Realizing that all of us know how to read an invitation, (the who, the what, the when, the where and the attire), I would like to offer guidance on how to “read” an invitation.
The Who: Invitations are never open for interpretation. Upon receipt of said invite, the invited guest’s name or names should be stated clearly. If the invite, Evite or e-mail states, “Mary” for example, then only Mary is invited. Not Mary’s spouse, not her child who had a day off and will quietly sit in the corner and read- she promises. Not Mary’s adorable baby who she also promises will sleep quietly in their car seat. When we force the situation by bringing an un-invited spouse, child or baby, the dynamic of the event is changed and potentially ruined. You may even create a resentment from the other guests who took the time and spent the money for a babysitter. Often, unit events might be the one time someone has been able to get out for a friend’s night or date night in a long time.
The What: Whatever the event is, it is most certainly articulated in the invite. To the best of your ability, fully engage in the theme of the event whether it be costume, potluck, charitable, family oriented (bringing children) and the like. Your host or hostess is making the effort and you will have more fun if you fully participate. Keep in mind, this is never an opportunity to pass out catalogs, hold impromptu meetings or go over business as you may disrupt the flow of the event. There is a time and place so please be respectful.
The When: The invitation will state a specific time, an open house or a staggered time slot perhaps according to your last name. If there is a specific start and ending then by all means arrive at the stated start time and always leave at the stated ending time. For example, an event that begins at 5pm and ends at 7pm requires you to arrive at 5pm and depart at 7pm. An open house is an event with a beginning time and an ending time. As a guest, you may arrive at any time and depart at any time during the open house. This is especially helpful when you have more than one event on the same evening. Lastly, a staggered event is usually for larger commands where, for example, lasts names with A-M arrive the first two hours and N-Z arrives the final two hours. It allows the host or hostess to manage their guests in a more organized manner. Unless previously discussed with the host or hostess, please do not show up early. It really is as rude as being late. If they require help, and sometimes they do- you will know far in advance. Try not to be late. It is disrespectful of the host or hostess as well as their time and you might disrupt a series of time sensitive events. Children become ill, cars breakdown and rush hour can be a beast. Simply plan ahead and if you happen to be late, enter quietly and join in.
Your hosts will be thrilled you made it!
The Where: Make sure you read the invite carefully as to the location. I once showed up to the wrong Chuckie E. Cheese a week early. True story.
The What: There are so many fabulously themed events…White Party, Harlem Renaissance, Martinis and Mistletoe, Little Black Dress, Flight Suit Formal, Potluck, Salad by Proxy and the lists goes on. Whatever it is, as stated before fully engage! If the event is a potluck (this is an opportunity for you to really shine) make an attempt to see if there is a theme to the meal. If you bring your favorite Indian dish and the theme is Mexican Fiesta, you run the risk of disrupting the flow of the meal and the beverage pairings.
Also, refrain from bringing food unless the host or hostess has requested it. I have seen beautiful dishes and desserts brought by guests with the best of intentions only to be quickly placed in the refrigerator or pantry! Again, unless discussed previously, an additional food item is not necessary. Take the night off and enjoy yourself.
Host/Hostess Gifts: A hostess gift is a small opportunity to thank the party giver for having you as a guest at their event. It can be as simple as a plant or chocolates, a nice bottle of wine or a lovely pastry. A really wonderful idea is that of a signature gift. Perhaps your favorite artist makes a beautiful Christmas ball or your hometown is famous for a nut or jam. Flowers are always lovely but keep in mind as you hand a hostess a garden stand bouquet, she must now find a vase, fill it with water and arrange it all while trying to welcome guests. A small potted flower or plant is best in those situations. Keep in mind this is not in place of a thank you note! Occasionally you may see a request to NOT bring a hostess gift. Please abide by the request as there is a reason important enough for your hostess to place it on the invite. You may also see the words “in lieu of a hostess gift…” and a request for a toy during the holidays or a donation of food for the local food bank may be requested. Please feel free to regard or disregard at your discretion and financial ability. No one will be checking at the door!
Children Welcomed: This is very simple, if nothing is stated about children then they are most likely not included. Sometimes an invite will read Adults Only. Please take this seriously as the host/hostess may have candles lit, a fireplace, alcohol or perhaps pets that are threatening to little ones. If the children are welcome to the event, the invite will most definitely state “children welcomed.”
Commands make very concerted efforts to have both kid friendly and non-kid friendly events throughout the year. It never hurts to call ahead of time and receive clarity on the situation.
RSVP: Repondez S’il Vous Plait which, according to Merriam Webster, is a simple French phrase meaning “please reply”. How ridiculously easy is that? It is impossible for a host or hostess to properly plan a party when the number of attendees is unknown! It is not about being fancy or ostentatious. It can be as simple as how much beer should I buy and how much chili should I make? Perhaps the hostess is creating a party favor and you did not respond. It is embarrassing for both the hostess and guest when something like that occurs. When in doubt, always put yourself in the shoes of the hostess and proceed accordingly.
The Attire: Almost every invitation sent within the realm of the military will have guidance as to what you should and should not wear. Your active duty member will always have a clear and proper dress code and uniform requirement for every event he or she attends. This, however is for you. There was a time when dress codes were simple- formal, semi-formal, cocktail and casual. The Marines called jeans “the forbidden fabric” and it was rare to see active duty of any rank out in public donning Levis!
Things change and dress codes do too. Depending on where you are stationed, you may see suggestions such as California casual, Hawaiian casual, open collar no tie, no jeans or just plain casual. While everyone in SoCal may be in fancy flip flops, your East Coast counterparts may be wearing heels with the same outfits. Observe your current duty station and adjust accordingly. Make the decision to honor the dress code to the best of your ability. Whether formal or casual, the event you are attending is not the time for you to make a personal statement or personal stand. Have fun with the attire request and perhaps you will learn something new while in the process. I have included a link to a wonderful attire guide.
Dress code tradition is yet another piece of the military puzzle that makes our culture unique!