The outer address on an invitation is more than directions for the postman. The address signifies to the recipient the formality of the event and precisely who is invited. A properly-addressed invitation also showcases polite etiquette, a skill that is still valued in an age of text messages and emails. A paper invitation, no matter how casual, sends the message that an event and its guests are important to the host.
Naming the Recipients
You may have learned to address an envelope in grade school, but the ins and outs of address etiquette are more complicated than you might have imagined. Only the people listed on the envelope are invited. While many people fail to heed this signal, you want to get it right on your end. If the party is for adults only, list only the adults: "Jim and Lisa Smith." If the kids are invited, address the invitation to "The Smith Family" or "The Smiths." (Never use an apostrophe to pluralize a name.) Be specific in the address to avoid any unexpected guests.
Ordering the Names
If a husband and wife share the same last name, either can be listed first. Married couples with different last names can be listed together on one line or one above the other, with either name first. Unmarried couples should be listed on separate lines. If you are unsure of the couple's marital status, list them on separate lines.
On very casual invitations, particularly if you know the recipients well, no honorifics are necessary. "Dr. Smith" shows respect and acknowledgement of his title, but it also signifies a more formal event. Likewise, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" are polite, but indicate a different type of event than what you may be planning. An exception may be made for older people or your superiors at work. Your best bet is to address the envelope as you would address the recipient in casual conversation, whether that's "Mrs. Smith" or "Lisa."
Your choice of design and style can hold meaning, as well. A handwritten envelope is more casual than one that is typed or penned in calligraphy. Using your own handwriting also shows that you took care and time to address the invitation personally.
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