Three questions to help you create a celebration that's both manageable and inclusive.

By Real Simple
Updated January 22, 2008
Wedding guests
Credit: Jason Walz

1. Who Are the People You Want to Share in Your Big Day?

Begin building your guest list with these steps:

  • Start by asking everyone involved―most likely you, your fiancé, and both sets of parents―to make up a wish list of people they'd really like to include. If you can invite everyone, lucky you.
  • If not, ask everyone to rank each potential guest as A, B, or C. Your must-have A's are those family members and close, close friends you can't imagine not being with you. After removing duplicates, count up the A's.
  • If you're not already overbooked, begin adding guests from the B's and then the C's.

No matter how carefully you plan, at some point you'll be faced with having to make tough choices. Your cousin or your fiancé's fraternity brother? Your future mother-in-law's college roommate or your dad's coworker? Before you get out the scalpel and attempt a precise surgical maneuver that might result in seriously hurt feelings, take another look at the list. Chances are, you'll find pockets of guests―your mom's bridge club, say―who can be deleted as a group.

Although tradition says to divvy up the guest list equally between both families, in some cases equal isn't always fair. Why, for instance, should one side be able to include branches of the family tree that no one has heard from in years, while the other is pruning away first cousins who live around the corner?

Stress-saving tips: If your parents are driving you bonkers (do you really have to invite your dad's golf buddy?), think about what's driving their involvement. Did your mother have to give up the dream of a fancy wedding because her parents couldn't afford it? Did your sister elope? Once you understand their concerns, get creative. Maybe they'll be willing to whittle down their guest list if you let them throw a huge engagement party for you. Or have that small, intimate ceremony you've always imagined, but follow it with a big reception.

2. How Will You Spread the Word?

Once upon a time, wedding invitations came in two colors―white and off-white―and the hardest decision a bride had to make was whether to use raised printing, flat printing, or engraving. But now that weddings have morphed from stuffy, frilly affairs to whatever suits the bride and groom, invitations have changed, too. Today stationers can turn any idea into reality, from producing elegant cards imprinted with the bride's own handwriting to creating invitations that resemble keepsakes and arrive in velvet boxes tied with satin ribbons.

Overwhelmed by your options? Think about your personality. As you'll probably hear when you try on gowns, your wedding is not the time to take a risk and test your boundaries. That's not to say, though, that you can't get creative. Turn the classic engraved black-and-white invitation on its head by having it engraved in white on a dark-colored stock, or add a flash of color with a cheery envelope liner. If you're celebrating your ethnic heritage at your wedding, give guests a glimpse with an interesting border (like tartan plaid, if you're Scottish). And don't forget to save one invitation for your scrapbook.

3. Who Will Participate in Your Wedding Party?

First the good news. Just because you've been a bridesmaid in 13 weddings since you graduated from college doesn't mean you need to ask all those girls to stand up for you. Choose close friends and family members who will support you during the planning process. Major participants in the wedding party include:

  • Maid of Honor (or Matron of Honor)
  • Bridesmaids
  • Best Man
  • Groomsmen
  • Flower Girl
  • Ring Bearer
  • Ushers (optional)

Be sure to notify members of your bridal party as soon as possible to eliminate the guessing game. Afraid of hurting the not-asked? Request that the person be a reader.