The best special outfits to wear to a Sweet 16 party include cocktail dresses, formal gowns, or summer dresses in your favorite colors and patterns. A Sweet 16 often provides the first real “grown-up” party for teens, so you can also add elegant adult elements to your dress like a mermaid silhouette or a low neckline. A Sweet 16 party marks the transition between girlhood and womanhood on a teen's 16th birthday. Families often celebrate this important event with a big, formal party.
You should always choose the style of the dress you wear to a Sweet 16 party based on the formality of the event. Sweet 16 parties can have a black-tie dress code, a formal or semi-formal dress code, or a casual dress code. The invitation to the party often provides details to help guide your style choices.
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Evening Gown or Tux for Black Tie
A black tie event has an especially formal dress code requiring a tuxedo for guys and a formal evening gown for girls. If you receive an invitation to a Sweet 16 held at a formal location like a reception hall or a mansion, check the invitation to see if it lists “black tie” as the dress code.
For guys, renting or buying a tux is a pretty simple proposition. Either go to a place like Men's Wearhouse that provides free measurements or compare your own measurements to a sizing chart in the product description when you order a tux online.
For girls, picking out a formal black tie dress can take a bit more work. Black-tie attire for women always means a full-length gown, but the exact style can vary, ranging from a mermaid style to a poofy bouffant style to a sleek full-length sheath. If you do not want to spend a lot of money on a special dress to wear to one party, you can also rent a formal gown, following tips in this article on the 20 best places to rent prom dresses and gowns.
Prom Dress for Formal
Formal attire for a party has a lot of similarities to black tie, but a bit more flexibility. You will know you should wear formal outfits if the invitation lists it, but another good clue is that both formal and black-tie events tend to take place in the evening, while semi-formal events happen in the afternoon.
For this type of Sweet 16, look for the kind of dress you would wear to your prom. Sequins, flashy jewels, and bright colors work well, though generally, you will still wear a full-length dress to any formal event.
Take a look at the 15 best affordable and sustainable prom dresses to get some ideas!
Cocktail Dress for Semi Formal
For a semi-formal Sweet 16 held in the afternoon, girls should wear a cocktail dress and guys can wear a suit. A cocktail dress is a knee-length or midi-length dress in a formal style, made out of fancy fabric like satin, netting, tulle, or lace.
Traditionally, you should pair formal footwear like heels with a cocktail dress. You may also want accessories like a wrap or shawl during the winter, or your favorite classy jewelry.
Check out the 12 best American-made cocktail dresses here.
Printed Dress for Casual
Many girls also choose to hold a more casual Sweet 16 party, especially if their family hosts the event at a home or nearby park. If you receive an invitation to a casual Sweet 16, wear your favorite printed dress or sundress to look cute and not too informal. A Sweet 16 is an important event, so it is almost never a good idea to wear something totally casual like jeans and a t-shirt.
Instead, wear a sundress and strappy sandals in the summer, or a silky or satiny dress paired with ankle boots in the fall and winter. Take a look at the 15 best affordable and sustainable sundresses here.
Outerwear for Weather
While matching your Sweet 16 outfit to the formality of the event is the most important rule to follow, you should also consider the venue of the party before you settle on your dress or suit. For example, if the party will take place outside, you should bring sunglasses and add a cute hat to your outfit.
If the event will take place in the winter, make sure you plan to include a coat or wrap in your outfit, too. You can find the 20 best affordable and sustainable winter coats to consider here.
Shoes that Match the Venue
Before you finalize an outfit to wear to a Sweet 16 party, check the invitation to see if the party will take place indoors or outdoors. Sometimes even black tie and cocktail events take place outdoors in a formal garden! In this case, look for flat or comfortable footwear that you can wear without sinking into grass or mud.
On the other hand, you can safely wear your favorite strappy sandals or towering heels to an indoor event! Take a look at the 13 best affordable, vegan heels here.
Suit or Button-Down
Unquestionably guys get the easier bargain when it comes to picking the perfect outfit to wear to a Sweet 16 party. While you want to look stylish, you have fairly limited options: a tux for black-tie, a suit for formal or semi-formal, and a button-down and slacks for a casual party.
If you really want to go all in and look your best for an important party, consider taking a suit to a tailor to get it fitted precisely to your measurements. Wearing tailored clothing looks high-end and very put together, especially for a teen! You can find the 20 best affordable and sustainable suits to consider here.
