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IT is now usual to have the invitations engraved for all large and formal occasions, such as weddings, club and class-day festivities, large dances, receptions and ceremonious dinners. Engraved forms have grown in favor, because they save time and trouble. They are more legible and have a greater air of elegance than the average hand-writing. Hence many people use these whenever they can. It is always easy to learn from first-class stationers in large cities, what are the customary forms for invitations for various occasions. Some firms will, if desired, take entire charge of the invitations, directing the envelopes as well as engraving the cards or note paper.

At the other end of the scale is the telephone, which is indispensable for engagements made at short notice. Many invitations for informal occasions are given by its agency. Thus the engraver and the telephone have usurped the function of the pen, to a considerable extent.

It is still imperative, however, that every lady should be able to write a graceful note of invitation and to reply to one courteously. Engraved forms are cold and impersonal. They are also rather expensive. A hospitable hostess often uses her own pen to invite her friends to a small dinner, to a luncheon, informal dance, house party or other occasion.

In writing an invitation, it is an excellent plan to " make the punishment fit the crime," or in plain English, to write your invitation in such terms that the recipient shall understand just what it means, just what sort and size of occasion he is invited to attend.

This does not go against the fact that there are certain prescribed modes and forms in which it is customary, and therefore best, to write invitations. But some people, wishing to make a party as informal as possible, invite their guests with less formality than the size of the occasion warrants; hence there is often a great diversity of dress, some of the guests learning beforehand how large the affair will really be, and others supposing it will be limited to a very few persons. Hence heart-burnings and mortification often en-sue, since most women, particularly very young women, prefer to be dressed neither with more nor with less elaborateness than others who are present with them.

Another cause for the undervaluation which people used to put on their entertainments more than they do now, was the old-fashioned idea of humility as being a necessary adjunct of politeness. All this has been much modified in the manners of today, whose frankness I have spoken of elsewhere as being one of their pronounced features. Still, even now it requires some knowledge of the uses of society to know just what a form of invitation means; and a society habitué him-self cannot always tell just what the size or form of an entertainmemt will be.

Be explicit, therefore, within the bounds of politeness, in your invitations; let them all be uniform, not some verbal and others written, - and write them, or have them engraved, in plenty of time. Some hostesses do not send out their invitations until the eleventh hour, and are then disappointed because people do not come.

The length of time beforehand that an invitation should be sent, depends on the formality and size of the occasion, also, on then locality and the time of year. In a large city, during the height of the season, it is necessary to ask people a long time in advance. Thus in New York invitations to a formal dinner are usually sent out two weeks beforehand, in Washington this interval is sometimes doubled. For a ball, three weeks is the usual time. For a formal luncheon, guests may be asked two weeks, for an informal dinner, luncheon or supper, a week or ten days in advance.

People judge a little, and properly, of the size and formality of an entertainment from this " lapsed time " between the receipt of the invitation and the occasion itself, but it is not an infallible guide. If you invite your guests a long time in advance of the event, they naturally infer that it is one for which you yourself will make elaborate preparations, or one that they will specially wish to attend, and that therefore they are notified of it in good season.

Sometimes it is impossible to issue invitations long in advance. If a distinguished stranger is in town for a brief visit, people may be asked to meet him at short notice. The telephone brings us into such rapid communication with our friends that impromptu affairs are sometimes arranged over it, for the same day. The great drawback to all forms of verbal invitation is the danger that the guests will-forget the day or the hour named. Hence some careful hostesses write a note, in addition to speaking over the telephone.

In writing invitations, be very careful to write names and dates distinctly. I have known some unhappy instances where the guest arrived " the day after the fair " because he mistook " Monday " for " Tuesday " in the note of invitation.

It need hardly be said that these notes should be written very carefully in all respects, notably that of spacing correctly, where the invitation is a formal one, written in the third person. Thus, " Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Jenks " must not be separated, even in a note of invitation; the whole phrase must be written on the same line.

Another point to be observed in writing is, not to mix up your second and third persons. Thus, it would not be allowable to write Mrs. Simon Montfort requests the pleasure of your company.

It is permitted to employ this form in engraved invitations, although it is not correct, grammatically speaking. No doubt the use of it is considered allow-able in engraved invitations for large receptions or dances, because it is so convenient, and saves the trouble of filling in the names.

Mrs. Simon Montfort requests the pleasure of ___ ____ company on Friday evening,

December the twenty-ninth, at ten o'clock, at Five Marlboro Street.

