The Art of the Thank You Note Shouldn’t Be Lost

The Art of the Thank You Note Shouldn’t Be Lost

Long before Jimmy Fallon started writing them on his show, thank you notes have been a thing.  A very important custom that is too often ignored or forgotten.  The importance of thank you notes was hammered into me at a very young age.  I have memories of my mother standing over me as I painstakingly wrote out thank you notes in a childish hand on personalized stationery.

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Have you been a slacker about sending out holiday cards?

Have you been a slacker about sending out holiday cards?

Have you been a slacker about sending out your holiday cards?  Have you really wanted to send a card out to your friends for the past few years but couldn’t get it together to buy the cards, get mailing addresses, and buy stamps?  Well, good thing for you laggards out there that there is a service like Paperless Post.

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Is the RSVP dead? The Slow & Painful Death of Etiquette in the 21st Century

image :: holmes, ink

RSVP.  Répondez s’il vous plait. Four little letters that appear at the end of most invitations sent out {whether actually on paper or of the “e” variety.}  Yes, it is a traditional ending to an invitation, but it is there for a reason.  Your host/ess needs to know if you will be attending the event s/he is planning. 

Traditionally, proper etiquette requires you respond to an invitation within two days of receipt with a reason for your regret, if you should not be able to attend.

But let’s be realistic.  As Gertrude Stein said::

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”

Most of us live our lives on e-mail, whether we are sitting in front of a computer or reading it on our smart phones.  Email is so easy and fast that it’s possible to overlook the courtesies natually associated with more formal forms of communication.

Regardless of how inundated we are with information on a daily basis, an RSVP is a basic social task that only requirea a “yes” or a “no,” which is often achieved with the simple click of a mouse.  But, for whatever reason, the RSVP seems to rub against the grain of contemporary life.

It seems that, by asking someone to commit to a plan in the distant future, you are demanding an action that Americans no longer practice.  We like to remain flexible, solidifying plans incrementally as the date approaches.  Phrases like, “Let’s talk tomorrow,” “I’ll call you from the road,” seem to just roll off our tongues.

Rand Richards Cooper wrote a great Op-Ed piece for the NY Times in March called “It’s My Party, and You Have to Answer.” In the article he talks about an “experiment” he conducted ::

HERE’S an etiquette experiment for you: E-mail an invitation for a party, one month out, to 45 friends. Request an R.S.V.P. Provide a follow-up e-mail message, two weeks later, politely reminding them to get back to you.

How many will?

My experiment arose from plans for an evening of food, drink and literature, with readings by myself and two other writers, at a restaurant. Not exactly a drop-in-if-you’re-around kind of thing, so I asked friends to R.S.V.P. My initial message brought in a dozen responses, and the follow-up a few more, but days before the event I had a paltry 23. Not 23 who planned to come, but 23 who had bothered to respond. Half my invitees had blown me off. Why? I wasn’t peddling life insurance, after all.

What’s preventing us from executing this basic social task? Is it the medium? Do Evites somehow not feel like “real” invitations? Is it our busy lives, so overbooked and overwhelmed we’ve drawn up the castle gates? Don’t invite me out this month, I’m ensconced! Or is it simple rudeness? Try as I might to understand, I kept feeling dissed.

Later, Cooper made some follow-up calls to his invitees ::

But back to my party. The day before the big event, I sent a final e-mail message, thanking “the half of you who responded for helping keep the dying art of the R.S.V.P. alive.” This irked missive flushed out a final 10 hangdog respondents. But there remained a gang of 12 — the dirty dozen, the truly hardcore, fanatical nonresponders — who couldn’t even be shamed into

Why does it take “shame” for people to do the right thing?  Are we really so navel-gazing & self-absorbed?

In my own, more recent experience I sent out invitations to an event on July 12th for an event I am hosting on July 29th.  I logically believed that as I was sending out the invite well in advance that more people would be able to attend as they would receive my invite before their calendars filled up.

As of July 22, only 14 of the 58 people I invited have responded.


You won’t hurt my feelings if you say “no,” what hurts my feelings is that you can’t be bothered to click on the little button next to the “yes” or the “no” button.  When you don’t RSVP, it’s almost like telling your hostess that you are more important than she is.

Anyone can make reservations, but it’s not everyday that you are invited to a cocktail or dinner party in someone’s home. 

