Wedding invitations give your guests their first glimpse of what your wedding may be like. They’re a reflection of your wedding style and the formality of the event while giving guests the basic information they need, yet delving into the myriad of options available and ensuring you use appropriate wording and etiquette may just make your head spin.

Following is a quick guide to wedding invitations that will help answer your questions about choosing and wording wedding invites.

Ideal Timing

It’s a cliche in the wedding planning process but it bears repeating: you can never start too early. Typically wedding invitations are sent six to eight weeks in advance, says Lora Poe, owner and creative director of Lavandula Design, a full-service design and letterpress studio in Houston. With people’s busy schedules, eight weeks is ideal. Add to that time for specialty printing, addressing and mailing.

Save the Dates: A Must?

Only in two instances are save the dates an absolute must, says Poe. The first is if you’re having a destination wedding. The other is when guests are getting married in their town but most of their guests live elsewhere. Both instances require guests to make travel plans. Still, sending save the dates is a nice thing to do. “We live such busy lives these days so it’s good for people to get it on their calendar,” says Poe. She doesn’t encourage brides to spend a lot of money on save the dates, however. As for when to send them, Poe suggests eight to nine months in advance if travel is required.

A Few Words on Wording

The wording of your invitation must match your event. “We commonly see people wanting to do casual things for more formal events,” says Poe. Invitation wording can denote whether you’re having a religious wedding or not, for example. If your wedding will be held in a church you should use the word “honor” (or “honour”) as in “Request the honor of your presence”. If it’s not in a church, use “Request the pleasure of your company” or you could go with even less formal wording, such as “Invite you to share in our joy.”

Names, names, names

Names should be completely spelled out. Always. The strictest etiquette rules say that whoever is hosting the event, say the parents of the bride, are listed at the top, says Poe. Today there are so many different scenarios in a wedding – couples paying for their own weddings, two sets of parents paying for a wedding, brides with divorced parents –that things are moving away from the traditional. Make sure to consult with your vendor to choose the right wording for your situation.

Gift Registries: To Include or Not To Include?

“It absolutely shouldn’t be done,” says Poe. It’s best to keep your wedding registry information to your wedding website or even a bridal shower invite. If you absolutely need to include it, Poe suggests including it in an insert instead of on the invitation itself.

No Kids? Careful With Wording

Communicating to guests that your wedding is for adults only is a sensitive subject. “You hope that when you address an envelope and it just says Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and it doesn’t say ‘and family’ or the kids’ names, that they’ll know their kids aren’t invited or they’ll call and ask,” says Poe. The problem for couples becomes that a lot of guests don’t know. What’s a bride to do? You can include wording, such as “Following an adult-only reception,” but it may offend some people. You can also enlist the help of your mom or a close family friend to call those families who have included their kids in their RSVP cards and politely explain that you’re having an adult-only reception. “It’s certainly better in a conversation,” says Poe.

When To Include Wedding Attire

Including attire on the wedding invitation isn’t absolutely necessary but if your wedding is black tie or will require a specific type of attire, you’re doing your guests a favor by doing so. It’s also good to include for outdoor or casual weddings, where guests will have to walk on grass. Poe suggests writing something like “Summer dresses and flats encouraged” for a scenario where guests wearing stilettos may not be comfortable.