It`s not about rules, it`s about guidelines that help make our personal and professional relationships more comfortable and effective. We tend to feel more at ease when we understand what others expect of us. The etiquette we follow when sending a letter or invitation, like etiquette in other areas, revolves around three basic building blocks: common sense, courtesy and usage.
The foundation of etiquette is common sense. On an invitation, for example, you must convey essential information if you want your guests to show up at your event. Your guests need to know who is inviting them to what function. They also need to know the date, time and place. A properly worded invitation includes all of that information and presents it succinctly and coherently.
Courtesy, the spirit of etiquette, makes for better and more rewarding relationships. It also requires us to be considerate of others. You may come across some guidelines that might not work in your situation. If you followed those guidelines, you might, perhaps, offend someone you love. Is your relationship with that person more important than the wording of your invitation? If so, courtesy demands that you find an alternative. Etiquette is proper only when it facilitates and strengthens relationships.
The third building block is usage. Etiquette has evolved over the years and will continue to evolve. Many of the customs that were proper 50 years ago have faded away, like a gentleman tipping his hat. Likewise, many of the customs we practice today will be outdated 50 years from now.
A Natural Evolution
As old customs become obsolete, new ones take their place. Not long ago, for example, reply cards were considered improper, even offensive and insulting. Wedding invitations were always answered in your own handwriting on your own stationery. As our lives became busier and busier, many of us no longer had the time to sit down and handwrite a reply. Since hosts and hostesses could not risk not receiving responses, they began to send reply cards with their invitations. This made it easier for their guests to respond. The courtesy extended to their guests was a common-sense approach to the problem of late and never received responses. As more and more invitations were sent with reply cards, reply cards became more and more acceptable. Today, they are sent with almost every wedding invitation.
In other words, at some point the traditional way of responding to wedding invitations was not working. Common sense suggested that a solution was needed. The solution was simple: Extend to guests the courtesy of an easy-to-use card with a stamped, pre-addressed envelope. This solution worked and through its usage reply cards have now become perfectly proper. These three building blocks — common sense, courtesy and usage — are the basis for all the guidelines that social etiquette provides.
Abbreviations should be avoided. The words Post Office Box, Street, Avenue, Drive, etc. and East, West, North and South should be spelled out as well as the name of the city and state. Single digit street numbers should be spelled out (i.e. One, Two, Three... etc.). Street Names that are numbers can be written two ways - 94 East 54th Street or 94 East Fifty-fourth Street. Unless your envelopes are unusually large, it is a good idea to not exceed 5 lines in your address as they tend to start looking a bit messy with any additional lines.