The Complete Guide to Wedding Invitation Etiquette in the Modern World (or, how to plan a wedding without offending anyone)

Gift Faux Pas-01
Gift Faux Pas-01

It's 2015. Chivalry is dead, good manners aren't important, and "proper" etiquette for weddings has completely gone by the wayside.

Wrong. All three of these are lies young people tell themselves to get away with bad behavior. I could go on for a whole post about chivalry and manners, but that's for someone else's blog. I'm here to talk weddings, and as far as I'm concerned, we're in the middle of an etiquette crisis.

Now, if you know me at all (or have worked with me, read my blog or browsed my gallery) this might sound out of character. I'm not some traditionalist---far from it in fact. I'm all about fun, unique weddings. And I love to create work that fits an out-of-the-box couple and their funky style. But, I am also quick to advise my clients (when asked) on modern etiquette. Things have certainly changed since your parents got married. I've met my fair share of wedding planners with their noses stuck up high in the air, and their taste and etiquette stuck back in the 70s. If you ask these types, they'll tell you none of the old etiquette rules have gone out the window, but I disagree. Modern times call for modern brides (and grooms). So the question is, what has changed? I sometimes feel like we are in such a different world -- technology-driven, fast-paced, accessible-everywhere -- that it's hard to distinguish where to draw the line. What "rules" are considered old-fashioned, and what rules can be broken or adjusted to fit with the times? And possibly most important, what rules shouldn't be broken and what traditions shouldn't we be changing?

So, here's our simple guide for current etiquette and some tips on how to navigate the complicated world of wedding invitations (and more):

