What to Wear to a Sweet 16 Party: General Tips & Outfit Choices

What to wear to a sweet 16

So you’re invited to a Sweet 16 birthday party. It’s a fantastic opportunity to have a nice time out and admire just how grown and mature the Sweet 16 has gotten. The question is: what do you wear to one of these parties? The answer varies heavily depending on who is hosting it and what they’re doing for the event.

Some people would think it appropriate to wear casual clothes just like any other birthday party, but you should absolutely check in with the parents and the newly-turned young adult. Sweet 16s aren’t like any other birthday party — they’re a coming of age landmark where a young man or woman can finally start making their own decisions. They can finally drive and work and live life like a normal adult. This period only comes once in a lifetime, so the last thing you want is for the special person you’re going to see looking back in their fond memories and remembering how you stuck out like a sore thumb.

These types of parties can be like walking a fine line. Too underdressed and it looks like you don’t care. Too overdressed and it looks like you want to be the center of attention. It’s a mortifying feeling, but don’t worry, I’ve got you. Here are some tips to think about when dressing for the special day.


General Tips on What to Wear to a Sweet 16 Party

Tips on what to wear

Here is some general advice that goes for anyone, regardless of gender or the dress code.

  • Take note of events that will be held. For example, the event might be casual, but there will also be a pool party out back, so you should bring a bathing suit. Or maybe it’s going to be formal attire by the beach at night. In that case, you should wear a dress that is short enough to not be ruined by sand in case you all go for a stroll on the beach, as well as an extra pair of shoes.
  • No upstaging. Yes, this might be a bit obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many are oblivious to how their look will be compared to the Sweet 16 year old in question. Look nice and presentable, but don’t overdo it. And this should be a given, but stay away from clothes that are too revealing. Treat it like a wedding: it’s their day to shine, not yours.
  • Don’t dress too restrictively. If you’re at a black tie sort of party, the clothes can look fantastic, but still be very restrictive. Because it’s a birthday party for a 16 year old, you’ll have to anticipate an activity or two.
  • If you’re renting a tuxedo, do so early. You won’t know if you’ll be able to find one before the night in question, and the last thing you want is to be scrambling around for something to wear because you were unprepared.


Check If There’s a Dress Code

Check if there is a dress code in a sweet 16 party

Some parties like to have a theme to them, and that’s not unusual. There have been hundreds of Sweet 16 parties that like to change things up and become wholly unique. Some like costume parties, others want to put on a royalty theme, or maybe put a Roaring 20’s vibe to the entire thing. Some just want to be ultra fancy, while others prefer it toned down and casual.

While most parties tend to meet in the middle between casual and formal, you should still make sure. Usually there are invitations to these sorts of things, but on the off chance that there aren’t, or that you were forgotten on the mailing list, you should be direct. You could go to the hosts, but another good option is to contact the soon-to-be adult and ask their preferences, as it will be their party. From there, just dress accordingly! Casual can be fairly easy to get an understanding of, but if we’re going a more formal route, that needs some more consideration.


Formal Dress Codes

sweet 16 formal dress code

So what many people don’t quite know is the differences in wordings between “black tie”, “formal attire” and “cocktail attire”. To those who don’t quite go out to these sorts of parties, they might seem pretty similar, but they’re not. Dress codes can actually be pretty complex and fairly picky, depending on what it is. Some have more room for picking out nice wear from your closet, while others you might have to rent out. Let me go through the basics of each one so I’ll go over it with you real fast.


Black Tie Dress Codes

Black tie dress codes are fairly strict, but easy to go by once you understand them. There’s actually subsections of black tie dress codes, in fact, and it’s important to make a distinction. There’s the casual “black tie”, which is essentially tuxedos and floor-length dresses. “Black tie creative” means to be a bit looser with the clothing. It still means a tuxedo and dress, but they can make some adjustments like a red suit instead of black, or a slit on the side of a shorter red dress. “White tie” is the pinnacle of formal wear. Think of a more traditional formal you would see at a ball. Tail coats, princess-like ball gowns, solid black suits, elbow-length gloves— that sort of thing. Makeup is usually professionally done, as well. Dress like you’ve never had to work a day in your life.


Semi-Formal Dress Codes

Semi-formal is standard, not quite as lax as cocktail attire, but not as strict as black tie attire. For men, it always requires a suit and a tie. Think business formal. You have some freedom on the shades, though it’s usually in the realm of black/gray/blue. That’s what you want to go for. For women, it always means a dress, though they have more freedom than men. Don’t shoot for business formal, as that tends to look less inviting in a party. Go for a cooler color, nothing too warm and bright, and don’t go for anything that’s floor length. Keep away from bright colors when it comes to makeup as well.


Cocktail Dress Codes

Going cocktail isn’t too hard. If you’re a man, you’re still going to wear a suit, maybe a tie, but you can be a lot more loose with things like color scheme. For women, you’re going to want a dress on the shorter side, with an emphasis on form-fitting. All colors are good to go, and you should dress to impress, but not overwhelmingly. Makeup can be as bright as you’d like. This is the most lax version of formal you can get.


Casual Wear

sweet 16 casual wear

Sometimes these events are held at more casual venues or just have a more toned down at-home environment. These sort of events are easy to dress for, but still require a bit of consideration. After all, you’re going to someone’s birthday party. Even then, you have to take certain environments into consideration. Wearing jeans and a sweater to a day at the beach isn’t going to cut it. Here are some general tips for casual wear.


No Ultra Casual/Street Wear

This is a big no-no. Some people might question how someone can underdress at a casual party, but believe me, there are some people who really know how to crash a party with some sloppy dress attire.

Unless the party is also a sleepover, no sweatpants or sweatshirts. Even then, you have to be one of the people actually sleeping over for that to be acceptable, and most of them will show up with a different change of clothes. On the other side of the spectrum, yoga pants also aren’t the best option for a birthday party.

Keep away from a tank top-only approach, make sure your pants fit. Here’s a general rule of thumb for comfortable wear: if you think you can comfortably sleep in it, don’t wear it to the party.


Outdoors Wear

If it’s an outdoorsy affair, then it’s safe to assume it’s not being held during the coldest time of the year. This is your cue to pull out the khaki shorts, guys. Girls, pull out your favorite sundress, maybe a hat to go with it. Dress like you’re going to a picnic, which just might be the case. No need to put on any heavy makeup, especially if there’s going to be swimming involved. Make sure you triple check the weather, though, and bring an umbrella in the trunk just in case.


Final Thoughts

Sweet 16s are one of those events that allow you to make yourself a part of the soon-to-be adult’s life, and while it’s important to make sure these memories are cultivated through good times and fun talks, you should also look good during them. If you’ve gone through all this and are still unsure of how to proceed with picking your attire, it’s best to speak to the host or the venue holding the party. If it’s formal, pick it out or rent it early, do some ironing, and hang it up for later. If it’s casual, pick it out the night before and grab it once it’s time. In the end, it’s as easy as that.