I’ve always said there’s one thing weddings and funerals have in common: both are usually being planned by someone who has no experience in doing so at a time when it’s easy to be emotionally manipulated. That means it’s easy for vendors to sell you things you don’t need, don’t want, and can’t reasonably fit into your budget. It’s easy for the unscrupulous to convince you that an etiquette violation is precisely what etiquette requires. It’s easy to make decisions that later make you ask yourself what precisely was in your morning coffee on the day you chose to blow half your budget on pyrotechnics when you don’t really care about fireworks.
Well, you’re in luck. You have me to cut through the sales talk and sentimentality and give you the skinny on what is actually needed, what’s a fun optional extra you might want to consider, and what’s outright wrong on toast with a cherry on top.
So let’s talk stationery.
Let’s face it, planning a wedding means a paper trail that spans from here to eternity and back again. Every time you turn around, someone is telling you about another paper product you cannot do without. From save the date cards (no, I absolutely cannot bring myself to use the acronym) to post-nuptual thank you notes, there’s a lot of mail involved in the process…and mail is not the only paper you’re going to be choosing.
What do you really need? How do you choose among the other possibilities? Let’s break it down and look at them one at a time.
Save the Dates: Optional extras. Less than twenty years ago, nobody had heard of this idea, and yet people managed to make it to weddings, even ones that were far away. If you want to send them out in your excitement, please be my guest. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share your good news in a pretty way, and most of us can use another fridge magnet or two, anyway. If you are on a tight budget, though, or are looking for ways to leave a smaller carbon footprint with your nuptuals, this is a great place to start cutting.
The one situation where I would consider save the dates a Very Good Idea is if well over half of your guests will need to arrange flights to get to your wedding or if several days’ worth of activities will require them to arrange to take vacation time to be with you.
Invitations: Basic necessity. Any party more formal than ‘hey, why don’t we get a pizza and then go see a movie’ pretty much requires some form of invitation. The good news is that – depending on the level of formality of the event and your personal tastes – an invitation can take nearly any form you please. In fact, if you’re having a small wedding (less than fifty people) and decide to hand write a note to each guest on simple letter paper, Miss Manners will very likely shake your hand and need to dab discreetly at her eyes with her hanky. If you’re having more people than that or your handwriting is as illegible as mine is, chances are you’ll have invitations printed. Just keep in mind that if you choose oddly-sized invitations, ones with delicate things like seashells attached, or place the addresses in ways the postal machines aren’t expecting, you are going to pay extra to get them delivered. Be sure to consider that when budgeting for postage.
Reception Cards: Depend on the situation. If your wedding and reception are at the same site, and everyone invited to the reception is also invited to the ceremony, there is no need for reception cards. If, however, the wedding and reception are in two different locations, you need to make sure everyone knows that and gets to the right place at the right time. If the ceremony is only for immediate family but you want all your friends at the reception, you can’t send your friends an invitation to the part they aren’t invited to. Judge this one according to your circumstances.
Escort Cards: Depend on the situation. If you’re inviting quite a few people who do not have significant others, but would like them to bring a guest of their own, then escort cards are useful. Your guest can give it to his/her guest so that person has the information at his/her fingertips, too. If you haven’t done a lot of ‘and guest’ invites or aren’t encouraging your guests to bring guests of their own, then you don’t need these.
Maps: Almost invariably needed. Look, unless you’re having six of your best buds over to watch you get hitched in your living room where you all spend every saturday night and then heading out to your favorite watering hole for a celebretory drink, chances are someone on your guest list doesn’t know how to get to either your wedding, your reception, or both. Do your guests the courtesy of including directions. It’s a kindness.
Shower/Bachelor Party/Bachelorette Party Invitations: Not your problem. Since these are parties you don’t throw for yourselves, it’s up to your honor attendants to decide a) whether these parties are thrown, and b) how they are handled. You can drop hints about whether you’d like them at all or what form you’d like them to take. You can answer outright questions from the hosts, but you leave the details up to them. And that’s one less thing to worry about!…isn’t it?
Registry cards: Wrong, wrong, wrong. Chances are, the store(s) where you register will give you these cards and tell you to put them in your invitations. Honey, just toss them in the recycling. Registry information is only properly spread by word of mouth. People who want to know where you’re registered will ask either you, a member of one of the families, or a member of the wedding party. People who don’t want to know should not be bothered with the infomation. Remember, wedding gifts, while both traditional and welcome, are not, strictly speaking, required at all. To include registry information in your invitations (even for a bridal shower) is to indicate that you expect gifts. No matter how much you do expect gifts, it’s not polite to let others know you’re expecting gifts.
Programs: Optional extras. If you’re having a lot of audience participation in your wedding or plan to include a lot of religious/cultural traditions that the majority of your guests will not recognize or understand in your wedding ceremony, then a program is a courtesy. If all you’re explaining with it is the cast, chances are most of your guests don’t actually need the information. Most weddings I’ve been to where programs have been handed out…wound up with someone having to clear away a whole bunch of programs people didn’t bother taking out of the church. They can, however, act as handy emergencey fans in hot weather. Again, if you’re looking for a place to cut either the budget or your effect on the environment, this is a good place to do it.
Place Cards: Depend on the situation. If you are having assigned seating, of course you need place cards. If you are allowing guests to choose their own seats, there’s no use for place cards. Decide who’s deciding the seating and make your choice from there.
Menus: Optional extra. Some people put a menu card at each place setting to tell the guests what food is coming. Others don’t feel the need. There’s no right or wrong here, and again, this is a great place to cut expenses and environmental impact.
Cocktail/Dinner napkins: The only true optional aspect of this item is whether they will be paper or whether you will acquire or rent linen ones. Choose between paper and linen according to the formality of the event. Many halls will include basic linen rentals in their reception packages, so check with the site about that. If you want to, you can get paper napkins printed with your names and wedding date on them, often to match your invitations. If you’re having an informal enough reception to use paper, I suggest just getting plain ones in a color that looks nice with your decor. Not only will you save some money, you can use any leftovers without someone giving you grief about how many you over-ordered when you’re still pulling out your ‘Paul and Diane, Forever In Love’ napkins for every pizza bash six months later.
Wedding Announcements: Depend on the situation. If you’re inviting everyone you love to the wedding, you don’t need announcements. If, however, you plan on having a fairly small, intimate celebration but then would like to share the news with a lot more people, announcements can be useful. Announcements are also a great way to spread the news that you’ve eloped.
Thank you notes: Basic necessity. People are coming to your party. They’re bringing you gifts. Some people who aren’t coming to the party are still sending you gifts. This means you need to do them the courtesy of thanking them properly. Yes, even for the gifts that you can’t imagine what on Earth possessed them to choose that. Choose pretty note paper and write letters to everyone, or pick thank you cards that match your invitations and write a personal note. Whatever you do, do NOT use any sort of form letter thank you. These are people who love you, these are people you invited to spend one of the most important days of your life with you, these are people who at minimum looked at your registry list and chose something off of that. The least you can do is write a quick note to say that it arrived safely, you are grateful that they cared enough to send you something.
As with any other aspect of your wedding, your stationery can add to the overall look and feel of the day. Choose thoughtfully, and you’ll wind up with what you really want and what you really need, no more, no less.