24 Oct 2022

How to get invitations right

In an increasingly informal world, it is easy to think that invitations don’t matter. The assumption is that a WhatsApp message or text will surely suffice, and for many events this is undoubtedly true. But, as a rule of thumb, the more planning, forethought, expense and ambition that you put into an event, the more important it is to get the invitations right. A well designed, clearly worded invitation is an eloquent social telegram, which your guests will need to decode. It will be sent out sufficiently early to alert them to the date, give them practical information (timings, venue, running order etc), and it will also give them much more subtle messages about the nature of the event (level of formality, dress codes etc).


Text invitations are extremely casual and throwaway and should not be used for anything other than very informal get-togethers (eg ‘Would you like to pop round for a glass of wine on Friday evening – around 6pm?). They should only be sent to people you know well, with whom you regularly socialise – you won’t have to load your short text message with extra information, such as your address.

Emails or Handwritten Letters

Email invitations are acceptable for an informal event, but you should concede that they are a convenient substitute for an invitation, so don’t attempt to ‘mimic’ the real thing in the body of the email, which looks cheapskate.

Just write a short note explaining that you’re having a few friends round for an informal supper, for example. Make sure you mention the start time and venue (if it’s not taking place at home). If you would like a reply, say so in words, eg ‘let me know if you can make it’, rather than using the invitation code of RSVP.  Add your full address under your sign-off, which will be a useful reminder for guests, and will mean they have your postcode easily available for Satnavs.

Printed Invitations

The term ‘printed’ covers a range of processes, from home-printed on lightweight card, to digitally printed at your local printshop, to engraved on thick card by a professional printer.

At the very least, these should include the following information:

• The name of the host and/or hostess.

• The name of the guest/s: this can be handwritten in the top left-hand corner or handwritten in the body of the invitation.

• The words of invitation reflect the formality of the event (‘request the pleasure of...’ is formal; ‘are having a party to celebrate…’ is informal).

• The nature of the event (drinks, cocktails, party, dinner). This may be placed in the bottom right-hand corner.

• The time and place where the event will take place

• RSVP (if this is to a different address than the party venue, then it should be given under the letters RSVP, usually in left-hand bottom corner. Alternatively, a mobile phone number or email address can be specified).

• If there is a dress code it should be stipulated in the bottom right-hand corner, eg ‘Black tie’ or ‘Smart casual’. If you are indicating  the nature of the event (eg ‘Dinner and dancing’) in the bottom right (see above), this information should go above the dress code.


The style of the invitation should mirror the nature of the event.  So don’t use an elaborate Copperplate script typeface or grandiose language like ‘Decorations’ and ‘Carriages at 2 o’clock’ if you’re having an informal party. Don’t say ‘cocktails’ if you’re providing a fruit punch, or ‘canapés’ if you’re planning on handing round sausages on sticks and bowls of crisps. Guests will use the invitations to gauge the nature of the event, and you don’t want to mislead or disappoint them. If your event is formal, however, follow the conventional design and typography, and use a standard sized invitation card of good texture, usually about 6x4.5 inches (15 x 11 cm)

White or cream card and a classic serif typeface, such as Garamond or Baskerville, are a safe and elegant default position for less formal events. However, the comparative neutrality of the design may be more challenging for guests who are trying to decipher the nature of the event, so you might have to pay more attention to the wording you use, or give some clue through the dress codes. You could say, for example, ‘drinks and buffet’ and specify ‘elegantly casual’. 

If, on the other hand, you want to convey a very specific message about an event (eg a nostalgic party to celebrate a 60th birthday) then it is perfectly acceptable to use typography, colour, photographs etc. to create a strong message about what your guests can expect.

Whatever the nature of the event, do think carefully about the font you choose; it would probably be misleading to use a zany script like Comic Sans for a party to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary, where you are paying tribute to an older couple and want to inject a little dignity into the design. On the other hand, Comic Sans may well be entirely appropriate for an 18th-birthday bash. If you want to imply that your event will be refreshingly contemporary, untrammeled by hidebound traditions, then perhaps you could choose a modern sans serif typeface, such as Helvetica, Gill, Futura or Franklin Gothic to subtly convey this.

Plus Ones

Many hosts will fret about the possibility of their party being invaded by a horde of unpredictable, and occasionally intolerable, ‘plus ones’. It goes without saying that any guest who receives an invitation that specifies their name only and wants to bring their own guest, will need to contact the host and politely ask if it would be possible to bring a partner.

Nervous hosts, who are wary of being confronted by unanticipated guests, should not attempt to make any statement about ‘plus ones’ on the invitation. Add the name of the single invitee as usual and if you feel there is a risk that they will bring an uninvited guest, enclose a short handwritten note with the invitation, just saying that – because of space restrictions – you’re very sorry that you won’t be able to invite friends or partners.

If, on the other hand, you’re ready to welcome all comers, you can always write the name of single invitees and add ‘plus guest’.


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