Invitation Wording

Martha Stewart Weddings, Winter 1999

Considering the hundreds of decisions you will make before your wedding day, what could be more tempting than to let your invitations essentially write themselves? After all, parents of brides have been requesting the honour of their guests' presence in precisely the same language for more than a century. And it is hard to deny the security in knowing that these phrases have passed the etiquette test of generations.

Even if you intend to compose your own wording, it's important to understand wedding protocol before you deviate. Traditional invitations are formal, both in phrasing and format -- line breaks instead of commas, numbers, dates, and times spelled out. British wording and spelling are also commonly used ("half after seven o'clock" and "the favour of your reply is requested").

A typical invitation includes certain customary elements: the host line, request line, bride and groom line, date and time lines, location line, and reception and R.S.V.P. lines. Although every invitation should have all these lines, they can be worded and arranged in countless ways to reflect the style of the occasion and the changing times. "The trend is that you do whatever makes good etiquette sense and makes you feel good," says Jerome Brownstein, engraving consultant at Ross-Cook Engraving in New York City. "People are trying to stay socially correct, and at the same time they want to be comfortable."

Classic Set
A formal invitation today typically includes separate cards for the reception and reply, and the language is prescribed by tradition. Although appropriate for a black-tie wedding, such invitations would be out of sync with a more casual affair.

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One line of the invitation that has been most affected is the host line. Traditionally, the bride's mother and father paid for the wedding and were the hosts. Over the years, as it became acceptable for the groom's parents to contribute to the event, they also began appearing on the invitation, often on the line directly after the groom's name, preceded by the words "son of." Today they even may be elevated to co-host, with their names directly after the bride's parents'.

All these variations reflect a time when couples married quite young, straight out of their parents' homes. Now that so many get married later, they often want to issue the invitation themselves -- particularly if they're paying for their own wedding. The dilemma is that they may also want to include their families somehow.

If this is your situation, consider the increasingly popular solution of stating your own names first and adding "together with their families." This format is also useful in avoiding the sometimes delicate issue of stepparents. According to Julie Holcomb, owner of Julie Holcomb Printers, a letterpress company outside San Francisco, this style may depart from convention, but not from the essential wedding tradition: sharing your love with family and friends. "The wedding invitation might be the only good way to include everyone, the only gracious opportunity for a couple to acknowledge that these people are important to them," Holcomb says.

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If you choose to include names on your invitations, the most complicated question becomes whose. Divorces, deaths, and family estrangements all make the wording tricky. Use your instincts and good taste if your family relationships are complicated. If, for example, your father has passed away and your mother is the host, her name is the only one that is necessary on the invitation. However, many people feel strongly about including a deceased parent. In this case, the wording should be phrased so that it is clear the deceased parent is not issuing the invitation: "The pleasure of your company is requested at the marriage of [your name], daughter of [your mother's name] and the late [your father's name]." Or, let's say your parents are divorced, your father is remarried, and all of the above are hosts. Always start with your mother's name, then your father's and stepmother's on a separate line, and have them invite guests "to the marriage of [your name]" -- not the marriage of their daughter, since you are not the daughter of all three hosts. The wording should reflect your particular situation, however. If your stepmother raised you, and if your birth mother has a less significant role in your life, you may include only your father and stepmother, using the words "their daughter."

By convention, ceremonies held in a church or synagogue "request the honour of your presence," reflecting the solemnity of the ritual, and those at a hotel or home use the warmer "pleasure of your company." But there's nothing inappropriate about wording the invitation to reflect your own personality or to suit your occasion. A wedding on the beach, for instance, might invite guests to "participate in the feast and festivity of the occasion."

Fortunately, none of the other decisions about your invitations will involve so much tap dancing as the host line or involve as many possibilities as the request line. You will want to consider how the two of you would like to be presented and whether just your names will suffice or whether you will want to include your titles; traditionally, the groom's name is preceded by "Mr." while the bride's name stands alone.

