Envelope Addressing Etiquette 101 – A Q&A Session With Calligrapher Debi Zeinert

We get loads of questions about envelope addressing.  And with good cause – after you’ve invested in some gorgeous letterpress invitations, who wants to make a glaring faux pas when it comes to the envelope?  It’s the very first thing your guests will see when they receive your wedding invitations in the mail, after all.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a little crash course of frequently asked addressing questions (or FAAQ) and ran them by calligrapher Debi Zeinert for some answers.  Because who’s going to know more about addressing invitation envelopes than someone who does it for a living? Meet Debi in the video below!

  Are there any things you find your clients are consistently confused about concerning addressing etiquette?
A:  The biggest confusion comes when the wife is a doctor.  Mr. and Dr. John Smith is incorrect.  When a woman has a title her first name should be noted, and she should be listed first. For example:  Dr. Susan and Mr. John Smith.   Or, if they are both doctors with the same last name, Doctors Susan and John Smith.

Q:  What’s the best way to organize guests names and addresses before someone sends them to their calligrapher?
A:  I prefer to get guest lists in the form of an Excel spread sheet – this way I can mail merge it to my liking for addressing.  Though i will accept any sort of typed list.  When using Excel its best to organize it in columns as follows: Outer envelope name, Name 2, Address, Address 2, City, State, Zip, Country, Inner envelope.

Q:  When is it appropriate to use colored ink?
A:  I believe that if the return address is printed in color it’s okay to use colored ink.  In fact, if the return address is a dark color such as blue or brown you SHOULD used colored ink. If the address is a ‘fun’ color or a pastel you may want to keep the addressing in black to hold on to formality. For a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or non-wedding calligraphy you always want the calligraphy to match the return address.

Colored inks used are used to calligraph envelopes for less formal events -- black ink should be used for formal affairs

Q:  Is your preference to spell out the name of the state, or to abbreviate it?
A:  It’s not just my preference, but I believe it is only proper to spell out the state.  If it does not fit on the same line as the city, use the next line.

Q:  Do you have any other tips you’d like to share with clients planning to work with a calligrapher?
A:  A referred calligrapher is the best calligrapher.  If you find someone who does not come with a recommendation make sure you get actual samples addressed to you.  Seeing work on someone’s website may not be a good representation of their usual work.

Make sure you schedule your job as soon as you know you want to use them.  Don’t wait till you have your envelopes in hand.  Most calligraphers book up weeks out. And be sure to pick a realistic date – remember, you are blocking out days of time on a schedule and if you are not ready you may not be able to get rescheduled.

Make sure you have extra envelopes – dip pens and ink are unpredictable!  And make sure your guest list is complete as possible. There are always stragglers, bit to add a name everyday for a week is difficult on a calligrapher’s schedule. It’s not as easy as just writing another envelope – each job has set up time, drying time and packing and shipping time.

Q:  Any good stories of really tricky addressing etiquette situations?
A:  I’ve been doing this so long I’ve seen everything and pretty much can handle any thing. One thing that is annoying to all calligraphers is the extra long first lines – for example:  Mr. George and Mrs. Martha Washington or Mr. and Mrs. George and Martha Washington.  Way too much to make it pretty. Or when the numbers of an address are all written out – for example:  Seventeen South One Hundred and Forty Third Street. That must really annoy the post office!  Numbers under 20 can be written out, but the rest should be numerals.  I love it when people go ‘informal’ on the inner envelopes – it’s fun to write ‘Nana and Papa’ or nicknames.  One time I even had to write ‘Anna and Shithead’ on an inner!!!!

Hand calligraphy for envelope addressing makes the perfect finishing touch for wedding invitations

Q: Are any other common questions you get a lot?
A:  One question I do get is if there is a discount for quantity. The answer is no – if one envelope takes 3 minutes, 10 take 30 minutes and 100 take 300 minutes – it does not speed up with quantity. And personally, I do not copy computer fonts, nor do I copy other calligrapher’s styles.

Well that’s about it for this little crash course, but naturally there are other questions we’ve not yet addressed here.  Have any unique addressing quandaries or concerns of your own?  Post them below in the comments section below and we’ll do some homework and get back to you.  Class dismissed.

Category: Tags: Written by chris

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  1. Leila says:

    My son and his fiance would like to have and outer and and inner envelope and also a handwritten name on the actual invitation.
    What are the rules of etiquette for writing the three pieces?
    Outer envelope:
    Mr. And Mrs. John Jones
    123 Northwest 52nd Avenue
    Nowhere, World 12345
    Inner Envelope:
    Mr. and Mrs John Jones?
    John and Mary Jones?
    John and Mary?
    And how do you address children under eighteen?
    Only first names? Or first and last names?
    And finally how do you write their names on the actual invitation card?
    Thank you,

  2. admin says:

    Hi Leila!

    You’ve got the outer envelope correct!

