer envelope. On the inner envelope, however, write the guest's name followed by "and Guest." If you know whom he or she will be bringing, it's more personal to include that person's name, on a separate line.
Assembling the Elements
All enclosures should be printed in the same method and on coordinating papers; here's the order in which they should be stacked to go in the outer envelope. The invitation is on the bottom, print side up. A sheet of tissue paper (originally used to prevent smearing) can be placed over it. Stack all other inserts, such as a map, reception card, and reply card, on the invitation in order of size (smallest on top). The reply card should be under its envelope's flap; this envelope should be preprinted with the mailing address, and should be stamped as well. Insert everything into the inner envelope with the print side up, so that when guests open the envelopes they will see the lettering. (The same rules apply with a single-fold invitation, where the print appears on the front. For a French-fold, or double-fold, invitation, which has the print inside, all enclosures go inside the card.) Slip the unsealed inner envelope into the outer envelope with the names facing the back flap.
Once invitations are assembled, you still have some decisions.
Bring a completed invitation to the post office to have it weighed; many require postage for at least two ounces, currently 60 cents. Have a reply card and its envelope weighed as well, to ensure that you don't over- or underpay for that postage.
Ask what's available at your local post office, or browse through a wider variety at the U.S. Postal Service website: www.usps.com. "Love" stamps, in one-ounce and two-ounce rates (currently 37 and 60 cents), are always available, so you can match the stamps on your invitations and reply cards. Vintage stamps can be purchased from philatelic societies. They are worth the amount printed on them -- but they can cost much more, since they are collectible and limited in quantity.
You can take your invitations to the post office and request that they be hand-canceled. Machines print bar codes on the envelopes, but hand-canceling -- just marking each stamp -- keeps invitations neat and prevents damage that machines can cause.
The towns listed below will cancel your stamps for you, imprinting them with their sweet names. Enclose your stamped, addressed invitations in a large padded envelope or box, and include a note detailing your request. Address it to "Postmaster," followed by the name of your chosen town, state, and zip code; call ahead to let him or her know the invitations are on their way. Consider sending the envelopes Priority or Express Mail, so you can track the package. Allow enough time for invitations to be delivered, postmarked, and mailed out -- ask the postmaster how long it will take.
Bliss, New York 14024; 585-322-7740
Bridal Veil, Oregon 97010; 503-695-2380
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514; 919-942-4170
Darling, Mississippi 38623; 662-326-8408
Deary, Idaho 83823; 208-877-1470
Groom,Texas 79039; 806-248-7988
Harmony, Rhode Island 02829; 401-949-2745
Honeyville, Utah 84314; 435-279-8213
Kissimmee, Florida 34744; 407-846-0999
Lovely, Kentucky 41231; 606-395-5848
Loving,Texas 76460; 940-378-2259
Luck, Wisconsin 54853; 715-472-2079
Romance, Arkansas 72136; 501-556-5911