There are so many wedding-related events and festivities that take place throughout a couple's engagement period, and they all require a lot of stationery and invitations. At first glance, it can seem a little overwhelming, but it's manageable if you know what to expect.
We tapped etiquette expert Elaine Swann to share her insights regarding wedding invitations. Read on to learn when to send everything from save the dates to thank you notes, and who to send them to. Chances are, you'll be making more trips to the post office than you have in your entire life, but these invitations are things that you will look back on as precious keepsakes in the years to come.
Meet the Expert
Elaine Swann is a lifestyle and wedding etiquette expert. She is the founder of The Swann School of Protocol and the author of Let Crazy Be Crazy.
A traditional wedding invitation suite includes the main invitation, a response card, and any other enclosure card containing helpful information for your guests (reception card, travel and accommodations card, attire card, wedding website card, etc.).
How long before my wedding should I send out invitations?
Send your wedding invitations out six to eight weeks prior to your wedding date.
Who should receive a wedding invitation?
Everyone on your guest list.
How far before the wedding should the RSVP date be?
RSVPs should be due one month before the wedding.
What time should we put on our wedding invitations?
A good rule of thumb is to call the wedding for at least half an hour to 45 minutes before you want the ceremony to begin, and state that time on your invitation. It’s also important to be very intentional with what you plan to have guests do for that window of time before your ceremony starts. “It’s important to make this very purposeful. You don’t want your guests sitting in their seats waiting or thinking that you’re running late,” says etiquette expert Elaine Swann. “Have something ready for your guests to do. It doesn’t take much, but you want to create a moment that allows your guests to arrive at that time and be involved.”
According to Swann, something as simple as serving spa water, setting up a photo area, or the signing of the guest book is a great way to fill this time intentionally and to be sure guests aren't sitting down and waiting for too long. Listing this activity on a handheld program or large sign is another great way to make it clear that the start time was intentional.
What about invitations for international guests?
If you're inviting just a few overseas guests, send their invitations along with the ones for your other guests, but make a point to give them a heads-up. Give them a call or send them an email with the details, as well as information about booking hotel rooms, so they can start to arrange their travel with time to spare.
Does half of your family live abroad? You might want to consider bumping up the timeline for them and the rest of your guests. Start designing your invitations a few weeks early and plan to send them out a minimum of 12 weeks in advance.
Be sure to follow up promptly with anyone you haven't heard from to make sure they have plenty of time to book their flights.
You will also want to have all of the information available on your wedding website as soon as save-the-dates are in the mail. Sure, it means you'll have to start ironing out the hotel room block and transportation information sooner than you'd expected, but you'll be happier in the long run. Those overseas guests will have all the information at their fingertips, and you'll have even more crossed off of your to-do list.
Though save-the-date cards are not required, they are a fun way to get your guests to mark their calendars. Also, they're especially helpful when many of your guests have to make travel arrangements or if accommodations near the wedding site are limited.
Who should get a save-the-date?
Only those who you're planning on inviting to the wedding.
When should I send save-the-dates?
Four to six months before the wedding, or even earlier if you're planning a destination wedding that may require more extensive travel arrangements.
Engagement Party Invitations
Oftentimes, a couple's parents or close friends will throw an engagement party where the couple announces the big news. Some keep the reason for the party a secret and announce the engagement during a toast at the beginning of the evening. Others send out these invitations with the reason for the celebration detailed on the cards.
Who should get an engagement party invitation?
A guest at your engagement party will probably expect an invitation to your wedding, so plan this first guest list wisely.
When should I send engagement party invitations?
As soon after the engagement as possible, while the news is still fresh. If you decide to announce your engagement at the party, you'll need to come up with a good excuse for gathering so many friends and relatives together in one place.
Bridal Shower Invitations
The maid of honor or another good friend usually hosts the shower; oftentimes several people, usually bridesmaids, share the responsibility of celebrating the bride-to-be.
Who should get a bridal shower invitation?
The only rule you need to know is that everyone invited to the shower should also be invited to the wedding. That being said, you can keep the bridal shower to an intimate group of friends and/or family, or have a blowout with dozens of friends. Talk it over with the bridal shower hostess to find out what they have in mind.
When should I send bridal shower invitations?
Bridal shower invitations should go out between six and eight weeks before the event, depending on how many out-of-towners are on the list. Make sure guests RSVP to one person (the maid of honor, for example) to keep numbers organized.
Bachelorette Party Invitations
Whether it's a trip to Las Vegas or something more low key, the bachelor/bachelorette parties are for the bride's and groom's best friends to celebrate their upcoming nuptials.
Who should get a bachelorette party invitation?
Everyone you send a bachelorette party invitation to should also be invited to the wedding, just like with the bridal shower. However small or big you want the guest list to be is up to the hostess and the bride.
When should I send bachelorette party invitations?
One month before the party date. Emailing and calling is acceptable, too.
Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
The rehearsal dinner usually takes place the night before the wedding, following the actual ceremony rehearsal, and is a time for wedding party members to celebrate and toast the couple.
Who should get a rehearsal dinner invitation?
Close family members and anyone participating in the wedding ceremony (including your officiant), plus their spouses or dates. But it is also considerate to invite your out-of-town guests to attend as a kind gesture of thanks for traveling all the way.
When should I send rehearsal dinner invitations?
Send invitations three to six weeks in advance.
Wedding Thank You Cards
You should send thank you notes for all the gifts received during the course of planning your wedding.
Who should get a thank you card?
Everyone who has given you a gift at any of the wedding festivities (the engagement party, bridal shower, wedding).
When should I send thank-you cards?
For gifts received during the engagement party and shower, send a thank you within two to three weeks of the festivities; for gifts sent before the wedding date, send a card as soon as possible, but definitely before the wedding; for gifts given on the wedding day itself, mail a thank-you note within three months; and for gifts received after your wedding, send one within two to three weeks.