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The decision for the time line will simply be whether "7:30" or "half after seven o'clock" best reflects the tone of your wedding. Formal events call for spelling out numbers, whereas that might seem out of place for a more casual wedding. The same holds true for numbers in the date line and those in the location line, if, that is, you include the street address. Remember that all options are equally correct.

Also think about whether you want to say "Reception immediately following" on the face of the invitation or whether you'd rather include separate cards to announce your reception. A separate card is only necessary if you don't plan to invite everyone to the reception.

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You don't have as much flexibility with reply cards. Once upon a time guests replied on their own stationery. If you long for the manners and grace of the past, put R.S.V.P. in the lower left corner, or invite guests to kindly respond by a specified date. Be forewarned, though: If you try such an approach today, you will likely be stuck with no head count to give your caterer. Try to keep any prompting as simple as possible. An enclosed response card that reads "a favour of a reply is requested" by a specified date is a good choice because it still leaves room for guests to write a short message.

Ideally, you want to strike a compromise between practicality and charm for every component of your invitation. It is all a matter of what you choose to emphasize -- celebration or sanctity or a combination of the two. "I once had a customer who had been married before," says Holcomb, "she was practically in tears because she heard she'd have to use her married name on the invitation. I told her she could say whatever she wanted. The purpose of etiquette is to make things easier for people, not harder."

Request Line
1. By strict convention, "the honour of your presence" is reserved for religious ceremonies. British spellings are still used for all types of formal weddings.

2. For weddings held at a hotel or a home, it's more appropriate to use warmer, less solemn wording.

3. Many families are opting to mix tradition (such as British spellings and formal constructions) with their own sentiments.

4. A reflection of the times: The couple issues a simple request, emphasizing the celebration.

Bride and Groom Line
1. Traditionally, a bride takes no title before her name. Another option is to include titles for both the bride and groom; this is useful when one of you has an occupation that carries an official title, such as Dr.

2. One way to put yourselves on equal footing is to leave titles off altogether. This is also appropriate if both sets of parents are serving as hosts.

Host Line
1. The traditional format has the bride's parents hosting and inviting the guests.

2. If the groom's parents are sharing expenses, both sets of parents can act as hosts, with the bride's listed first.

3. Many couples want to mention the groom's parents, even if they're not throwing the wedding.

4. Divorced parents should be listed on separate lines with the mother's name first.

5. When either or both of the bride's parents has remarried, it's most proper that only the natural parents are listed, since they usually give the bride away; depending on your family's situation, though, stepparents can be included.

6. A good way not to leave anyone out is to invite the guests yourselves, and mention both families.

7. More couples are paying for their own weddings and playing hosts by themselves.

Date and Time Lines
1. Spelling out the day, date, and year lends sophistication, but you can also use a numeral for the year. Similarly, although "half after six o'clock" is classic, it may not be right for a less formal wedding.

2. When stating the time, only the hour is necessary; there's no need to note A.M. or P.M. Where time of day may be unclear, use "in the morning" or "in the evening."

Location Line
1. Make sure you have the proper name of your church. As with everything else, spell out "Saint" or any other abbreviations (except R.S.V.P.).

2. City landmarks and well-known hotels don't usually require addresses, unless you're inviting out-of-town guests who might need directions.

3. Any site that is not well known should include an address. Invitations are typically written without punctuation; line breaks take the place of commas, except to separate city and state, or to avoid confusion.

Reception Cards
1. When your reception and ceremony are at different locations, include the ceremony site at the bottom of the invitation.

2 .If the reception and ceremony share a site, there's no need to repeat the location.

3. If only some guests are invited to the reception, it's mandatory to enclose a separate card.

4. When your reception doesn't immediately follow the ceremony, be sure to mention the time.

R.S.V.P. Cards
1. For the most formal invitations, "R.S.V.P." appears on the invitation's lower left corner, indicating that guests should send a personal reply.

2. Include an address on the invitation only if it differs from the one on the envelope.

3. Separate cards are more common today; this one is conventional and convenient.

4. This is a modern, time-efficient option.

5. Postcards are the most casual approach.

6. In the past, guests would reply on their own.

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