What
is it appropriate?
katie's advice
Should we send traditional, formal invitations?
  • Appropriate for a formal, traditional wedding in a church or other formal venue.
  • Formal wording on the main invitation makes it clear that it will be a traditional ceremony with an upscale reception.
  • Skip the super formal invitation if your wedding is more non-traditional or outdoor with casual decor and attire. You don't want to run the risk of "over-selling" the formality of your wedding and making it look shabby compared to the invitation.
  • Formal does not have to mean "old-fashioned". Formal invitations usually have simple layouts with more traditional wording, but even formal invites are incorporating more and more color and design that add some flair.
  • Most of the verbiage decisions are based on who is hosting and how you want it announced. There are lots of modern options that are still considered formal without sounding old-fashioned.
  • Upscale printing methods like letterpress or gold foil and pretty packaging in folder enclosures with lined envelopes make your invitations feel more formal while not being too stuffy!
  • Address the invitations to Mr./Mrs./Miss
Can we send a more casual invitation?
  • Perfect for a barn or backyard wedding or for a non-traditional venue like a museum or urban space.
  • Casual, cheeky wording is great for a casual, cute, personalized wedding, but doesn't match bow ties and ball gowns. Make it a formal invitation for a black tie or semi-formal wedding.
  • Connect the invitation design to your relationship, your passions, and the things that will make your wedding memorable and SO YOU. **This is my wheelhouse. I'd love to work with you!!**
  • Feel free to break the rules when it comes to wording and style! Get your guests excited to celebrate the two of you and dance the night away!
  • Address the envelopes in a way that matches the style and verbiage of the invitation (maybe drop the Mr. and Mrs.)
Can we send online invitations?
  • In short, No. (you're on the wrong blog!)
  • The invitation sets the tone of the wedding, and if you want your guests to take it seriously, you should too!
  • No idea.
Do we have to send a Save the Date?
  • In short, no. But you should consider it if you want a lot of people to come. The more notice your invited guests have, the better chance they'll be able to make it.
  • For a short engagement (less than 6 months) an early invitation is best. No need to overwhelm your guests with lots of mailings, and it's a cost saver to do just one.
  • Send the Save the Date as soon as you've nailed down the major vendors and made your deposits (in other words, when you can't change your mind!)
  • The more time your guests have, the better!
  • It does not need to have a photo--no need for an expensive photo shoot! There is a lot you can do without a photo, just ask me!
Is there a specific time invitations should be sent out?
  • Every wedding website will tell you something different, so just do the math for yourself and figure out what makes sense for your guest list deadlines (work bakwards)
  • If you've sent a Save the Date, the majority of your guests will have it on their calendar and already know whether they're coming or not. It's truly a formality these days.
  • If you haven't sent a Save the Date or are having an especially short engagement, give your guests at least 2 months.
  • For a destination wedding, you're on a completely different timeline. Ignore all traditional wedding timelines and ask me!
  • Start with the catering or venue deadline for your guest count. This can be 1-3 weeks before your wedding.
  • Give yourself a full week between the RSVP deadline and the deadline for your caterer/venue. You will have to track down the stragglers and you want a good window of time for people to get back to you, etc.
  • If you are planning a lot of personalized or expensive favors or per-person items that require a guest count, give yourself an extra week.
  • Give your guests 3-4 weeks to RSVP.
  • Add up all that time and that's your "hit the mailbox" date
  • Add a week to that for the invites to go through the mail, and that's when you send them!
  • The window is basically 6-10 weeks out, and I always say the earlier the better!
Can we accept RSVPs online?
  • Appropriate for all weddings nowadays.
  • Feels Non-Traditional and Modern
  • Green Option
  • Easier for Guests
  • Cost Savings
  • Choose a wedding website that includes online RSVP
  • Match the wording style to your invitation
  • Hire KEEvents to help plan your wedding and it's included!
Who should get a +1?
  • Appropriate for married couples or couples that live together
  • Make your own policy for all guests getting a +1. (i.e. All guests get to bring a date, or Only guests who have a serious significant other, or No one you haven't met at the wedding)
  • Don't hand-pick which guests get to bring a date. A clear policy is best for not hurting feelings.
  • Be prepared for some difficult conversations and be united in your responses!
  • If you are inviting a date for a guest with a significant other, both names should be on the invitation.
  • If you are inviting dates for all guests (i.e. some you do not know personally) add "and Guest" to the invitations of the dates you do not know.
  • If dates are not included, only the guest name goes on the invitation.
  • If you're worried, you can make it clear on the RSVP by writing in the guest name or by writing (1) or (2) guests somewhere on there.
Should we invite kids? Which ones?
  • Weddings are traditionally adult-only events, but modern weddings can be full of children. It's completely up to the couple.
  • Flower Girl/Ring Bearer Only is an acceptable option.
  • Go all or nothing. If there are some children invited but not others, those without their children there will wonder why theirs were not included.
  • Don't invite children to the ceremony only. This is actually more of a hassle for parents, and the kids feel left out of the party, which is more fun!
  • Keep in mind some caterers will not offer a kids' price.
  • The names on the envelope of the invitation indicate who is invited.
  • To make it extra clear, you can make a polite note on the RSVP card that your wedding either includes children or is "respectfully an adults-only event".
  • Ask close family and friends ahead of time if children being included is a "deal-breaker"
