Most couples like to buck the conventional wedding trend to some degree, but there is at least one element of the celebration that remains essential. Sky-diving priests, barefoot forest blessings and a cake made of cheese would be pointless if there were no family and friends there to enjoy them too. Wedding invitations, in whatever form they may take, are one of the most important stages of the preparations.
Whether it’s a classic ‘cordial’ invite from the in-laws or a witty, warm-hearted appeal from the bride and groom, this is the chance to sing the happy news from the rooftops. Back in the Middle Ages, before the printing press and literacy were widespread, a town crier would do just that, bellowing the ceremony time and place to spread word beyond the family network. He’d have a tough gig nowadays though, pounding out the intricacies of gift lists, dress codes and vegetarian options.
Back then the aristocracy would take it one step further and employ the calligraphy skills of a local monk to handwrite the wedding invites. The letters would usually have a wax seal of the family crest and be hand delivered to avoid the dubious postal service. The tradition of the double envelope springs from this era, because a courier’s journey was often cross-country and likely to damage the letter. When the courier arrived at the chosen residence, housekeeping would remove the outer envelope and present the pristine, sealed invitation inside.
Around 1450 Johannes Gutenberg introduced the moveable-type printing press to the Western world. It had a huge impact on mass printing and could produce reams of pamphlets, local papers and newsletters. But the process of lead-type stamping ink onto paper couldn’t achieve the high style demanded by wedding stationery, and so the tradition of wedding announcements in newspapers was born.
Opulent, handwritten invitations remained the privilege of the upper classes right through to the mid 1600s, when a new form of mark making became popular. Metal plate engraving was a revolution that brought distinguished wedding invitation design to the emerging middle classes. An artist would carve the text back-to-front onto a plate, fill the grooves with ink and press a material like paper over the top. Those fancy sheets of tissue paper that still feature in some designs today hark back to these days, when a piece would be overlaid to absorb excess ink and avoid smudging.
Victorian Inpsired Wedding Stationery by Soaring Bird Wedding Stationery
Wedding invitations in the past could be pretty elaborate in comparison to what we choose today. When the class system was rife, no expense was spared in the pursuit of an artwork that represented family status. In Victorian times, for example, the fashion saw cameo embellishments, with lace and satin bordering in ivory and black colourways. It wasn’t until the rapid industrial growth post-World War 2 that the lower classes really had access to a lifestyle that could mimic society’s elite. The invention of thermal printing allowed for a cheap way to create raised lettering on the page. Although it lacked the fine definition of engraving, it made a posh-looking invite nonetheless.
It’s a fascinating leap of style that has seen couples wanting crafty, handmade wedding invitations that eschew formal wedding invitation wording. Maybe it comes from nostalgia for those laboriously crafted invites, blended with a contemporary wit and self-expression that was never possible before. Luckily, we now have state-of-the-art printing techniques that create a bespoke feel for a fraction of the time and cost. But even so, the wedding invite remains a crucial statement piece. If you need some advice on getting started, check out our step-by-step guide to creating DIY wedding stationery.
Modern wedding stationery designed by Katy Clemmans