R. S. V. p.

The above is a correct form for an invitation to a large dance; the R. s. v. p. is less used than formerly, since it is thought we should take it for granted that our friends will have the courtesy to reply.

The English, who ape French customs less than we do, use the phrase ' " The favor of an answer is requested," instead of R. s. v. p. (Repondez s'il vous plit). The name of the hostess only should be used for all occasions save weddings, dinners and evening receptions. For these, the invitations should always run in the name of both host and hostess.

No matter how large or grand a ball you contemplate giving, you must not mention the word " ball " in your invitations; neither must you invite people to " a party," using that word. Some of the English books on manners give express permission to use the phrase " evening party " in invitations, but it is not done in these United. States. We all know, to be sure, that " Hans Breitman gave a party," but the lamentable consequences which followed it prevent us from doing likewise. No doubt the reason we do not use these objectionable words is from an old notion that it is well to assume the forms at least of modesty and humility, even if we do not possess the virtues them-selves. For public balls it is allowable and usual to call a spade a spade, and to use the word " ball," because the affair being a public one, no arrogance is displayed by any individual in using the proper term.

Instead of " Dancing," " Cotillon " may be en-graved in the left-hand corner when there is to be a german; or the hour may be added, " Cotillon at ten."


This form is preferred very often to the one given on the preceding page, and saves the trouble of writing in the names. The At Home card is often used for a variety of other entertainments, " Music," " Private Theatricals," or whatever phrase the case may require, being written or engraved in the lower left hand corner.

A gentleman, however, must not use the " At Home " form. When inviting ladies, he should " Request the honor " or the pleasure of —'s company." For bachelors' balls, dances given by officers of the Army or the Navy, for club and class-day festivities, the same rule holds. Where the names of several persons are appended to the invitation, those of the members of a committee or of a number of young men joining together to give a spread, the passive form of the verb may be substituted, as The honor of your company is requested." One accepts or declines the kind invitation of the Phi Beta Kappa, the Reception Committee or other body as the case may require. Sometimes it is stated to whom the answer should be sent, as " Please reply to "

A young girl does not invite gentlemen to the house in her own name. She may say " I write in my mother's name," " My mother wishes me to say that it would give us pleasure to see you on Thursday," or use some phrase showing clearly that the invitation comes from her mother. If the latter is dead, the daughter writes in the name of her chaperon, or of her father. For formal affairs, the invitations would be given in the name of father and daughter.

It is quite a convenience for ladies who entertain frequently, to have forms engraved, with spaces left for the date and the names of guests. " Engraved blank cards," as they are called, are also used for dinner invitations, the formula for which is given below. As lunch is an informal meal, in theory at all events, the hostess usually writes the notes of invitation, although these are sometimes engraved, for a ceremonious function, the wording being like that of the dinner-card, except that the host's name is not included. For theatre-parties, the invitations are written. For afternoon teas and other informal gatherings, ladies use their own visiting cards, the day and hour being written or engraved, as

Friday, February twenty-third

Four to six o'clock.

Invitation cards should be perfectly plain, and en-graved in plain script, or other type, when fashion permits this, as it sometimes does. The same is true of the engraved note-paper which is now almost always used for invitations to church weddings and sometimes for other occasions, such as class-days. This paper is always white, and rather heavy. It may have a coatof-arms, or a monogram, or both, embossed in white, but colored designs have gone out of fashion for this purpose. The use of a crest or coat- of-arms in a democratic country, is in questionable taste. Perfectly plain envelopes also are now used. If they are sent by post, two envelopes should always be sent with an engraved invitation. On the inner one (which is left unsealed) the name is written, but not the address.

Never use ruled paper either for writing or answering invitations, or indeed for any letters save business communications. Probably the reasons in accordance with which ruled paper is considered to be in such bad style are: First, because it seems commercial, and our society, like the English, still has a horror of anything that smacks of trade. When it is considered how largely our aristocracy, so far as we have any, is founded upon trade, and composed of people whose fortunes were all made in business, this little prejudice appears somewhat unreasonable. But beware of trifling with prejudices! It is more dangerous than meddling with principles, as all men of the world know. The second reason for which ruled paper is tabooed as a part of the furniture of the writing-desk, is because its use implies that the writer does not know, how to write straight without lines, and every lady and gentleman ought to be able to do that. Then, ruled paper looks cheap, and " is used by everybody."

An English gentleman, a scion of the nobility, quite horrified the inhabitants of Boston some years ago, by answering his invitations on this same ruled paper, enclosed in a yellow envelope, which he found at the Somerset Club, if I remember rightly. Of course society was in a state of collapse over this British eccentricity; but perhaps the truth of the' matter was that the Hon. Mr. supposed the use of the stationery in question was permissible in this country, since he found it at one of our most fashionable clubs.