When you don’t RSVP, you are telling your hostess that you don’t care that she had to clean her house from top-to-bottom, get and arrange flowers, shop at least two different stores for groceries, go to another store to make wine selections, not to mention prepare the food {whether it’s the full menu or just h’ors douevres}.

While I like Cooper’s idea of a new acronym for the end of an invite :: RVOM — Répondez Vite — Ou Mourez, which translates to “Respond Quickly or Die!,” I don’t think it’s time {yet} to resort to such drastic measures. Here are some tips for RSVPing in the “Age of Information Overload”

    • Don’t wait for so long to RSVP that the hostess has to call you — it’s embarassing for both parties.  This is typically when the invitee will often make up some “Little White Lie” that is shaky at best.  RSVPing immediately will avoid the uncomfortable stammering following the “no” that will definitely set off your hostess’ BS meter.
  • NEVER Better Deal
    • Also known as BBD, for “Bigger, Better Dealing” — a term known in Hollywood, the capital of self-absorbed, entitled behavior. BBD is when one cancels on a commitment when a better invitation comes along.
    • While BBD is totally abhorrent, so is waiting to RSVP “just in case” something better comes along.  What that says to your hostess is “I’m not going to RSVP until I know for sure something better isn’t going on on the same night.”
    • Honor your commitments. I mean, how embarassing if word gets back to your original host that your “headache” cleared up and you were seen at another party?
      • Besides, who said you can’t attend two events in one night?  Naturally, that won’t really work if you’re invited to a dinner party, but there is nothing stopping you from stopping by a cocktail party for one drink before going to another dinner party? It’s totally doable.

Now, understand that I don’t consider myself a saint when it comes to all of this.  I trip from time to time, but I do try my best to live up to the standard that I hold for myself.  So next time you receive an invitation {by mail or electronically}, take a moment open your calendar and honestly assess if you are able to attend, then click the “yes,” “maybe” or “no” button.  It’s the polite thing to do.

{side note :: If you like sending actual paper invites, I reccommend Red Stamp, they have a great assortment of invites from some talented designers and their customer service is top-notch!  I am also a HUGE fan of Paperless Post — the e-invitations look like real invites and the tracking software is really useful too!  You can customize the invites with photos and logos as well for an additional charge, but I haven’t had a chance to try that yet.}

What to bring to a dinner party when you are a guest? Design Babylon gives you 7 options to consider

photo :: melvin sokolsky
photo :: marvin sokolsky

You’ve been invited to a dinner party at a friend’s house…. Now what do you bring as a gift? Here are some ideas for you (and some things to avoid!)


wine bottles



1.  A bottle of wine is always a great gift.  Make sure to let your hostess know if she should serve it at the event or save it for another occasion.  If you would like your hostess to serve the bottle of wine at the event, be sure to find out the menu — you can’t have your gift clashing with the food now can you?



delicious goodness from whimsy & spice


2.  Some sort of sweet treat that is easily served (you don’t want to add to your host’s list of to-dos).  If your dish requires preparation, make sure you let your host know that you will take care of it for them, and again, make sure whatever you are bringing is inline with what your host is serving. {I highly recommend Whimsy & Spice, a husband and wife team in Brooklyn, NY who create some seriously mouth-watering delights)


arrangement by lily & co

floral design by lily & company, jackson hole, wy

3.  Fresh flowers are always a beautiful addition to any table, but again, you don’t want to create more work for your hostess, so if you plan on giving her flowers that may require tracking down a vase and arranging, send them earlier on the day of the event.  This way your host will have time to either arrange the flowers, or find the perfect spot for the stunning arrangement you so thoughtfully sent ahead.


cocktail napkin from gallery 19 & stoppers from jonathan adler {bien sûr!}
4.  Wine/cocktail-related accessories are also a great idea.  An elegant or fun bottle stopper as well as cheeky cocktail napkins make great gifts.  Not only are they useful, every time your host uses the items they will be reminded of what a thoughtful guest you are.


Camellia - Seda France
camellia candle from seda france, available from candle delirium
5.  Candles are another great option, but be careful about scent.  Fragrance is very personal and if you don’t know your host very well it’s best to steer clear of this option.


mini-potted herbs



6.  If your host is a big cook (or a master mixologist), herbs in a ceramic pot are another great option.  Does your host love to throw together a batch of Mojitos at the last minute?  Get them some mint!  Basil is always a good idea as well as the herb is used in many recipes and tastes even better when it comes from your own plant.


iomoi gift tags 

gift tag from iomoi {pink! retro patterns!  elephants!! what’s not to love?}


7.  Don’t forget to label your gift — in the hustle and bustle of pulling off a successful party your hostess may forget that it was you who brought the hilarious cocktail napkins!


