If, in 1922, Emily Post was already lamenting the "flagrant disregard of old-fashioned convention" for sending and replying to formal invitations, what would she think today? Though fewer and fewer individuals are familiar with formal etiquette, there may be occasions when only a proper formal response to an invitation will do. When you want to make sure your formal reply is proper, follow these instructions to the letter.
Select plain classic white or ecru stationery and use a pen with black or blue ink. The rules of formal etiquette state that you should reply by hand to a formal invitation on your own personal stationery.
Reply using the third person. Put you and your spouse's name first, tell whether you are accepting or declining "the kind invitation of" the sender. If you are accepting the invitation, write the day and time; if you are declining, you only need to mention the day. Remember that a formal response includes the guests' social names with titles, but only the titles and surnames of the hosts. Below are examples of a formal acceptance and a regret. Just swap in the correct names and date and centre each line on the stationery.
Dr. and Mrs. Jacob Miller accept with pleasure the kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Larson to dinner on Friday, the fifteenth of March at half past six o'clock.
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Miller regret that they are unable to accept the kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Larson to dinner on Friday the twenty-second of March.
Address the envelope using the hosts' titles and their full social names (for example, Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Larson).
Respond three days after you receive the invitation if no "reply by" date is given. If a deadline is mentioned, make sure your response will arrive before then. Always respond to a formal invitation.
If these formal rules feel too rigid, use your best judgment and think about who is receiving the response. You want to respond properly but you also want to avoid looking pretentious by responding too formally.