Emily Postmodern: How To Address Wedding Invitations Without Offending Anybody

A junior cotillion dropout and relocated Southerner tells you how to behave (if you like it or not). 

Wedding invitations are probably the sole thing keeping the USPS in business and likely the piece of mail that will be delivered to the broadest cross-section of your friends and loved ones.

But, when it comes to addressing the envelopes, things can get a little stressful — and not just because your calligraphy skills are non-existent. The six members of my immediate family alone have four different last names. Nearly everyone has a vagabond cousin whose mailing address remains a mystery. And, what if you want your guests to know that their children are included, but that they shouldn’t just bring a random date? It’s all enough to make you address everything “current resident” and just be done with it. (Pro tip: Do not do that. Someone will not be amused.)

The original expert on all things gracious gives some great tips for addressing your formal wedding invitations, and decoding who’s included by how the envelope is addressed. But what if your wedding isn’t a very formal affair? How do you make sure your invites convey the egalitarian view of marriage that you and your partner want to embrace?

It seems a little obvious, but why don’t you just ask people how they would like to be addressed? You’ll probably have to send out at least one to two emails to your extended family and friends asking for mailing addresses, so you might as well include a “Give us a heads up about how you would like to be addressed” in the request. Also, consider the recipient. Older members of your family might expect and want to be addressed as Mr. and Mrs. HUSBAND NAME, but your bestie from the League Of Women Voters might wonder if you’ve been brainwashed if she found that in her mailbox. If addressing married women as Mrs. HUSBAND’S NAME really makes you want to go burn bras and lobby for the ERA (trust me, I get it), remember that etiquette is about respect, not repression. You care about this person enough to want them at your wedding, so you probably also care about how they choose to identify themselves, right?

Let’s go over some examples…

Same Last Name:

Mr. and Mrs. Shmoe

Dr. and Mrs. Shmoe

Drs. Shmoe (check out that dual-degree household!)

Ms. and Ms. Schmann-Shmoe

Mr. and Mr. Schmann-Shmoe

Different Last Names:

Mr. Joseph Shmoe and Dr. Janet Schmann

Mr. Joseph Shmoe and Dr. Janet Schmann-Shmoe

Ms. Josephine Shmoe and Dr. Janet Schmann

Including Kiddos:

Parents: Mr. Joseph Shmoe and Ms. Janet Schmann

Kids: Miss Firstchile Schmann-Shmoe, Mr. Middlechild Schmann-Shmoe, and Miss Bebe Schmann-Shmoe

Informal Invites (ladies first dammit!): 

Jan Schmann and Joe Shmoe

Jan and Joe Schmann-Shmoe

The Schmann-Shmoe Family

What about your friend who has been with her Sig-Oth for 10 years but they aren’t married and don’t technically live together? It seems silly to send them both invitations (save the trees!), and you’re inviting them as a couple. If you choose the two-envelope route, putting the main invitee on the outside and name of Sig-Oth on an inner envelope is a great way to follow tradition but also acknowledge the long-term commitment they’ve already made.

If you’re trying to keep it formal, but only have one envelope, put the name of their partner on the second line.

Ms. Janet Schmann

Mr. Joseph Shmoe

Ms. Janet Schmann

Ms. Josephine Shmoe

and if it is informal:

Jan Schmann and Joe Shmoe

For those people that you know won’t be able to attend, it’s a little trickier. How do you send them an invitation to let them know that they’ll be missed but not make it seem like you’re fishing for a gift? I honestly believe that a handwritten note is one of the most thoughtful things a person can receive. Maybe slip something into the invite saying you’ll be thinking of them on your day and that you wanted to share your awesome invites with them anyway. If that still feels uncomfortable, skip the invite part and just send them a card. If you love someone, I say write it down and send your love via the USPS.

Finally, some tips for those on the receiving end of the invitations: Please, don’t ever assume you can bring a date. If your invite doesn’t say “guest” or “+1,” then don’t bring one. If it does, it’s up to you if you want to bring the person you’ve only been dating for a few months or that friend who does a mean Eastside stomp. Weddings are both expensive and personal events, and the couple in question might have spent a lot of time agonizing over who they could include.

If you really want to bring a date, contact the couple and share your concerns. Maybe you know you won’t know anyone. Maybe you’ve actually been with your boo for years, but your cousin has skipped every family reunion for the past three and they haven’t yet had a chance to meet. These are all understandable reasons for asking to bring a date – and if you aren’t asking because you’re afraid the answer is going to be no, this is definitely not the time to do what you want and ask for forgiveness later.

The same goes for kids. If they aren’t listed on the invite (either by name or as “family”), don’t assume you can bring them. The conversation around “kid-free” weddings is complicated, and will be addressed at length in our next column about how to have a wedding without feeling like an asshole.

Julianna Rose Dow is a thank-you note enthusiast working in higher-ed communications and marketing in NYC. She likes puns, telling people what to wear and baking with bourbon. Got a burning etiquette question? Drop her a line here.