VIRGINIA LUCAS HART

Ask Ginny // Envelope Etiquette

advice, calligraphy, weddingVirginia HartComment

VLH-envelope-etiquette

I'd like to share some advice on envelope etiquette, specifically a few tips on how to address people's names. Weddings are (sadly) one of the few times people look to uphold traditional ways of sending snail mail. Did you know that sending paper invitations dates back all the way to the Middle Ages, when wealthy families paid monks skilled in calligraphy to hand-letter everything?

The most important purpose of an envelope for a paper invitation is to obviously tell the recipient(s) who is invited to the event. Some people still use inner envelopes which I LOVE, but I get that sometimes it's just an added cost or feels unnecessary. (We didn't use them for our own wedding because I wanted to cut back on my workload haha!) Traditionally, inner envelopes were used since the outer envelopes got so dirty (they often still do) so there was still a nice clean envelope to reflect the specialness of the occasion. The outer envelopes were usually discarded and the the rest was hand-delivered on a silver platter. Swoon!

Inner envelopes have another purpose, however, which is to specifically declare who is invited to the event. If the outer envelope says, "Mr. and Mrs. Chris Smith", the inner envelope can say, "Christine and Chris Smith" or "Mr. and Mrs. Chris Smith / Chad and Claire Smith" (children on a separate line in order of age). Only add "and guest" on the outer envelope if you A. don't have an inner envelope and B. don't know that there is a specific guest your friend or family member will be inviting. If your cousin has a serious girlfriend, reach out and find out her name. Note: If you don't want to invite certain people in a household to an event (i.e. small children) and you're worried that leaving off their names on either the outer or inner envelopes won't be enough to relay the message, I encourage people to put a question of quantity on their reply card to ensure all parties are on the same page.

In my typical communication with brides and event planners, I ask them to send me a Word document of all the addresses typed out exactly as they want them written in a label format. I request the Word document for two reasons: 1. You'll go blind if you're reading the information left to right in an Excel sheet, trying to hand-address envelopes haha! 2. There are so many opinions on how to address envelopes and what etiquette to use. Some may choose to be more traditional while some may want to keep it informal. Sometimes the guest list itself dictates the level of formality; I actually love it when first and last names are only used for a small affair. So intimate! Also, I obviously don't personally know the various relationships of the guests; I always defer to the titles and order given to me in that list, although I will raise my hand and ask if anything looks peculiar.

As a calligrapher, I receive a lot of questions from clients on envelope etiquette so I figured I'd create a working list for anyone to reference! Big disclaimer: Like I've said, there are many varying opinions on the "proper" way and order in which to address envelopes and nowadays, you may honestly do whatever you please. These are just guidelines I use for many of my clients. Some people still use middle names for very formal invitations, but I've left those out for the sake of this list. You'll also notice that a few have multiple options that I think are all fine, and there are plenty of situations I didn't include (I'll be sure and update any big ones I realize I forgot!), but I hope this is helpful!

boy until age 7:

  • Master Chris Smith
  • Chris Smith

boy between 7 and 18: Chris Smith

man 18 and older: Mr. Chris Smith

girl under 18:

  • Miss Christine Brown
  • Christine Brown

woman 18 and older: Ms. Christine Brown

woman who is married, but kept maiden name: Ms. Christine Brown

woman who is married and took husband's name:

  • Mrs. Chris Smith
  • Christine Smith

married couple with same last name:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Chris Smith
  • Christine and Chris Smith (*woman's name first!)

married couple with different last names: Ms. Christine Brown and Mr. Chris Smith (alphabetical by last name)

unmarried, but living together: Ms. Christine Brown / Mr. Chris Smith (alphabetical by last name and separate lines on the envelope)

engaged:

  • Ms. Christine Brown / Mr. Chris Smith
  • the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Chris Smith

same-sex couple:

  • Mr. Craig Lee and Mr. Colin Martin (alphabetical by last name, either on the same line or separate lines)
  • Ms. Carla Woodson and Ms. Dora Woodson (if same last name, alphabetical by first name)

professional titles / educational degrees: 

  • Doctor Chris Smith and Mrs. Christine Smith
  • Doctor and Mrs. Chris Smith
  • Doctor Christine Smith and Mr. Chris Smith (*you can also use "Dr."  for any of these if you like)

both are doctors (medical or PhD):

  • The Doctors Smith
  • Drs. Chris and Christine Smith (alphabetical by first name)

with children under 18 living at home (if they're invited):

Mr. and Mrs. Chris Smith (*only use parents' names on the outer envelopes if you have an inner envelope)

Claire and Chad (ordered by age, oldest to youngest)

*With children over 18 living at home, send them their own invitation. Same goes for other people over 18 in the same household.

if two or more daughters are living at home over 18: The Misses Smith

if two or more sons are living at home over 18: The Messrs. Smith (fun fact: Messieurs is the plural of Monsieur aka Mr.)

if son and daughter are living at home over 18: Ms. Claire Smith / Mr. Chad Smith (two separate lines)

with too many children to fit on the envelope: and family

judges:

  • The Honorable and Mrs. Chris Smith
  • The Honorable Christine Smith and Mr. Chris Smith
  • The Honorables Smith (*if both are judges)

Note: on any inner envelopes, replace "The Honorable" with "Judge"

military and doctor: Colonel Chris Smith and Doctor Christine Smith (*uniformed personnel have a higher rank)

Note: "Esquire" and "Attorney" are not used on social invitations

post-nominal letters:

Mr. Chris Smith, Jr. (*only a comma before "Jr.")

Mr. Chris Smith IV

Mr. and Mrs. Chris Smith III

separated / divorced but still living together: Keep names as they were when married unless you know they've legally changed it, but put their names on separate lines.

widow: keep Mrs. if she took her husband's last name, but use Mrs. before her late husband's name. (i.e. Mrs. Chris Smith and not Mrs. Christine Smith) You can also use Ms. Christine Smith.

P.S. Another big question I get: When do I send everything?!?!

I think it's best to first decide if your wedding is a local or destination event. Note: It doesn't have to be Hawaii for it to be a "destination" - if most of your guests will need to book a flight, give them more time to know and plan. Here are some guidelines:

local wedding: send save-the-dates 4 to 6 months in advance. send wedding invitations 6 to 8 weeks in advance.

destination wedding: send save-the-dates 6 to 8 months in advance. send wedding invitations 3 months in advance.