  • Consider hiring a babysitter, and be aware that including children will likely mean extra planning to keep them occupied and happy.
  • If your guests are bringing their young children, they will likely leave early. If you have a lot in this situation, your wedding might empty out early!
Can we put our registry on our invitation?
  • It does not belong on your wedding invitation or in any other prominent location.
  • Only OK to do on your wedding website, or on a shower invitation sent by someone hosting a shower.
  • It is not a requirement for your guests to give you a gift.
  • Mentioning it on the website is a convenience to your guests.
  • Create a tab or link on your wedding website.
  • You could say something like "Your presence at our wedding is a gift in itself, but if you feel inclined to give us something tangible, we have created a wish list here:"
  • Avoid anything sounding mandatory.
  • Do not say anything about your preference for gifts or really anything else.
Can we ask for money?
  • Never.
  • It is completely inappropriate to ask for money of any kind, or to specify who to write checks out to.
  • If you'd prefer money to put towards a large purchase, tell your parents or someone else close to you whom people might ask.
  • When you do receive money, deposit checks as soon as possible, and make sure you let your guests know what you plan to put it towards when you THANK them.
Can I throw my own shower?
  • Don't do it. It's basically the same as putting your registry on your invitation.
  • It doesn't really matter who hosts the shower, as long as it's not the couple getting married.
  • The invitation should be sent by the host in honor of the couple.
  • Since the invitation is not coming from the couple, the registry and gift information can be included here.
  • The host should also collect the RSVPs.
  • The only part the couple could play is in deciding who to invite if asked.
Can we have a couples' or co-ed shower?
  • Definitely appropriate in 2015, in most situations.
  • It's no longer appropriate or politically correct to assume gifts for the home (cooking utensils, iron, vacuum, linens) are only for the bride.
  • Lets not forget our same sex couples--would you only have a shower for one of the brides? And what about two grooms? They should totally have a shower!
  • Showers don't have to be all tea and cucumber sandwiches.. get creative and make it a party!
  • Couples showers can be co-ed cocktail parties or backyard bbqs.
  • Think outside the box, and share with your partner in receiving gifts for your new life together!
Should we send a shower invitation to everyone invited to the wedding?
  • Unnecessary.
  • Inviting more people = Getting more gifts. You don't want to seem like you have the gimmies.
  • The more people come, the longer the whole event drags on, and the more gifts your guests have to sit there and watch you open. Keep it intimate.
  • Start with your bridal party and family, and then if you feel like there are some people you consider to be your closest friends that should be included, add them to the list.
  • Sometimes there are games and activities planned that will expose some of your secrets and unknown details of your relationship. If there's anyone you wouldn't want to hear those things, don't invite them!
Can I get away with a cash bar?
  • This is only appropriate if you or the hosts of the wedding have a strong aversion to drinking heavily.
  • It's like inviting someone to your house for a dinner party (which is essentially what a wedding is, on a larger scale) and asking your guests to pay you for their glass of wine.
  • Understandable if you don't want to have a party full of drunks, but don't be surprised to annoy a few people if you go this route.
  • If you do choose to have a cash bar, you should let your guests know ahead of time, probably on their invitation.
  • Most people these days expect some sort of open bar, and many women don't even bring a wallet, never mind actual cash.
  •  If they're told ahead of time, they'll be prepared with cash and won't be as disappointed or annoyed when they're asked to buy their drinks.
Do I have to hand-write my Thank You notes?
  • Always handwritten, never typed. (Unless you are disabled and can't write.)
  • You do not have a year to send them out, nor do you want to take a year to do it.
  • Ideally, you get them out in three months, and six months is the maximum.
  • If you hit the six month mark you should make note of how long it's been and how you've been using the gift in the months since it was received.
  • A Thank You note should always mention the gift. Nothing generic.
  • Create a logging system as you receive gifts so you don't forget who gave you what.
  • Do not write "thank you for the gift" and leave it at that. The note should be personal, and not something that could have been copied to everyone at your wedding.
  • Weddings are expensive, the gift was probably expensive, and you want your guest to know their personal presence at your wedding as well as the gift were greatly appreciated.
Someone suggested I have my guests write their address on an envelope at the wedding and shower so I don't have to write them all out when I send Thank Yous.
  • I'm not a fan of this.
  • It's not clever; it feels lazy and impersonal.
  • Don't make your thank you note seem like just another box to check off of your wedding to-do list--your guest put some thought into their gift, so make your Thank You note heartfelt.
  • Keep an up-to-date address list and hand write your notes AND envelopes.
  • Get a stamp for your return address to make it easier or get your return address professionally printed.
  • If there are any mistakes or new addresses, they'll come back to you and you'll know you need a new address. (Another reason to get them out early!)

It's your wedding, so by all means do what you'd like. Don't agree with my take on things? Let me know in the comments! I'm all about friendly discussion. :) I'm here to offer advice and share my expertise in the field. And to tell you that in this modern world, being a considerate person and thinking of how your guests will react to your choices is still important. Most people don't mean to be rude or offensive when they make their wedding plans, but most people also would rather not offend anyone if they have the choice. So, you can thank me in advance for maintaining the respect of all your friends and family throughout this process!