    For the inner envelope, neither first names nor addresses should be used if you want it to be traditional and formal, so it should actually read “Mr. and Mrs. Jones”. However, it is perfectly acceptable to to use more informal terms if you so please (Aunt Mary and Uncle John, for example, or John and Mary Jones, or John and Mary).

    For children under eighteen: children over the age of 13 should (if possible) receive separate invitations. Young brothers and sisters may be sent a joint invitation addressed to “The Misses Jones” or “The Messrs. Jones” on the outer envelope, with the first names (for example, Lauren, Katie, and Caroline) written on the inner envelope to make perfectly clear that all are invited. If there are both boys and girls, the outer envelope address may read: “The Messrs. Jones” on the first line and “The Misses Jones” on a second line, and again, first names on the inner envelope.

    If children are not receiving a separate invite, their names can be written on a line below their parents’ names on the inner envelope, and they don’t need to be on the outer envelope at all.
    **If you decide not to use inner envelopes, their names must be written on the outer envelope, or their parents won’t know if they are included.

    If it is easier, you can address the inner envelope to “Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Family”, use this approach if everyone living under the same roof is invited, or if the children are very young.

    As for writing names on the actual invitation card, make sure there is plenty of space for the calligrapher to actually write the names. For these names, it will depend on the formalness of both the invitation and the inner envelope — if you want to be traditional (and the invitation uses titles like Mr., Miss, etc.), the names of your guests should also be written with titles; if the invitation does not include titles, first names are acceptable.

    If you’d like, the Inner envelope and invitation can be written the same way — or you could do the inners one way, and the invitation another.

    Please let us know if you have more questions – hope this helps!

  3. jenna says:

    what is the best way to signify a guest may be included in the invite. Especially if you are not doing an inner.

    Ms. Risa Jones & Guest
    1234 street rd.

    is the guest necessary? Or is there another way to indicate it?

  4. admin says:

    Hi Jenna — great question! If your friend lives with their significant other, it’d be fine to write “Ms Risa Jones” on the first line and then “Mr. John Doe” on the following line, to let them know they’re both welcome. If that’s not the case, and you haven’t already ordered your invitations, the best way to let a guest know they can bring a guest would be to indicate on the reply card — you can use wording like: “We have reserved ___ seats in your honor” (and then fill in the appropriate number in the line). Hope this helps!

  5. Fresh Picked Friday {7/13/12} | Picklee says:

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  6. Calais says:

    I have several guests whose addresses are a State Route (i.e. State Route 133) instead of a street or drive or whatever. Would I spell out 133 or whatever the state route may be, or do I write it numerically? If I am supposed to write it out do I write it as One hundred Thirty-three or One Thirty-three (this is how it is spoken)? I appreciate your help on this matter as I have not been able to find an answer ANYWHERE!!!

  7. admin says:

    Hi Calais!
    Since the number in your address has 3 digits, it should stay numeric. If the number has 2 digits, it could be written out. Hope that helps!

  8. Teresa says:

    Hello, I am a little bit confused, we received an invitation to a cocktail bridal shower for couples and the envelope was addressed
    Mrs. Mary and Mr. John Doe, is this correct? Have never seen an enveloped address this way. Thank you

  9. Erica Henriksen says:

    Teresa, technically, this isn’t proper or traditional — it should either be “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe” (formal) or Mary and John Doe (casual).

  10. gretchen says:

    When addressing an invitation to a married couple with different last names that is too long to fit on one line, should the “and” be behind the first name on the first line or before the second name on the second line?
    example: Ms. Jane Doe and
    Mr. John Roe
    or Ms. Jane Doe
    and Mr. John Roe
    Thank you

  11. Christie Jones says:

    Hi Gretchen! That’s a great question.
    If you can’t fit the names on one line please word it as follows:
    Mr. John Roe
    and Ms. Jane Doe
    *Note either name may be used first

  12. Karaa says:

    Hello! We are using postcards for our Save the Dates and several of the names are too long to fit on the top line. Should I write it as the following for married couples?

    Mr. and Mrs. John

    And if they are single and have an “and guest”, would it be appropriate to write it like this?

    Ms. Lindsey Smith
    and Guest

    Thanks so much!

  13. Erica Henriksen says:

    Hi Kara! Thanks for your inquiry — if your text does not fit all on the same line, it’s okay to go ahead and use the next line. The way that you set it up would be perfectly acceptable! Best of luck!

  14. vanessa says:

    If a married couple’s names don’t fit on one line, are you supposed to indent the second line?

    Which way is better for a married couple?

    Mr. and Mrs. Joe and
    Jen Smith


    Mr. Joe Smith
    Mr. Jen Smith

  15. Erica Henriksen says:

    If the married couple’s names do not fit on one line, you don’t need to indent the 2nd line. Hope that helps!

