Inviting Elements: Invitation Basics

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Excerpted from Countdown to your Perfect Wedding
by Joyce Scardina Becker

Wedding Invitation Abbey Malcolm LetterpressIn general, a wedding invitation typically consists of several components:

  • the invitation itself
  • a separate reception card, if your ceremony and reception are in two different locations
  • a response card (a.k.a. reply card), which allows your guests to indicate whether they will be attending the wedding
  • a directions card, which indicates how to get to the wedding, and also provides other important information that guests need to know
  • an outer envelope (and an inner envelope for traditionalists) to hold the invitation and other components

Before you can go pick out your invitations, you need to decide how to word them. You have two basic choices—you can conform to the traditional rules of etiquette, or you can select more contemporary options. Either way, it can be a challenge to appropriately express yourself, so I offer some suggestions to help you wade through the ways of wording.

Invitation Card

These days, many outdated wedding rules are vanishing, particularly in the overall look of invitations. Nevertheless, the traditional ways of wording still appeal to many couples because they make a clear statement of impeccable elegance, backed by centuries of use. But with non-traditional family situations and multiple funding sources for the festivities, it is much more challenging to come up with wording to fit your particular situation. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover every imaginable combination of family circumstances, but here is a general format for a traditionally worded invitation, with some common options italicized and explained in adjacent notes:

Invitation Card Wording

Note that full first names and middle names are used (no nicknames!), and nothing is abbreviated except titles like Mr., Mrs., Dr. and Jr. The bride’s name is listed before the groom’s, the groom has a title (Mr.) but the bride does not. The British spelling of the word “honour” is used for a church ceremony. State names, years, dates and times are all written out fully, and note that “half after four o’clock” is used rather than “four-thirty.” Commas are used only to separate the day and date, and the city and state.

If your style is more casual or contemporary, you do not have to be bound by conventional phraseology, but you still want to create a feeling of elegance and sophistication. I recommend that you look through contemporary books of invitations in stationery stores for inspiring ideas. Overall, keep in mind that reverence for the institution of marriage is always considered proper. Here is one suggestion to consider:

Catherine Marie Brown
Joseph Robert Green
invite you to share in their joy
as they exchange marriage vows
alongside Napa Valley vineyards
on Saturday, the fifteenth of August
Two thousand and nine
at three-thirty in the afternoon
The Harvest Inn
One Main Street
Saint Helena, California

Dining and dancing under the stars
following the ceremony

Reception Card

Your invitation card indicates the time and location of the ceremony. If you are having your reception at a different site, a reception card indicates its location and time. In effect, the reception card serves as an invitation to a separate event. Here is a traditionally worded example:

immediately following the ceremony
Kohl Mansion
2750 Adeline Drive
Burlingame, California

If your reception site is not available until a certain time, and therefore you have a gap between the ceremony and reception, indicate the specific starting time of the reception on the second line of the reception card.

A more contemporary version of a reception card might be worded as follows: 

Our celebration continues
immediately following the ceremony
with cocktails, dinner and dancing by the bay
The James Leary Flood Mansion
2222 Broadway
San Francisco, California

Response Card

The purpose of a response card is to make it easy for your guests to reply to your invitation, and to make it easy for you to figure out who’s coming. The RSVP deadline on your response card should be one month before your wedding date, so that you have enough time to determine seating arrangements, then have escort cards and place cards printed.

Here is an example of a traditional response card:

The favour of a reply is requested before the twenty-sixth of August
M                                                                    will attend
M                                                                    will be unable to attend

Hyegraph Wedding InvitationsNote the English spelling of the word “favour.” Response cards should never ask for the number of guests coming to the wedding—instead, the specific names of guests who are being invited are indicated on your envelope(s), and those guests who can come to the wedding will so indicate by writing their names in the appropriate blank on the card.

Again, you are free to choose more contemporary wording for the response card. Many couples drop the traditional “M” in front of the blank line, so guests can write their names more casually.

A pre-addressed, stamped envelope accompanies the more conventional form of response card, but some contemporary versions are designed as a postcard, with the address and stamp placed on the back side of the card. If you go with the postcard option, make sure that it meets the U.S. Postal Service’s sizing and layout requirements for a postcard—go to for details.

Directions Card

Because a directions card is a relatively recent development, there are no stringent rules regarding its format. You can provide the information either in the form of explicit written directions, or alternatively you can supply an illustrated map.

So that your guests are fully informed about all relevant details regarding your wedding, it is often necessary to include additional information along with the directions. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may be needed to provide any or all of the following kinds of information:

  • Valet parking—If this is being provided, it should be indicated immediately following the driving directions.
  • Group transportation arrangements you have made for your guests—Indicate where and when your guests need to meet to take the transportation, and in setting a departure time, allow an extra 15 minutes to ensure an on-time arrival. If your ceremony and/or reception site has no available parking and therefore requires that all guests arrive by shuttle, make sure you clearly state this.
  • Child care arrangements that you have made—A great way to encourage guests with children to attend, while keeping the kids from crashing your party, if that’s your preference.
  • Appropriate attire for the wedding—For example, “black tie” for a formal wedding, or “garden shoes suggested” for an outdoor wedding where you don’t want the ladies aerating the lawn with spiked heels.
  • Weather information—If it’s an outdoor wedding, a description of typical temperatures is helpful, and the location of a backup site you may have secured in case of rain is essential.
  • Other things to do—If it’s a destination wedding, you may want to provide information on area attractions.
  • Your personal wedding website address—if you have one


Paper StoriesTo properly package your invitation components, you will need some sort of envelope to put them in. Centuries ago, both an outer and inner envelope were used because the outer envelope would often get soiled while being transported via Pony Express. Today, most couples choose to skip the inner envelope to save money, stuffing time, and a few trees. However, it is still popular to select a luxurious lining for the envelope that coordinates with all the components going inside.

The return address of the person(s) extending the invitation to the wedding should be printed on the back flap of the outer envelope (i.e. if your parents are listed first on the invitation, use their address). Their names do not appear—only the street address, city, state and zip—and of course, no abbreviations are used.

Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding

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