From dignified engraved cards, stiff with conventional good taste, to eccentric home-made efforts that reflect your individuality, invitations are minutely calibrated social telegrams, which notify guests about what they should expect.

Invitations should always reflect the comparative formality or informality of the occasion; getting it wrong may look pretentious or cause confusion.

Below is our detailed guide to invitations for every occasion.

Sending out invitations
Sending out invitations

It is wise to send invitations as early as possible. While a quiet, intimate dinner among close friends may be arranged over the telephone at short notice, the more formal a gathering, and the more people being invited, the more advisable it is to give advance warning.

Giving notice of a minimum of six weeks before the event should ensure that most people are not already booked up. It will also give guests ample time to reply and provide the hosts with preparation time in abundance.

If an invitation is extended and accepted verbally, for example, by telephone, it should be confirmed by an invitation card on which ‘R.S.V.P.’ has been deleted and ‘To remind’ or ‘Pour mémoire’ substituted. In this case there is no need for acknowledgement.


Replies are sent on writing paper with the address, as for official functions. They are traditionally addressed to the hostess even when the invitation is a joint one from both the host and hostess.

When invitations are extended to unnamed guests such as ‘and Partner’ or ‘and Family’, the reply should contain the names of those who will attend.

A named invitee should be substituted with another guest only if the hostess gives her express permission.

If an invitation is accepted, it is bad form to withdraw that acceptance unless there is a genuine reason (eg illness); another, more appealing, engagement is not an excuse for withdrawing an acceptance.

Official Invitations
Official Invitations

Invitation Cards
Invitations to official functions are usually issued on a card, which may be engraved in script from a copper plate or printed in script or Roman type. They are usually about W6 x H4. inches (15 x 11 cm) in size, or slightly larger.

The invitation should make clear the following:

– The nature of the function

– Where the function is to be held

– The date of the function

– The time of the function and, if desired, the time it will end

An invitation to an official function should be addressed only to the guest invited in their own right if sent to their official address, even if their partner is invited. They are given their full prefix, title, rank and decorations, as for a formal letter.

Note that, traditionally, invitations to a married couple, when sent to their home address, are addressed to the wife alone, with both names being inscribed on the invitation card. It has become increasingly acceptable, however, to address the envelope with both names.

Additional information or instructions, for example, relating to car parking, are best given on a separate sheet sent with the invitation or with the admission card.

Royal Invitations

The Sovereign
Invitations from the Sovereign are sent by:

– The Lord Steward of the Household to a state banquet

– The Lord Chamberlain to all major court functions, such as a garden party, wedding, funeral or memorial service

– The Master of the Household to all domestic functions given by the Sovereign at Buckingham Palace, or where the Sovereign is resident.

An invitation from the Sovereign may read something like:

The Master of the Household
is Commanded by Her Majesty to invite
Mr and Mrs John Debrett
to luncheon at Sandringham House
on Thursday, 8 October at 12.30 o’clock

Other members of the Royal Family
Invitations from other members of the Royal Family are not commands. They will usually be forwarded by a member of their Household, to whom the reply should be addressed. In all other respects the invitations are treated as those from the Sovereign.

Private Invitations

The level of formality of the invitation should accord with that of the occasion.

Formal Private Functions
There are two kinds of invitations to formal functions which, unless time is short, are prepared on cards engraved in script from a copperplate:

-Formal occasions, such as luncheon and dinner parties
-‘at Home’ invitations for all other parties, such as receptions, garden parties, luncheons, dinners and suppers. (On the invitation the ‘a’ for ‘at’ is lower case and the ‘H’ for ‘home’ is upper case.)

Informal Private Functions
Invitations to informal functions may be extended by letter, telephone or email.

It is up to the hosts to decide, and make clear to guests, the appropriate level of formality and all the other relevant details and arrangements.

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