For dinners, the invitations should be in the name of both husband and wife. The usual form, which may be either written or engraved, is

Mr. and Mrs. John Morley request the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. John Fiske's company at dinner, on Tuesday, November twenty-seventh, at eight o'clock.

Three Hundred and Three Beacon Street.

For an informal occasion, the hostess would write in the first person.

For a dinner-dance, two sets of invitations are issued. The persons asked to dine receive the customary note or card, with " Dancing at ten," or whatever the hour, added in the lower left-hand corner. Those invited to the dance alone, receive " At Home " cards, with the same addition.

An invitation to dinner must be answered without loss of time and without prevarication. If you have any reason to suppose that you will not be able to attend the dinner, there is no alternative but to decline, since it may spoil the whole occasion if the hostess does not know exactly who is coming, and if she does not know it in good season.

Since writing the above, I have read, in Mr. Adam Badeau's " Aristocracy in England," that this same noble gentleman shakes hands with the domestics of his friends on democratic principles; so the natural inference is that the yellow envelope was used " malice prepense," and that the Somerset Club should be acquitted from any responsibility in so grave a matter.

Hence it is not unusual for the messenger who brings an invitation to a dinner, to wait and see if there is any answer.

Mr. and Mrs. John Morley regret extremely that a previous engagement must deprive them of the pleasure of accepting Mr. and Mrs. John Fiske's kind invitation for dinner on November twenty-seventh. Seven Arlington St., Thursday is a proper form of declination. Or if you accept, " accept with pleasure the kind invitation," etc. Always mention the day and hour, when accepting a dinner invitation, so as to be sure that there is no mistake about it. One should he careful also to express one's self in courteous terms in answering a note of invitation. If the note is a declination, it is better, if possible, to state the reason which has compelled one to decline; as,

Mrs. Samuel Jones regrets extremely that a previous engagement prevents her accepting Mrs. William Louis Sloan's kind invitation for Thursday evening next.

Or, " must deprive her of the pleasure of accepting," etc. If you are to be out of town, " absence from the city " will be the excuse proper to send. Of course the form " regrets extremely her inability to accept " is often used; but the other form seems more courteous, especially in answering a first invitation, or any one where the entertainer will be apt to suppose that there is an intention to slight her if no reason for the refusal is given. This was the rule in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth, it is considered allowable to decline without giving any reason.

Invitations to dinner, luncheon or breakfast should be answered within twenty-four hours.

All invitations should be answered promptly, except those to afternoon teas, receptions and " At Homes," which are usually not answered at all. It is manifestly illogical to answer a card which says merely " Mrs. Breeze at Home Friday, January thirtieth," because the invitation is not worded in a way that calls for an answer. Sometimes R. s, v. p, is appended to an " At Home " card; but this is an incorrect form of invitation, though used occasionally to save time and trouble. When one is asked to private theatricals or to any entertainment where the hostess may wish to know how many guests to expect, it is polite to reply to an " At Home " card.

Those who are unable to attend an afternoon tea or reception, send cards on the day of the event. One should not write "Regrets," " Accepts, or other message on these, as it is not thought good form to do so.

Invitations to a church wedding require no answer, if one attends the ceremony. If one does not, it is polite to send cards in acknowledgment of the courtesy.

Invitations to a large wedding reception need no answer. Those unable to be present, send their cards on the day of the occasion. If one is asked to a small house-wedding, or a breakfast where all the guests are to be seated, it is necessary to send a reply. One should also reply to an invitation to a wedding where a special train or car is provided for the guests.

As we have stated elsewhere, one should call upon the hostess within two weeks after any event to which one has been invited. One should also call upon a bride, to whose wedding one has been asked, as soon as practicable, after she has become established in her new home.

It is a mistake to use such forms of expression as will have the pleasure of accepting," " will prevent his acceptance," " will accept," etc. You accept or are prevented from accepting, in the present tense, that is, when you write the note, — therefore it is in-correct to use " will," which is in the future tense. Neither is it polite to " decline " an invitation; the declination must be worded in a more courteous form. One should never abbreviate, in writing either acceptances or regrets. They should always correspond in style with the invitation, which should be referred to in order that the answer may be exact.

If an invitation is issued in the name of " Mr. and Mrs. Folsom," then one must accept or decline Mr. and Mrs. Folsom's kind invitation; or if Mrs. F. alone invites the guests, then they send their answers to Mrs. F. While the envelopes containing invitations are addressed to husband and wife, those with the replies are usually addressed to the wife only.

