What's the Difference Between Save the Dates and Wedding Invitations?

Wedding Invitation with complimenting save the date

You've just agreed to spend the rest of your life with your one true love and now it's wedding planning time, but first, you have some work to do, and it starts with letting your guests know your I dos are officially on the way. Save-the-date cards and wedding invitations are two of the most important pieces of the wedding planning process, especially where your guests are concerned. There's a lot of overlap and it can be difficult to understand what goes where as you march toward your big day. If you're struggling with save the dates or wedding invitations, here's what you need to know about wedding stationery.

Basic function: save-the-dates vs. wedding invitations

The biggest difference between save-the-date cards and wedding invitations is that the first is meant to put guests on notice, while the second acts as a formal invitation to the event. For that reason, save-the-dates are sent first — often months or even a year before the wedding date.

Send save-the-dates:

  • 9-12 months out for a destination wedding
  • 9-10 months out for a wedding that doesn't require most guests to travel internationally or to an exotic/busy locale that books up quickly

Wedding invitations are traditionally sent about six to eight weeks before the wedding. Remember, guests should already have the save-the-dates and know that your wedding is coming, so the invitation is just confirming their attendance and sharing more details about the event itself (location, the hotel where guests are staying, etc.). You don't want to send the invitations too early, as you may not have all the necessary arrangements in place, but you also want to leave enough time for guests to RSVP and for you to update the venue and caterer with your final guest list as needed.

What to include

Again, there's some overlap here, but for the most part save-the-dates are a general outline while invitations fill in the details.

Your save-the-dates should include:

  • Your full names
  • The date or dates of the wedding and associated events (i.e. a pre-wedding welcome party or post-wedding brunch)
  • The city and state where the wedding will be and venue information if you have it
  • The URL for your wedding website

Your wedding invitation should include:

  • Who's hosting (this may be your parents, or you may skip this if you're a more modern couple or are throwing your own wedding)
  • You and your fiancé's names
  • Language addressing the recipient and issuing the actual invitation
  • The date and time of the ceremony
  • Venue address
  • Reception details including time, venue name and address (some people also like to spell out what to expect at the reception, such as "dinner and dancing" or "breakfast buffet and mimosas", so guests know whether they'll be fed and if they should wear their boogie shoes)
  • Dress code, if applicable

While a save-the-date card is usually just one card, a wedding invitation may be accompanied by a number of enclosures and embellishments such as a card with directions to the venue, an enclosure card with hotel booking information, a response card, a reception/meal ticket that needs to be filled out and mailed back, an itinerary for the day or weekend, and a stamped, pre-addressed envelope.

Design and style

There is no hard-and-fast rule regarding how formal either type of stationery has to be, but save-the-dates are generally a little more casual while invitations are the formal pieces typically saved as keepsakes and even framed by the couple getting married. For that reason, save-the-dates are an opportunity to have a little fun with the design and theme. You can match them to your wedding motif, if you have one already picked out, or pick a style that reflects a favorite vacation spot, a hobby, your favorite baseball team's colors, your love of 1920's fashion, the place you got engaged — the sky is the limit. Save-the-date cards can even be done as magnets for your guest's convenience or as a postcard to keep things simple and streamlined.

For your invitations, you'll want to adhere more closely to the look and feel of your wedding. The invites are really where the wedding festivities start, so think of them like an intro that sets the scene and gives guests a hint at what's to come. Keep colors and patterns on theme with what guests will see at the ceremony and reception and definitely opt for paper invites — you'll never regret having hard copies to put in your scrapbook or frame.

The RSVPs (or lack thereof)

Save-the-date cards don't require a response. They're just for the recipient's use, to serve as a reminder and to allow them to start planning. Invitations are the exact opposite. Guests have to respond yes or no so you know how many chairs you'll need, what to tell the caterers, and if your venue is indeed properly sized. Include crystal-clear RSVP instructions and, if at all possible, a return envelope or RSVP postcard that's already addressed and stamped to make it easy to mail. After all, the faster you get your responses, the sooner you'll know whether you need that gluten-free meal for Aunt Edna.

Need more help? Make sure everything is picture perfect with these tips and tricks for wedding invitation wording or check out our expert advice on how to address your save-the-date envelopes.

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