The mind can be a vast repository for useless information. In college I studied history and French and Spanish literature, making my brain a bottomless pit of arcane vocabulary and historical facts I had little chance of ever applying to real life. But I’ve been out of college for four years, and a college degree’s worth of accumulated mental clutter is gradually disappearing.
Which is why it’s a good thing that I’m planning a wedding without the assistance of a planner or other professional whose job it is to know how these things work. In the do-it-yourself spirit, with Google as my trusty companion, I have learned all kinds of fun facts while searching for answers to basic etiquette questions and planning-related dilemmas (how many miniature Bent Spoon cupcakes do you need to feed 150 people?).
For example, in the process of choreographing the processional for my ceremony I discovered that it is no coincidence that the father of the bride stands on the right while escorting his daughter down the aisle. Like many traditions, its origins were practical: in the middle ages, a father’s right hand had to be free to grab his sword should any vengeful rejected suitor challenge him for his daughter’s hand.
Most recently my attention has turned to manufacturing and mailing my own wedding invitations. Factoring in the $700 photo printer purchased for wedding-related printing and the nine ink cartridges at $30 apiece that go along with it — but severely discounting the value of my time — doing it yourself is a pretty good deal. Professional printers wanted to charge up to $500 for 100 invitations, not including reception cards, RSVP cards, and two layers of envelopes hand-addressed by a calligrapher. All told, I spent under $300 on stationery and stamps.
Did I mention that my time is not worth much in this formulation? I have spent hours, literally, standing next to said printer feeding one piece of superfine soft white 5×7 paper at a time — the end print job is noticeably better when there are fewer pieces of paper waiting in the tray — as each invitation takes three to five minutes to print. This process is not entirely a waste of time because it gives me the chance to read up on the other ins and outs of wedding invitations. Early on in the process, for instance, I was hopeful I could print on just one side of each envelope. Not so: the return address goes on the flap of the outside envelope. The invitation gods have apparently decreed that it looks too commercial to have the return address in the usual spot.
Traditional etiquette also says that RSVP cards come with pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes — RSVP cards under the flap but not within the envelope. Modern technology and the computer programmer I’m marrying, however, have made it simple to allow guests to RSVP online. To save stamps I figure I should enclose a stamp but not affix it to the envelope. In 1999 this would have been easy: stamps on perforated sheets could be detached and licked one at a time. Unluckily for me, the U.S. first introduced a self-adhesive stamp in 1974 and had rendered all water-activated stamps collector’s items by 2002. Thank you, Wikipedia, for this wonderfully worthless knowledge that was not at all helpful as I stood at my kitchen table with tiny scissors, carefully snipping between the interlocked edges of a roll of self-adhesive 2012 American flag stamps.
Tradition and I parted ways when I read on one website that doctor should be spelled out in people’s titles on an invitation only if the person is an M.D. For PhDs or other degrees that confer the title doctor, the honorific should be abbreviated to Dr. Others say that only M.D.s are doctors for invitation purposes. And everyone else agrees that Ms., Mr., Mrs., and Messrs. (a pluralization that actually comes from the French monsieur rather than the English mister, of course) are the only permissible abbreviations. Since the guest list includes quite a few PhDs and a handful of medical doctors — including a few fresh out of medical school who are not yet fully licensed to practice medicine — everyone gets to be doctor.
Finally, time to print the envelopes. A calligrapher sounded like overkill, so I found some suitably formal-looking free fonts in PhotoShop and set out to address and print one envelope at a time. Wedding invitations traditionally come with two envelopes, the outer addressed to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith and the inner addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Smith along with any kids or plus-ones. The modern rationale for this is to keep it simple for the Post Office on the outer envelope and make it explicit who is and is not invited on the inner envelope.
The old-fashioned rationale for the two envelopes, in case anyone was wondering, was that at one point in history invitations were hand-delivered by the bride-to-be’s footman to each guest. When the footman arrived at a guest’s residence, the butler would answer the door and remove the outer envelope. The inner envelope would list the names of the specific members of the household who were invited.
A wedding planner? No way. Turns out what I’m missing is a footman. Good to know.