It is necessary to be explicit on this point, since some people imagine that if they are not personally acquainted with the hostess, they ought to send their answers to her invitation not to her, but to whatever member of the family they happen to know personally.

This is both illogical and absurd. Indeed, it would be extremely rude to send to the daughter, for instance, an answer to an invitation received from the mother. It would imply that you thought the hostess had committed a breach of etiquette in the form of her invitation. If a lady does you the honor of asking you to her house, the least you can do is to respond courteously, whether she is a stranger to you or not.

A student at Harvard College, a few years ago, was somewhat surprised at receiving an invitation for a dance at the house of a lady in Cambridge whom he did not know. As he was. a great favorite in society, and a good dancer, he concluded that he had been invited in the character of an eligible partner, and went to the dance.

The hostess and her family treated him with such marked politeness and courtesy that he began to fear something was wrong. Subsequent inquiry revealed the fact that the invitation had been intended for a classmate who bore the same name and surname; the hostess was so much afraid that her guest would discover the mistake, and would be mortified to think he had come where he had not been invited, that she showed him, by special attentions, that she was pleased to receive him as her guest. Verb. sat. sap.

Married people can never be invited separately, unless on some occasion where ladies only or gentlemen only are asked to be present. But if any gentlemen are invited, all — that is, all husbands must be. Even where it is well known that a lady or a gentleman never goes into society, you must still pay the stay-at-home member the compliment of asking him or her. In the case of very informal occasions, or where another person is suddenly wanted to fill a vacant seat at a dinner-table, this rule is sometimes waived among intimate friends; otherwise it is strictly' adhered to, being one of the active laws, as opposed to the dead letters of social observances.

If a person finds that he cannot go to an entertainment after he has accepted the invitation, he should write before the occasion and send his regrets. This is in accordance with European custom, it is stated, but it is not usually done here, except in the case of dinners, " sit-down " lunches, or other occasions where the host needs to know the exact number of people who will be present, such as high teas, " sit-down" suppers, etc. If only a few guests are invited, even to an in-formal occasion, any one who finds that he cannot go, after he has written that he will do so, should certainly telephone or write and let his host know of his change of plan, because the absence of one makes a great difference when only a small number are invited.

Once in a while a very polite person will write to a hostess who is about to give a party, and say that he is at the last moment prevented from coming. But for balls or large receptions it is not customary to do so in America, unless one is to be the guest of honor, or unless there is some other special reason for writing.

Should one send invitations to people who are in mourning? It is considered to be more polite to do so, except in case of a recent bereavement. While a family is plunged in deep sorrow and affliction, it is certainly more delicate and considerate not to do anything which would jar upon their feelings, and invitations coming at such a time would almost certainly have that effect. But to people in the later periods of mourning it is quite in order to send general invitations; that is, invitations to large receptions, weddings, etc. Of course they do not go; but one should pay them the compliment of asking them.

People who are in mourning do not plead a previous engagement when declining an invitation, but regret simply, without giving any reason. They then send by mail their visiting cards with black borders, thus showing clearly why they cannot accept the invitation, the cards also serving instead of a personal visit. These cards should be mailed on the day when the ball or wedding takes place. The same number should be sent as if one were calling in person; the lady would send one card, and her husband would send two, - one for the host and one for the hostess.

"Avail" and "preclude " are words not thought to be in good form for the answers to invitations. "An invite" for " an invitation " is slang of the worst description.

In sending invitations to a family of several members, the most approved method is to send one to the husband and wife, a separate one to the daughters, be they few or many, directed to the Misses Brown, and one to each of the sons. Formerly these were invited together and addressed as the Messrs. Brown, but the young men of the present day expect to receive individual invitations.

In the chapter " The Etiquette of Weddings " and in that devoted to afternoon teas and receptions will be found the forms of invitation used for these occasions.

In England, it is entirely proper to send invitations through the post-office, and the custom is such a sensible and excellent one that it has now been generally adopted in this country. Invitations were formerly sent by private hand and still are, to a certain extent.

( Originally Published 1911 )

Social Customs:
Early Origin Of Manners

Permanent And Transient Institutions In Society

Uses Of Society

Frankness Of Modern Manners

Visiting Cards And Their Uses


Dinners, And How To Give Them

Dinners - Service And Arrangements Of The Table

Etiquette Of The Table

Family Dinner Table - Its Furniture And Equipment

Read More Articles About: Social Customs

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