Remember, a gift is a courtesy, not an obligation!  However, as a frequent hostess I can tell you that gifts are very much appreciated — it’s a way to show your host that you appreciate all the effort that went into the soirée that you are now attending.  


merci beaucoup - snow & graham
“merci beaucoup” thank you notes from snow & graham via


The best gift of all is a thank you note — take five minutes to let your hostess know how much you enjoyed the dinner and conversation and touch on what you thought to be the highlight of the evening.  It can be anything from the artfully produced soufflé or when one guest fell off their chair because they were laughing so much.


Picking Up Where Domino Left Off....

Domino, March 2008

I am still mourning the loss of my beloved Domino Magazine (and I am sure many others are still shedding tears over the pages torn out of the inspirational publication) but it is time to move forward and hopefully carry on the mission that Domino set out to accomplish from the very beginning:

We started with a real idea—that style is for everyone—and tried to carry it out with stories that provide inspiration and empower you to act on it. (From

Now it is up to design bloggers to create content that inspires readers and gives them the tools to create spaces that they can be proud of and that give them joy.

Domino published their manifesto in the premiere issue of the magazine.  The manifesto is as follows:

  • Home Should Make You Happy!

  • We swear by the 3 R's: repaint, repaper, reupholster

  • Steal ideas from other people's houses

  • Even the insides of the closets & cabinets can be beautiful

  • It's ok to NOT BE finished


  • A chandelier is as timeless as a black dress

  • Renters need not be second class citizens

  • Sometimes your mistakes become your greatest inspirations

  • DON'T BE AFRAID TO MIX STYLES (Louis XIV and Eero Saarinen should hang out more often)

  • When traveling, skip the snapshot and buy something unique for the coffee table


I, for one, am up for the challenge.

Keep checking back for posts featuring aspirational designs with tips on how you can achieve the look for less (which is something I am sure all of us are thinking about these days), party planning tips and tricks, etiquette advice, and more.

À bientôt!

Modern-Day Etiquette: Thank You Notes

Photo: Iomoi

I love stationery. I can never have enough personalized stationery, letterpress cards and notepads; a paper goods shop is like a candy store to me. If I ever become a lady of leisure I would love to have a proper writing desk where I would sit for an hour or two in the morning writing little notes to people. As it stands, I am not a lady of leisure and I spend one to two hours a day mucking through my e-mail in-box and sending e-communication.


These days, written communication is mainly conducted via e-mail, SMS, messages left on your Facebook wall, or in an instant messenger window. When I look through my mail and I see a handwritten note from someone it totally makes my day. Not just because it is a change from the parade of bills, junk mail, and pre-approved credit card notices, but because someone took the time to sit down, take out a piece of stationery and write me a letter, track down a stamp and place it in the mailbox.

Following a meeting with a new client, an interview, a dinner or cocktail party I always send a handwritten thank you note. It’s memorable and it leaves a positive impression with the recipient. There is never a reason not to send a thank you note and the gesture is always appreciated.



When selecting your stationery, keep it simple. Make sure the lettering is visible on what ever card stock you select. Choose wisely, the stationery you choose will be a direct reflection of you -- stay away from cutesy motifs or anything too trendy.

Writing the Note

Neatness definitely counts -- bent paper, coffee spills and crossed out words render a thank you note un-sendable. I like to write a rough draft before putting pen to paper on my nice stationery. I like to write the draft in a notebook -- this way I have a record of exactly what I said in the note. It may seem like this extra step adds too much time to the task of writing a thank you note, but I think it is worth it to get the note and the sentiment right.

When thanking someone you know well, draw a short, diagonal slash through your last name. The slash will indicate that you are writing on an personal, first-name basis. On more formal or business notes, skip the slash.
Try and avoid using clichés, it makes the note less personal. It is also important to be natural and avoid sounding overly mannered or formal in personal correspondence. William Strunk and E. B. White said in their book The Elements of Style “Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.” The more personal and creative you are with your words the greater the impact of your thank you note.


All of the stationery featured in this post (with the exception of the blue pagoda at the top of the post, which is from Iomoi) is available at Red Stamp. Red Stamp is a great site for people obsessed with paper and office accessories. They also have a blog that discusses modern day etiquette. They currently have a great promotion going on called "You Deserve Good Paper" -- you get free stationery with every order!