During a wedding invitation consultation, there is one question I always remember to ask: “Would you like an inner and outer envelope, or is a single outer envelope good for you?” There are two basic approaches to the answer:
Camp 1 —I’ll call them the Shock and Horror Camp
“I’d rather die than have a single envelope. Inner and Outer are essential. Is it even truly a wedding invitation without an inner and outer envelope?!”
Camp 2—I’ll call them the Speak My Language, Please Camp
“What do you mean? Literally… what’s an inner envelope?”
You probably find yourself in one of these camps. I have learned the hard way (16 years in business) that the people in Camp 1 will be very upset without a double envelope, no matter how gorgeous the invitation. Here’s a typical conversation:
Me: Thank you for meeting today. I love everything that you selected. I can tell that you are drawn to a classic and timeless invitation.
Bride: Yes. I’m sorry that my mom can’t be here. She really loves this stuff.
Me: Would you like an inner and outer envelope, or is a single outer envelope good?
Bride: Oh, I don’t care about that. A single outer will be fine!
Me: Are you sure? Would you mind checking with your mom before we go to print since she is passionate about paper goods?
Bride: It’s fine. She won’t care.
Let me tell you: she cares. It turns out that she cares a lot. This scenario has happened more times than I can count. Invitations are picked up, swooned over, and then we get a phone call from horrified (Camp 1) mom. “Where are the inner envelopes?”
Today, I’m going to demystify the inner and outer envelope, also called “double envelope” and even explain a little bit of interesting history about the origin of the inner and outer envelope set. I’m also going to talk through the practical applications of your wedding and whether you should ‘die on that hill’ or pass.
Let’s imagine Downton Abbey for a moment. Maybe early Downtown Abbey, before the automobile becomes prevalent (alas, poor Matthew!) All messages, correspondence, and invitations would be sent via horse and rider through the muddy streets. Any envelope would be addressed to the house itself. In other words, to which location should the rider deliver the envelope? In this case, the outer envelope would be addressed to Downton Manor. In theory, the rider would most likely deliver the envelope to a servant’s entrance, where Mrs. Hughes would receive it. Mrs. Hughes would take the envelope to the Head Butler, Mr. Carson, who would open the soiled outer envelope, revealing a pristine inner envelope. This inner envelope indicates whom within the house is invited to this event. The inner envelope would be addressed to:
Lord and Lady Grantham
Lady Mary, Lady Edith, Lady Sybil (sad face)
The younger ladies would receive their own invitation only once they ‘come out’ and are officially of marrying age. Prior to this, they would be included with their family.
The inner envelope (with enclosed invitation) would be placed on a small silver platter (of course) and Mr. Carson would hand deliver it to the master of the house, Lord Grantham.
One fun note: the inner envelope would be unsealed so that Lord Grantham literally doesn’t have to lift a finger to open the envelope… he removes the invitation with ease. No tearing necessary. And today, the inner envelope is ungummed in the same tradition.
In today’s world, this means that the outer envelope is addressed to the Head of Household and their street address:
Mr. and Mrs. Ty Pattison
1234 Main Street
Knoxville, Tennessee 37919
The purpose of the inner envelope still stands: it indicates whom is actually invited to this event. Have you ever wondered if your children are invited to a wedding? Check the envelope! The inner envelope should clearly communicate whomever in your residence is (or isn’t) invited.
Inner envelopes can be more formal with titles, or more personal, with first names:
Sarah and Ty Pattison (yes! Lady’s name goes first when first names are used)
Esther and Nell Pattison (children go from oldest to youngest)
So, in the above example, my older girls are invited but the baby isn’t. This might be an event where they aren’t inviting children under 10, for example. Pay attention to the inner envelope and respect people’s wishes… they only get married once (we hope!) so let’s not drag along our 2-year old if they have hopes for a child-free event.
In today’s modern world, inner and outer envelopes are no longer a necessity. A double envelope incurs extra cost in both paper and calligraphy fees. Many people address a single outer envelope in any of the following ways:
Mr. and Mrs. Ty Pattison and Family
Mr. and Mrs. Ty Pattison (no family invited)
Mr. and Mrs. Ty Pattison
Esther, Nell, and Eden
Mr. Everett Davidson and guest
Really, almost anything goes on a single outer envelope to indicate whom is invited. However, if you are hosting a formal wedding and you want to indicate to your guests that this is indeed a formal or even semi-formal slash dressy event, then I suggest selecting a very formal and classic invitation design and pairing it with an inner/outer envelope set, as this sets the tone.
However, if you are having a fun, casual event that’s in a barn outside… forgo a double envelope set. It’s just going to look pretentious and set the wrong tone for your personality-filled wedding. The invitation you send truly gives guests a heads-up on how to dress, and what to expect on level of formality. Your invitation is painting a picture of what’s to come, so don’t confuse them.
Hopefully, you know a bit more about invitation envelopes and etiquette now than you did five minutes ago. Mr. Carson would be proud.