I get these questions all the time when I’m helping couples design their Philadelphia custom wedding invitations: what is an outer envelope, exactly? Do we need one? Will my friends and family expect my wedding invitations to come with an outer envelope?
I’m here to answer all your outer envelope questions! Starting with a little history lesson.
Did you know that outer envelopes were initially used in the Victorian era? Mail was delivered by horse and carriage, which typically kicked up lots of dirt on the road. Mail typically arrived dirty and worn, so more formal mail, like wedding invitations, arrived with an outer envelope. Upon arrival at its destination, the household butler would remove the outer envelope and throw it away, and present only the clean, inner envelope to the master or mistress of the house.
Typically, the outer envelope would include the address only, while the inner envelope would have the recipient or recipients’ names on it. This leads me to my first point about the usefulness of outer envelopes: if you use one, you can pointedly designate who is–and isn’t–invited to the wedding. For example, if you’d like a child-free wedding day, you can specify this tactfully by addressing your inner envelope to parents only. Just make sure you include a line that says something about the number of seats reserved for each family, in case they don’t get the message.
It’s also useful to have both an inner and an outer envelope if you’re inviting a lot of people from the same household. You’d write “The Xxxx Family” on the outer envelope, and on the inner envelope you’d list each invitee individually.
That said, outer envelopes aren’t absolutely necessary. If you’re having a more offbeat wedding, or you’re worried about the environmental implications of using extra paper, that’s absolutely fine! To cut back even more, you can use an RSVP postcard instead of a card and corresponding envelope.
However, for extra fancy points, use both an inner and an outer envelope for your invitation. They’re definitely still widely used to add an air of formality to your invitations. If that sounds right for you, let me know!