Remember: Traditional addressing reflects the formality of the EVENT – not the level of formality of a friendship.
The following addressing etiquette pertains to using a single mailing envelope.
Formal invitation etiquette calls for FULL names, including titles and middle names. If the guest's middle name is not known, you may use only first and last. Do not use middle initials - either include the middle name or leave it out all together.
Everything is spelled out, except the actual house number: Street, Drive, Avenue, Boulevard, Parkway, Road, Circle, Court, etc. Also, North, South, East, West, Northeast, Southwest, etc. should be spelled out.
Spell it all out: North Carolina, South Dakota, District of Columbia.
Always spell out Doctor, Reverend, Colonel, Lieutenant...etc.
The designations “Attorney” and “esquire” are not used on social invitations.
For a formal invitation designations such as junior and senior are separated by a comma and are not capitalized - example: Mr. and Mrs. John Adam Smith, junior.
A comma does not separate designations such as II and III - example: Mr. and Mrs. John Adam Smith III.
Using first names on informal invitations—such as for a very casual rehearsal dinner—is acceptable, but ALWAYS put the woman’s name first, i.e.: “Sue and Billy Smith.”
This includes couples living together, same-gendered couples, and wives who’ve kept their maiden names. These names are presented on separate lines and can be listed in one of several ways: alphabetically by last name, woman’s name first, or put the person to whom you are closest first.
The title Ms. is proper for any woman over the age of 21, which is no longer considered suitable only for the business world; this title is used socially as well.
What about spouses who are both doctors, if she has taken her husband’s name?
List them on separate lines, woman first—as follows:
First and foremost, NEVER put Mr. and Doctor Christopher Michael Lewis. List them on separate lines, woman first—as follows:
A widow’s invitation should be addressed to Mrs. James Alan Johnson, not Mrs. Eileen Adams Johnson.
Here’s why: Mrs. refers to the Mistress/Wife of a male. The title Mrs. should always come in front of a man’s name. A woman cannot be her own wife (as in Mistress/Wife of Eileen—that makes no sense); she is the Mistress/Wife of James, a title she keeps forever, unless she remarries.
Keep in mind that a younger widow's invitation may be addressed to Ms. Eileen Adams Johnson, but an invitation sent to your 90 year old widowed great aunt should probably read Mrs. James Alan Johnson.
Divorced women who still maintain their married surname often prefer to go by Ms.
You probably have single people on your guest list, and giving them the opportunity to bring a date is a wonderful gesture. Note the word guest is lowercase.
If a guest has only one child, then the address can look unbalanced with just the child's first name on a line all by itself. In this case, a title and last name for the child can look more balanced. For infant boys through age 8, the proper title is Master. Boys age 8 – 16, there is no title. For boys 16 and up, the proper title is Mr. The proper title for little girls is Miss.
Take the time to find out the names of invited children and list them by name. The only time that "and family" would be considered acceptable is when a family has so many children that squeezing their names on the envelope would be impossible.
We recommend using the 5 digit zip codes. They are more aesthetically pleasing and less corporate.
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Guest Addressing Credits: Addressing etiquette by Carrie Shuping in-house calligrapher and addressing expert from her addressing guide, No Regrets.