The History of Wedding Invitations

1954 wedding invitation of my grandmother

1954 wedding invitation of my grandmother

When we think about wedding invitations today, we jump right in - ordering photo Save the Dates and contacting an invitation designer who is well versed in Illustrator and Graphic Design. We may not be sure how they craft our perfect invite, but with their help we get our wording sent off, images and motifs approved, and a couple months later our guests send in an RSVP. There's little to remind us of what wedding invitations used to be until we start looking at invitation wording (which is often very formal, strict, and sometimes feels antiquated). Perhaps a glimpse back happens when you consider invitation addressing (write out the apartment without abbreviations or nix the woman's name on the envelope "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith"), but that's usually as far as your look-back goes. On to planning the signature cocktails.

But, before you jet off to cleverly name the "Hers" Moscow Mule, there's a whole world of interesting information out there about wedding invites. A lover of nostalgia and paper-history, I can't help but share. It's all the more interesting when you consider calligraphy's origins are deep and not just limited to today's Instagraming modern scripters.

Did you know that prior to the invention of the Gutenberg press, there was a town crier that announced you were getting married? Someone literally walked through the streets screaming out the news - like a talking newspaper that you caught the news from while tossing out your chamber pots or scrubbing clothes on stones. Ya know, normal 1400s things.

If you could HEAR the wedding announcement, you could attend. Try to plan that wedding - there's no entree selection RSVP cards with that method or "no kids please" ceremonies.

In the middle ages, basically no one could read, so wedding invites (if they had been scripted and sent out) would have looked like pieces of art and been unreadable by your guests. Calligraphy was a skill that the monks alone had mastered and nobility (with the gift of literacy) would commission their work by monks. Those hand-calligraphed pieces could be sent out to other nobility.

In the 1600s, printed type (pressing lead type onto paper) came about and those town criers lost their jobs. Newspapers could be distributed that announced information like weddings. Blame the 1600s for newspaper wedding announcements. 

All hail the mid-1600s when someone figured out how to engrave. Engraving is a method alive today and is usually your most expensive method of printing. How curious it was the only method back in the day. Engraving is not only gorgeous, but really cool. Engraving back then meant an artist or calligrapher would hand-write text in reverse (image that, fellow designers) on a metal plate using carving tools and then that metal plate would be pressed into paper with extreme force to make the "engraving" or impression. Because text was smudgy as heck, you'd then lay a sheet of tissue paper over the engraving to protect smudging and off they went! The neatest thing? This is still used today. Ever received a formal invite with tissue paper laying over the invite? That's why! Smudge-free and from the 1640s.

Traditional wording was really an origin of this time and each guests formal name would be engraved onto the invitation at the top (ultra-customized). 

In the 1800s, like everything else, the Industrial Revolution changed it all. Easier, cheaper, mass printing methods emerged and there sprung up the idea of mass-market wedding invitations. The invites still couldn't go by post and were often delivered on horseback (what an entrance!). This is where the idea of outer envelopes emerged. The outer envelope protected your inner invitation and inner envelope from damage whilst on horseback. Today many brides use inner and outer envelopes and it's considered very formal. Nice to know it came from an issue with horse dirt getting all over your pretty goods.

It's post WWII and Emily Post pops up and tells every person they need appropriate etiquette wedding invites. Thanks Emily! Thermography enters the scene which allows raised type (like engraving but much cheaper) and now everyone can have a pretty and less expensive invite. Thermography is referred to as "poor man's engraving" which is understandable considering the insane engraving prices. 

Today we've bucked basically all tradition and people are ordering wacky and non-traditional designs off of Minted and emailing out their RSVP cards or their entire invitation, but everything has it's roots in the original traditions. Maybe you don't have a town crier, but most brides like a gorgeous invite and some formal addressing that harkens back to horseback delivery times.

If you're still reading and curious, here are a few Emily Post circa 1922 advice for your invites:

All formal invitations, whether they are to be engraved or to be written by hand (and their acceptances and regrets) are invariably in the third person, and good usage permits of no deviation from this form.
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
Invitation with hand-addressing to the guest on the invite

Invitation with hand-addressing to the guest on the invite

The invitation to the ceremony is engraved on the front sheet of white note-paper. The smartest, at present, is that with a raised margin—or plate mark. At the top of the sheet the crest (if the family of the bride has the right to use one) is embossed without color. Otherwise the invitation bears no device. The engraving may be in script, block, shaded block, or old English. The invitation to the ceremony should always request “the honour” of your “presence,” and never the “pleasure” of your “company.” (Honour is spelled in the old-fashioned way, with a “u” instead of “honor.”)
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
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No variation is permissible in the form of a wedding invitation. Whether fifty guests are to be invited or five thousand, the paper, the engraving and the wording, and the double envelope are precisely the same.
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
Engraved pew cards are ordered only for very big weddings where twenty or more pews are to be reserved. The more usual custom—at all small and many big weddings—is for the mother of the bride, and the mother of the bridegroom each to write on her personal visiting card:
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
The Train Card

If the wedding is to be in the country, a train card is enclosed:
A special train will leave Grand Central
Station at 12:45 P.M., arriving at Ridgefield at
2:45. Returning, train will leave Ridgefield at
5:10 P.M., arriving New York at 7.02 P.M.
Show this card at the gate.
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
William and Kate's Royal invitation

William and Kate's Royal invitation

THE WRITTEN WEDDING INVITATION

If a wedding is to be so small that no invitations are engraved, the notes of invitation should be personally written by the bride:

Sally Dear:
Our wedding is to be on Thursday the tenth at half-past twelve, Christ Church Chantry. Of course we want you and Jack and the children! And we want all of you to come afterward to Aunt Mary’s, for a bite to eat and to wish us luck.
Affectionately,

Helen.
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
1895 wedding invitation

1895 wedding invitation