Top 5 Rules for Addressing Properly

Just when you think you've got everything figured out... the perfect wedding invitation, perfectly coordinated ceremony programs and even the perfect stationery for before AND after the nuptials have taken place. But then... you realize its time to address the invitations and you know NOTHING about proper etiquette and how to make sure "Perfect Aunt Penny" doesn't get her undies in a wad over the way she was referred-to on her perfectly calligraphed envelope.

So, here are five basic things you should remember when preparing your guest list – whether you are addressing them yourself, having them printed digitally, or having a professional calligrapher address them for you. Enjoy!

1. Never use any abbreviations (with the exception of Mr. / Mrs. / Ms.)

Do you have a Jr. or Sr. on your list? It should look like this:
Mr. and Mrs. Rene Albert Smith, junior (<-- Yes, "junior" and "senior" should be lowercase)

Is there a doctor in the house? Spell it out:
Doctor and Mrs. Edward Kenneth Smith

Street Names, Apartments and States should also be spelled out. I also like to spell out any numbers under 10. Like this:
One South Springbank Road, Mobile Alabama

2. Always indicate who is invited

If you're using outer envelopes, this is easy. Simply address the outer envelope to the head of household, and on the inner envelope you indicate who in the household is invited.
Singles: Miss Smith and guest (or just Miss Smith if you're not including guests)
Families, inviting children: Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Henry and Lila
Families, no children invited: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

If you're using single envelopes, it becomes a little more tricky.
Singles: Miss Laura Michelle Smith and guest
Families, inviting children - include children invited on second line
Mr. and Mrs. Rene Albert Smith, junior
Henry and Lila

Families, no children invited: Mr. and Mrs. Rene Albert Smith, junior

3. Adults Need Their Own Invitation

This one is hard to swallow when you're spending $10+ on each invitation... but here are the rules:

  • Adults who are not romantically involved, but live together (example: roommates) should receive their own invitation.

  • Children over the age of 18 who still live with their parents should receive their own invitation.

If you're addressing to an unmarried couple who lives together, list their names on separate lines on the outer envelope. No need to send them both individual invitations.

4. Pay Attention to Unique Family Situations

Nowadays, its hard to define what "normal" is in a family situation, right?! Sometimes, these are difficult to know how to properly address these modern families, especially if you've never been educated on it before. Here are a few I've been asked about time and time again...

Girl Under 18: Miss Karen Elizabeth Smith
Woman Over 18: Ms. Karen Elizabeth Smith
Widows: Mrs. David Allen Smith (or Mrs. Karen Jones Smith)
Divorced Woman: Ms. Karen Jones Smith
Married Couple, Woman Doctor: Doctor Karen Smith and Mr. David Smith
Married Couple, Both Doctors: The Doctors Smith
Gay Couple, Different Last Names: Mr. David Smith and Mr. John Lee
Gay Couple, Same Last Name: The Messrs. David and John Smith
Lesbian Couple, Same Last Name: The Mesdames Karen and Lisa Smith

5. Know Your Audience

I'm always asked about whether brides can just "do what they want" on the addressing as far as etiquette goes. I always say, "I would consider your audience." Meaning, if your fiancee's fraternity brother from college is invited, and only goes by the name "Fat Boy" and you REALLY think he would think he would hate to be addressed by his formal name... by all means, address the envelope to Mr. Fat Boy Stephens.

If your aunt just recently lost her husband and you think its too soon for her emotionally to see her invitation addressed as "Mrs. David Allen Smith" – let's go with "Mrs. Karen Jones Smith" instead.

And back to those fraternity brothers... if there is a group of them living together and they're all invited, its probably "okay" to send one invitation to this group. I'm not a huge fan of breaking etiquette rules, but I AM a huge fan of saving money! So in this case, when you know that 1) everyone in the house is invited, and 2) nobody will get confused or offended by not getting their own invitation, I would say its okay to send a single invitation. Please use discretion with this one though!!

If you're deciding to go with an informal way of addressing your invitations, I would suggest combing through your list to see if there are any "etiquette sticklers" on the list and be sure to address theirs properly. 

For other etiquette questions, see the full etiquette guide on my website! One of the benefits of working with a stationer/calligrapher, such as Soirée Signatures is that you have an expert on-hand to answer any questions that may arise throughout your invitation process. Ordering inexpensive invitations online doesn't come with the level of service and expertise that you get when working with Soirée Signatures.

Do you have other addressing etiquette questions that I didn't cover here? Leave a comment and I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have!