  16. Antonietta says:

    I could not refrain from commenting. Well

  17. Jacquie says:

    What if you are having a “dual” party? For example, my daughter and her friend are having a graduation party together. What is the proper etiquette for return addresses? Do we put both of the girl’s addresses on the back of the envelope?

  18. tiffany says:

    Hi Jacquie! Thanks for your inquiry. You could put both return addresses side by side on the back flap of the envelope if you wish – or you could chose one address and arrange for that family to handle any returned invitations. In this case there are no strict etiquette rules to follow – whatever works best for your families is perfectly fine. Hope that helps!

  19. "Annette" says:

    So nice to see a properly addressed wedding invite. Received an invite today which was wrong from start to finish. E.g. Addressed to Mr and Mrs Harry Smith on the envelope and inside invite: “Uncle Harry and Annette.” Uncle Harry is married to Annette!!! Very insulting as ‘Annette’ is not Uncle George’s girlfriend or bide in.

  20. Marjorie says:

    I have been married for almost 30 years. My sister in law addressed a bridal shower (for her soon to be daughter in law) envelope to me as Ms. and not Mrs. I am a little insulted. Is she correct?

  21. erica.henriksen says:

    While she’s technically not wrong to refer to you as a “Ms.”, it’s not traditional. According to Emily Post, if you’re married and use your husband’s name socially, you’d typically be addressed in one of these ways:

    Mrs. John Kelly
    Mrs. Jane Kelly
    Ms. Jane Kelly

    “Ms.” is the standard form of address for a woman, unless you know positively that a woman wishes to be addressed as a Mrs. We hope that helps, Marjorie!

  22. Marcy says:

    I have a question about addressing bar mitzvah invitations. I have seen the outer envelopes addressed both JOHN AND JANE SMITH and MR. AND MRS. JOHN SMITH. Our invites are modern, but simple. I think the more modern way to address it would be with first names, but I know the classic and formal way is MR. AND MRS. What are your thoughts?

  23. tiffany says:

    Hi Marcy!

    The addressing etiquette is a bit more relaxed for Mitzvah invitations than it is for weddings, so I think in this case either option would be acceptable. Mr. and Mrs. would be more formal but I agree with you – using just the first and last names seems to be more appropriate with the style of your invitations. I hope that helps – let us know if you have any other questions!

  24. Gazelle says:

    Have a couple of questions for you:
    We’re addressing bridal shower invitations, and on the (outer) envelopes (there will be no inner envelope), we would like to include both mother and daughters. Is it best to write:

    Mrs. Cindy Perch and
    Misses Josephine and Elena Perch


    Mrs. Cindy Perch and
    Josephine and Elena Perch


    Mrs. Cindy Perch and daughters?

    Also, for married women who kept their last names, would they be:
    Mrs. Janine Talbot and Mrs. Patricia Slate?
    Ms. Janine Talbot and Ms. Patricia Slate?

    For the wedding, we will be inviting their 8-year-old son – would that then be:
    Mrs. Janine Talbot, Mrs. Patricia Slate, and Mr. Evan Talbot?

    Thanks so much!!

  25. tiffany says:

    Happy to help!

    According to The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, a young woman is addressed with just her name until she becomes a teenager, then she becomes Miss until age 21. At 21 she can be called Ms.

    The same source says that Ms. is the correct title for a married woman who keeps her maiden name.

    To add their 8-year old son, their envelope would look like this:

    Ms. Janine Talbot and Ms. Patricia Slate
    Mr. Evan Talbot

  26. Jennifer says:

    What is the proper etiquette for the return address for formal invitations and save the dates when the couple already lives together? Thank you!

  27. tiffany says:

    Hi Jennifer! If you and your fiancé are hosting your wedding and it is a formal affair the most traditional way to format your return address would be to list the mailing address only – no names. If you do want to include your names you can list them on one line if spacing allows or two lines if necessary.

    Ms. Emma Balister and Mr. Francis McKinnon
    Ms. Emma Balister
    Mr. Francis McKinnon

    I hope that helps!

  28. Fresh Picked Friday {Vol. 9} - Picklee says:

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  29. Maria says:

    Hello! My son is graduating from medical school one week prior to getting married. My husband and I are hosting the wedding. How do we word the formal invitation? Do we use Mr. or Doctor on the invitation (invitations will go out while he is a “Mr.,” but he will be a “Doctor” on the wedding day).

    Thank you very much!

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  31. Kate says:

    This is very helpful, thank you. How would you address a numbered apartment under 20 but with a letter? For instance, 19C:

    1234 West 19th Street (or Nineteenth Street) ?
    Apartment 19C (or Apartment Nineteen C) ?
    Nowhere, Illinois 60634

  32. Joan says:

    Do you have to address a married couple as “Mr and Mrs. John Doe” or can you address them as “Mary and John Doe” on a casual invitation?

  33. sarah.sadler says:

    We will be in touch via email!

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