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Modern Wedding Invitation Etiquette: Vol. 1 - Double Envelopes

Today's couples are in a really unique place between tradition and modernity, where some rules can and should be broken, and others are here to stay. In this 4 part series, I'll take a look at some of the traditions surrounding wedding invitations that are being reevaluating in the 21st century. Let's start on the outside of the invitation with:

The Mystery of the Double Envelope

Back in the days of horse-drawn mail delivery and bags full of correspondence swinging on the side of the tracks waiting to be snagged by speeding trains, it made sense to have two layers of envelopes to protect the contents inside from the elements. Especially for something as exciting as a wedding, having an inner and an outer envelope was customary.

The outer envelope acted as a protective layer against weather, dirt, and prying eyes. It also helped because letters were in transit far longer (no airplanes and cars and such...). Picture a scruffy parcel delivery boy, soaking wet, arriving on the doorstep of a grand house. He'd present the outer envelope to the butler in whatever condition it happened to be in.

The butler then removed the (potentially filthy) outer envelope and exposed the inner envelope. On this inner layer was the indication of whom the correspondence was intended - the master or mistress of the house, addressed formally by name. (No address needed here since that was on the outer layer.) A silver platter with the lovely, protected inner envelope and missive would be taken to the intended recipient to be opened, read and, if needed, responded to in kind.

One of my very first invitation suites. In place of a double envelope, this couple used 4 layers of paper on their invitation (yep, black, then white, then black, then white with the printing on it), in addition to the amazing hot pink envelope liner.

One of my very first invitation suites. In place of a double envelope, this couple used 4 layers of paper on their invitation (yep, black, then white, then black, then white with the printing on it), in addition to the amazing hot pink envelope liner.

Since the mail system these days is so much more efficient and far less likely to have severe weather damage, the inner - outer envelope system isn't really necessary. It's often considered a very traditional and formal piece of the invitation that should be done, well, because it's been done for so long. But the reason behind it was truly practical - to keep the invitation clean! Since we don't need that anymore, it's one of those traditions that is falling by the wayside, and that's ok. 

The cost of the outer envelope is just sort of an "extra." It's a piece of the invitation that, unless you're having an extraordinarily formal and traditional wedding, doesn't need to be there. The addition of the extra weight from the double envelope situation often bumps up the weight of the invitation just enough that it hits the next postage bracket so you're paying more for two things: 1) the actual cost of the invitation 2) the postage to mail the invitation. There's also twice as many envelopes to address and if you're going traditional by hiring a calligrapher, for instance, your cost there goes way up.

This isn't to say that having the inner and outer envelopes isn't important, beautiful, or something you should do for your wedding! It can be just the thing that says "Hey, we're getting married and it's going to be beautiful!" Some of the loveliest wedding invitations I've seen have had the double envelope (see here). It also adds to the experience (and I'm all about the experience) of being invited. You're making them work for that pretty invite to your amazing party gosh darn it! 

On a side note, outer envelopes are getting harder and harder to find. Envelope manufacturers realize it doesn't have the demand it used to and aren't producing as many. There are amazing paper websites (like Paper Source and Cards & Pockets, ) that still do though!

Alternatives to the Double Envelope:

There are a lot of really cool alternatives to the double envelope if you're looking for something formal, but more modern than the double envelope. First up is the enclosure. 

The enclosure can come in many different forms; These are some formats that I'm the most familiar with, but they are no where near all of the options. Paper source has the square (5.5x5.5), petal (5.5x5.5), tri-fold (5x7), linear (5x7), half-moon (5x7), and the gate-fold (5.5x8.5). There's also a company called Envelopments that has it's own version of most of the above types of folders. They do a cool "V" shape on their pockets that adds a little bit more oomph to the folder looks. Envelopments has additional colors and patterns available as well, but are more expensive than the Paper Source options. For most weddings, a folder is a folder is a folder, so pick whatever's going to work best for your budget and your styling!

This is showing the back of the invitation where all the additional cards are tucked in for safe keeping during their trip in the mail! It's a great way to forgo a pocket enclosure, or a double envelope, but still keep all the pieces nicely together.

This is showing the back of the invitation where all the additional cards are tucked in for safe keeping during their trip in the mail! It's a great way to forgo a pocket enclosure, or a double envelope, but still keep all the pieces nicely together.

Second up is a belly band, also referred to as a wrap. This adds an interactive piece, much like the enclosure, where the invited guest has to further "unwrap" the invitation in order to get to the meat of the invitation. The belly band is often a piece of paper wrapped around the middle of the invitation that needs to be slid off the invitation. It's a great way to tuck the rest of the pieces (RSVP card, extra information card, etc) behind the invite and keep them all together. This method can add a lot of character to the suite too! Whether the paper has something custom printed on it (like a monogram), or the paper is a pattern / color accent that's part of your wedding. Ribbon can also be used as a wrap around the invitation - perhaps tying a little tag with the couples' names on it - like a present!

The envelope liner was hand watercolored to coordinate with the couple's photograph. It actually looks like the Harvest Moon (their theme) was hovering over them on the water when you pull the invitation out of the envelope. The same watercolor was later used as a large poster welcoming all the guests to their reception!

The envelope liner was hand watercolored to coordinate with the couple's photograph. It actually looks like the Harvest Moon (their theme) was hovering over them on the water when you pull the invitation out of the envelope. The same watercolor was later used as a large poster welcoming all the guests to their reception!

Thirdly, the envelope liner. Now, most people wouldn't consider a liner as a substitution to a second envelope, but I think it can be considered a way to bridge the gap between a plain envelope and a double envelope situation. It's middle ground. I think envelope liners should be included in nearly every invitation - for me, that's a huge design element because it shows that you put thought into everything, even the envelope. It adds color and punch and pattern to the experience. It's also an amazing place to add custom pieces like monograms or illustrations that correspond to your invitation. Mmm. Envelope liners. Sexy. Want to DIY your own evelopes? Click here!

So, the takeaway from this is there are lots of options. It's about you and your wedding and what's going to give your guests the best first impression! From the traditional double envelope to a modern belly band - it's up to you! Pick what is going to be the right amount of tradition or modernity with the right price for your event.