Sticky Situations: How to Properly Decline a Wedding Invitation and Other Issues

So you’ve gotten one of those wedding invitations where you suspect the Bride has invited everyone she’s ever come in contact with, including the checker at the grocery store. Or perhaps you’ve received a wedding invitation from an actual friend, but have already made irreversible plans (such as expensive plane tickets to Europe, or knee-surgery, or a family reunion).

How do you properly decline?

The most common way to appropriately decline a wedding invitation is simply by filling out the RSVP card: write the number of people declining on the ___ decline with regret line.

How many people is this? No more than the number the invitation is addressed to. For example, if the invitation is addressed to both you and your significant other, it goes (2) decline with regret. If the invitation is addressed to you only, simply write (1) decline with regret.

It’s also nice to include either a hand-written note on the RSVP card, or a hand-written note on your own stationary. Be honest, and keep it brief – don’t go on and on about how you’d truly love to be there, but just can’t possible, dah-ling. If the situation is genuinely sticky (for example, you actually don’t know or like the person very well, or the wedding is 1,200 miles away and you can’t possible afford the plane fare), then simply thank them for thinking of you, ask them to accept your apologies, and congratulate them.

An example follows:

If no RSVP card is enclosed (which is sometimes the case with a bridal shower or a luncheon), you can write a formal decline on your own stationary.

All lettering should be centered, and should look like this:

Who do I actually decline to?

Give your regrets to whomever the RSVP envelope is addressed to. If there is no RSVP envelope, give your regrets to whomever the invitation says is hosting the wedding.

For example, “John and Jane Smith invite you to celebrate the marriage of their daughter” implies that you should decline to none other than John and Jane. If, however, the invitation lists the parents as hosts, but the RSVP envelope is addressed directly to the Bride herself, then decline to the Bride – she’s obviously going to be the one tallying the responses.

But do I still have to send a gift?
Well, yes. I mean, you don’t have to do anything, but it is better to err on the side of etiquette. The same theory applies to weddings as to formal dinner parties – if the hosts are being kind enough to feed and entertain you, you should at least be kind enough to bring a bottle of wine. Even if you’re declining a wedding invitation, the hosts offered to entertain you, not to mention share an incredibly special moment with you – and that is worth a gift.

How do I know what kind of gift to send?

A Bride and Groom should be registered at 2-3 different stores – for example, Macy’s, William-Sonoma, and Restoration Hardware. More and more, stores are giving the Bride little cards that have her registry information on them to include in her invitations. This is incredibly poor taste, and I wish someone would smack those marketing people in the face.

Proper etiquette declares that an invitation should never, ever have the wedding registry information. According to the strictest rules, a couple shouldn’t even specify “no gifts please” on their invitations. Instead, the Mother of the Bride and the Maid of Honor are responsible for spreading the word on where the couple is registered, or if they’d even like gifts at all, or if the couple is requesting donations to a charity instead. (For example, Jack’s mother died of cancer at a young age, and so we put the word out with my mother and my bridesmaids that we’d truly prefer donations to the American Cancer Society instead.)

So if you have questions, feel free to call the Mother of the Bride or the Maid of Honor and simply ask. If you know the Bride very well, then ask her yourself.

If I decline a wedding invitation to someone else’s wedding, is it then okay to invite them to my wedding?

Well…yes and no. For this reason, I do my best not to decline wedding invitations at all if I can help it – it’s too easy to get into a tit-for-tat mindset. Technically, they invited you, so you should still invite them, unless you are having an incredibly small ceremony or reception (for example, only you, the groom, and the immediate wedding party on a beach in Hawaii). But don’t be surprised if you get a decline back; when you decline someone’s wedding invitation, it sort of gives them an equal excuse to decline yours.

If I bring a gift to the bridal shower, do I have to bring a gift to the wedding?

In America, it’s appropriate to do either. Again, I err on the side of caution and bring someone small to the bridal shower – something the bride has specifically registered for (such as a nice set of cocktail napkins) or something just for her (such as a small gift certificate to the salon to take her mind off wedding planning). Then I bring something larger of their registry (like a place-setting of china, or a hand-mixer) to their wedding.

