If you're thick in the middle of wedding planning, you likely have your wedding stationery suite picked out and ready to go. Before you eagerly pop those fresh-off-the-press paper goods in the mail, however, you'll want to research everything there is to know about properly formatting all of the information typically included on the invite. Like with most things wedding-related, there's a code of conduct to follow when addressing guests, assembling pieces in a specific order, and (most importantly!) choosing a time to send. You also want to make sure that, prior to sending, you've already launched your wedding website, so your guests can discover more info (and RSVP online!). Thankfully, the below must-know wedding invitation tips will help you mail your invites without a hitch.
Get organized about a month before your desired invitation send-out date. This should be six to eight weeks before the wedding, allowing your guests adequate time to respond and ensuring that you will get a reliable head count a week or two before the event. The address on a wedding invitation should be handwritten; printed labels are not appropriate (though calligraphy done by computer directly on the envelope is gaining popularity and acceptability).
Depending on your handwriting and the level of formality of your wedding, you may want to have your envelopes inscribed by a professional calligrapher. (To find one in your area, ask your stationer or wedding planner for recommendations.) You'll have to get the envelopes to the calligrapher at least two to three weeks before you need them; some calligraphers require even more time. Also provide him or her with a neatly printed guest list, complete with full addresses and social and professional titles (Mr. or Doctor, for example). Compiling the list, as well as making phone calls to parents or friends to acquire or confirm addresses and spellings, can take some time, so don't wait until the last minute to get started.
Though etiquette for addressing and assembling wedding invitations has relaxed, there are still some requirements. For example, your guests' names should be written in full on outer envelopes; avoid nicknames or initials. Use the appropriate social titles as well, such as addressing married couples as "Mr. and Mrs." If a man's name has a suffix, write "Mr. Joseph Morales, Jr.," or "Mr. Joseph Morales IV"; "Junior" can be spelled out on a more formal invitation.
"The little things do matter," says Dorothea Johnson, etiquette expert and founder and director of the Protocol School of Washington, in Yarmouth, Maine. "When a couple uses the appropriate honorific and writes out an address in the correct way, it shows they've put thought into it." And when your guests receive your invitation, expertly assembled and addressed, there will be no doubt that you have done just that.
Spell out all words in an address on your wedding envelopes. Rather than "St.," "P.O. Box," and "Apt.," use "Street," "Post Office Box," and "Apartment." This applies to city and state names as well; instead of abbreviations, write "Saint Paul, Minnesota" and "Washington, District of Columbia." House numbers smaller than 20 should also be spelled out.
Write out all words here, too. The preferred place for printing the return address is on the envelope's back flap. Traditional etiquette called for blind embossing, or colorless raised lettering, for wedding invitations; the idea behind this was that guests would get their first glimpse of the fancy engraving on the invitation itself. Blind embossing is still available, although the United States Postal Service discourages it, as it is difficult to read; today, most couples have the return address printed in the same method as their invitations.
Outer and Inner Envelopes
Sending out an invitation in two envelopes ensures that each guest will receive a pristine envelope, even if the outer one has been torn or soiled in the mail. Still, the two are not necessary; you may omit the inner envelope if you wish. The outer envelope includes all of the information the postal service needs for delivery. The inner envelope should have the names of the invited guests in the household (including children, whose names do not appear on the outer envelope).
All enclosures should be printed in the same method and on coordinating papers; here's the order in which they should be stacked to go in the outer envelope. The invitation is on the bottom, print side up. A sheet of tissue paper (originally used to prevent smearing) can be placed over it. Stack all other inserts, such as a map, reception card, and reply card, on the wedding invitation in order of size (smallest on top). The reply card should be under its envelope's flap; this envelope should be preprinted with the mailing address, and should be stamped as well. Insert everything into the inner envelope with the print side up, so that when guests open the envelopes they will see the lettering. (The same rules apply with a single-fold invitation, where the print appears on the front. For a French-fold, or double-fold, invitation, which has the print inside, all enclosures go inside the card.) Slip the unsealed inner envelope into the outer envelope with the names facing the back flap.
Postage and Handling
Bring a completed invitation to the post office to have it weighed; many require postage for at least two ounces, which usually exceeds the cost of a first-class stamp. Have a reply card and its envelope weighed as well, to ensure that you don't over- or underpay for that postage.
While at the post office, ask what's available for stamps, or browse through a wider variety at usps.com. Vintage stamps can be purchased from philatelic societies. They are worth the amount printed on them, but they can cost much more since they are collectible and limited in quantity. You can also customize stamps through such sites as zazzle.com to go with the theme of your day or utilize a monogram you've chosen.
You can take your invitations to the post office and request that they be hand-canceled. Machines print bar codes on the envelopes, but hand-canceling—just marking each stamp—keeps invitations neat and prevents damage that machines can cause,
Call ahead to let the postmaster know the invitations are on their way. Then enclose your stamped, addressed invitations in a large padded envelope or box, along with a note detailing your request and send it to the postmaster in your chosen town. Consider sending the envelopes Priority or Express Mail, so you can track the package. Do ask the postmaster how long it will take so that you can allow enough time for invitations to be delivered, postmarked, and mailed out.
This story originally appeared on Martha Stewart Weddings.