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stationery, invitation, save the date

Wedding Invitations: The 3 Pieces of Stationery You Really Need

And the ones you can skip.

Photo: Leigh Miller Photography

Puzzling out your wedding paper can be very confusing. But just like any other part of wedding planning, it's all about figuring out what it is you really want. So read on for the scoop on what every single card is for, which ones are must-haves and which ones you can skip.


What They're For Sent six to nine months before your wedding date, the save-the-dates give guests their first peek at your plans.

Why You Don't Really Need Them Marrying close to home? Guests don't need more than the two months' notice they'll get from the invites.

Why You Might Want Them Anyway
If you're having a destination wedding, inviting lots of out-of-towners or getting married on a holiday weekend or during a busy travel time, a save-the-date will give guests the info they need early, like where you've reserved hotel rooms.

Save-the-dates are fine to send out via email, so go ahead and save money here.

Invitation Suite (MUST HAVE #1)

What They're For They give guests the date, time and place of your wedding -- and solicit their RSVPs so you know who's coming.

Why You Need Them
There's no getting around having wedding invitations. Even if you're only inviting a dozen guests, it still merits a printed card. Include response cards too; they make it easier to keep track of who's coming -- and who still needs to let you know. Resist the urge to email your invites; yes, it'll save trees and money, but your grandma won't get it.

If you want to scale back -- and save on postage -- skip the unsealed envelope inside the main envelope, the reception card (unless your ceremony is in a different location) and that pointless piece of tissue paper.  >>


What They're For They let your guests know what's going on during the ceremony: the order of events, explanations of religious customs, who's who in the wedding party and any other info you want to give. It's also a perfect chance to thank all of your guests for coming.

Why You Don't Really Need Them
Particularly if you're having a ceremony that's small, brief or both, a program isn't too important. Some guests may not even remember to grab theirs.

Why You Might Want Them Anyway
If you're having a very large wedding, the pages of your programs offer a place where you can welcome all of your loved ones at once. Likewise, if your ceremony includes traditions that guests may not be familiar with, your program lets you explain these basics so guests can be part of the ceremony instead of being bewildered by it.

You can include whatever you want in your program, from favorite poems to your proposal story to photographs from your engagement shoot. One useful idea: Put a map of how to get from the ceremony to the reception site on the inside of the back cover if you're holding your events in two different places.

Escort Cards (MUST HAVE #2)

What They're For These are set out for guests to pick up as they enter the reception. Each lists a guest's name (or the names of a couple or family) and lets them know which table they're assigned to sit at for the dinner.

Why You Need Them
Even for a small wedding, it's a good idea to pick guests' seats instead of letting them choose their own. Otherwise, your grandparents can get stuck in the back while your fiance's coworkers score prime spots.

Artful escort card displays help add instant decor to your reception. Just be sure to pick a spot that guests can easily access!

Place Cards

What They're For They mark guests' seats.

Why You Don't Really Need Them
If escort cards are already directing guests to tables, place cards aren't necessary. Couples, friends and families will pick seats near each other.

Why You Might Want Them Anyway
If you're hoping to have your friends mingle, assigning seating with place cards can get them to chat. If you're having long banquet tables, assigning specific spots will keep groups together.

If you're having a tiny wedding -- less than 30 people, say -- then skip the escort cards and just use place cards. You'll have so few tables (maybe only one!) that it'll be easy for guests to wander in and find their seats. 

Menu Cards

What They're For Whether you're having a brunch buffet or a multicourse plated dinner, these let your guests know what they're about to chow on and what choices they may have.

Why You Don't Really Need Them
If you're having a buffet, you can simply post signs at various stations explaining what's what. If the info is only on the menu card, your guests may not remember the options anyway! But even for a seated dinner -- especially one where guests don't get to choose their entrees -- everyone will simply eat whatever is served to them when it arrives. Not knowing what's for dinner can actually build suspense -- in a good way!

Why You Might Want Them Anyway
You may want your guests to be able to mull over their options if you're giving them any. This is a more humane option over forcing an order-taker to give your guests their meal choices and then patiently wait for each of them to decide. A menu card is also an opportunity to give guests special information about the foods that you've chosen, like if certain eats are locally grown, organic, vegan or Kosher, for example.

If you don't want the added cost of all those cards, consider doing one larger menu card per table. Display it in a pretty picture frame in the middle, and it can enhance your centerpieces. Or consider laying a large one out with a note instructing your guests to pass it around. That's a surefire way to get them talking!

Favor Tags

What They're For They can remind guests to grab the treats you've bought for them and offer a final thank-you before they go.

Why You Don't Really Need Them
Guests are (usually) smart enough to figure out that the beautiful gifts on their plates are for them to take home when the reception ends.

Why You Might Want Them Anyway
Use a favor tag if you're giving out separate gifts for guys and girls. It may be apparent to you that men get cigars and women get truffles, but your guests may not think the same way. Another time to use tags: If it's not totally clear that the favors are for guests to bring home, like if they're part of breakaway centerpieces.

If your takeaways need dressing up, put your monogram or a recurring motif on your tag to amp up the look of the favors.

Thank-You Cards (MUST HAVE #3)

What They're For This one's pretty obvious --  thanking guests for attending your wedding and giving you gifts, of course!

Why You Need Them
Another no-brainer: You must send a personal thank-you note for each and every gift you receive, whether they were wedding gifts, shower gifts or engagement gifts. Even if guests of yours "forgot" to bring a gift (and still haven't remembered a month later), show them that you're grateful that they helped you celebrate. These also let you play the part of gracious host, particularly if you had a large wedding and didn't find time to talk extensively with everyone who was there.

Start writing your thank-you cards as soon as you start receiving gifts. If you don't have your "official" thank-you cards yet, pick up a box of them at a card store. Even though it's hard to squeeze them in prewedding, it's much better than sitting down and writing them all at once in your posthoneymoon bliss. Send them no more than two weeks after receiving early wedding gifts and six weeks after getting back from your honeymoon.

-- Kate Wood