This can vary from region to region, though, and certainly from country to country. I have an aunt living in Canada who was recently invited to a bridal shower, and she brought her large gift (an espresso maker) to the shower and came to the wedding empty-handed. After the wedding, the Bride actually called her and said, “I didn’t see a gift from you at our wedding, and I wanted to make sure it hadn’t been misplaced.” Honestly, this was in poor taste on the Bride’s part, but of course my aunt felt awful and wished she’d just sucked it up and brought something small to the shower, then her large gift to the wedding instead.

I’m being invited to the wedding, and a kitchen-shower, and a lingerie-shower, and a regular bridal shower – do I have to go to all of that? And do I have to bring separate gifts for each one?

Here’s the deal – showers are all about opening the gifts, one at a time, and everyone looking at them and saying, “Ohhh,” and “Ahhh.” If you’re not going to bring a gift, you’re going to seem rude and out-of-place, so politely decline. (Declining a bridal shower is not nearly as big a deal as declining the wedding itself.) If you’re invited to several events – I myself have both a bridal shower and a lingerie shower for the same woman coming up – then I recommend either turning one or the other down entirely, negating your need to bring a gift, or attending both and bringing a gift to both. That’s the only proper way to do it.

If you’re going to decline a shower, be sure to do so following the rules already covered in this post.

If the invitation is only addressed to me, can I bring a guest?

The hard-and-fast rule is “No.” Weddings are expensive things, and if the Bride is only addressing the invitation to you, she’s probably thought long and hard about it, and decided to try and keep the costs down. Respect her decision.

If, however, the invitation is addressed to Your Name and Guest, then she’s leaving it up to you to come stag or to come with a date. Typically, the rule is that it’s necessary to invite both people if they are married, and it’s polite to invite both people if they are engaged. Other than that – whether you’ve been seeing your significant other for five days or five years – it’s really up to the Bride’s discretion.

If you’ve got a significant other that you can’t possible leave out, or if you’ve already made plans with a close friend or relative for that weekend, then call the Bride or the Maid of Honor and ask directly. Most Brides will graciously allow this if you’re polite enough to ask first, and if they say “thanks but no thanks – I’d rather you come alone,” then you are allowed to (gracefully!) decline.

Can I bring my kids to the wedding?

Not unless the invitation is addressed to them specifically. It is fine to bring your children if the invitation is addressed to either:

The Smith Family or John, Jane, Krissy and John Jr.

If the invitation is only addressed to you, or to you and your spouse (example: “Ms. Jane Smith” or “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), then assume children are not invited. If you can’t find a babysitter or just simply can not leave your children at home, you can always call the Bride or the Maid of Honor and ask politely, but be aware that this puts them in a difficult situation because you’re asking them to choose between you and your children. Bringing your 50-year old (assumingly well-behaved) mother because she has already made plans to come and visit you that weekend is one thing; asking the Bride to eschew your three children under the age of 12 is another.

And remember – this may not be anything personal. First, children will be children, and it’s difficult for most of them to sit through both a ceremony and a reception without them being bored or loud. Second, it may not be your children she’s concerned about – she may have a particularly badly behaved set of children with one of her other friends or family members, and she’s exercising the Equal Discrimination Rule: if you’re not going to invite all the children, then don’t invite any.

How do I properly address people when responding to an invitation?

Addressing rules are covered in The Lost Art of Letter Writing.

2 Responses to “Sticky Situations: How to Properly Decline a Wedding Invitation and Other Issues”
  1. Christine says:

    Thank you so much for your post. It helped me respond properly to a wedding invite. I was struggling with wording.

  2. Lorraine says:

    I’ve been reading all the responses about how invitations are addressed, etc. A friend I work with has a daughter getting married-I was invited to both the shower & wedding. While this friend & I don’t socialize as couples (her husband & mine), she is well aware I’m married & yet the wedding invitation was addressed to just me. I am on the fence on how to respond. While I understand budgets, guest lists, etc. I also know that this isn’t an after work function for work people only & can’t help feel slighted. Yet I feel silly for feeling this way. I suppose I could call & ask but that seems crass. Perhaps just putting on the stiff upper lip & attending solo as invited is best.

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