Probably the most popular style of dress for girls to wear to a formal or black-tie Sweet 16 is a princess style with a full, bouffant skirt made of tulle or netting. After all, who doesn’t want to dress up like a princess for special occasions? This is what you could also think of as a classic ballgown silhouette, with a fitted bodice and a wide, full skirt.
For a summery look, you can find a dress with embroidered flowers dotting the full skirt, or go with puffed sleeves for a Cinderella dress style.
If you want to wear a gorgeous princess dress but you don’t want to buy it, take a look at the 20 best places to rent black tie dresses.
When you need a dress to wear to a semi-formal or afternoon Sweet 16 party, you can’t go wrong with a classic A-Line cocktail dress. An A-line dress has a skirt shaped like a letter A, with a narrow waist and then a skirt that flares out to the sides.
You can go casual with an A-line by finding a dress made out of fun printed organic cotton or linen. But you can also wear a more formal or cocktail-style A-line by picking a dress made out of a “fancy” material such as satin, faux silk, brocade, or lace.
Another way to make your A-Line dress more or less formal based on the type of Sweet 16 party you plan to attend is to pick the right footwear. Ballet flats work well for a casual style, while heels or heeled sandals will add a more formal style to your outfit. You can find the 10 best affordable and comfortable ballet flats here.
A mermaid-style dress is one of the fun options you can choose from for a formal or black-tie Sweet 16 party. A mermaid gown has a fitted silhouette until the knee or the calf, where the skirt flares out dramatically, like the end of a mermaid’s tail!
Mermaid dresses can have many different types of necklines, such as a sweetheart, a plunging V neckline, or a swooping Queen Anne’s neckline. You can also find formal mermaid-style dresses made out of many different types of fabric, from beaded lace to shimmery satins.
When you wear a stunning, formal gown like a mermaid-style dress, make sure it does not overwhelm the rest of your appearance! You will want to pick elegant hair and jewelry accessories to match your gown. For example, take a look at the 12 best affordable and sustainable hair accessories here.
A summer dress or sundress makes the perfect outfit to wear to a casual Sweet 16 party, especially one held outdoors at a park or in a backyard. Summer dresses can come in all kinds of cool, cute styles including a babydoll dress with a high waist and loose sleeves, a strapless dress, or an A-line dress with a pleated or gathered skirt.
If you need some inspiration for your summer party dress, take a look at the 20 best cute and cheap summer dresses here.
If you want an adorable and trendy outfit to wear to a Sweet 16 that is not a dress, why not try a romper? A romper is an attached top and shorts or top and shorts beneath a skirt, often made out of cute printed cotton or linen. Because it has a short bottom and often a sleeveless top, this outfit will work best for a summery Sweet 16.
If you don’t already own a cute romper, take a look at this list of the 15 best organic cotton rompers.
For girls, the most popular footwear to pair with a Sweet 16 party outfit is high heels, often in a decorative or trendy style. For example, if you wear a prom-style dress you might want heels with rhinestones or feathers glued onto them!
As you pick your fun heels for the party, try to avoid fast fashion options. Instead, search through the 30 best ethical and vegan shoe companies to find the perfect fit.
Another fun footwear option to pair with any Sweet 16 outfit for girls is a pair of stylish sandals. You can go with flat, comfortable sandals for an outdoor party, strappy, heeled sandals for a formal indoor party in the summer, or espadrilles for a casual or semi-formal event.
You can even pair barefoot-style sandals with a summer dress for a casual Sweet 16! This comfortable, modern trend has many benefits, as you will see in this list of the top 10 reasons why you should wear barefoot shoes.
Embroidery and Embellishments
One of the fun things about picking an outfit for a Sweet 16 party is that you can go over the top with the embellishments for a formal or semi-formal gown. For example, you can pick a dress with a ballgown style sprinkled with thousands of embroidered flowers. Or you can pick a sophisticated sheath dress covered in millions of sequins, 1920s style.
The design is up to you, but make sure you have fun with it! For perfect synchrony, you could even add a matching handbag or a piece of eye-catching jewelry that matches the embellishments on your gown. You can find the 15 best fair-trade jewelry brands to consider here.
Another popular type of dress to wear to a Sweet 16 party is an off-the-shoulder style. You can find this grown-up cut on both cocktail and full-length dresses, perfect for both formal and semi-formal parties.
Off-the-shoulder dresses show off your bust and can make you look very grown up, especially at a party full of teens! To make sure you don’t reveal more than you meant to, take a page from Princess Di’s playbook and carry a matching clutch with you. That way, you can hold the clutch in front of yourself if you need to bend over during the party. You may also want to bring a light, lacey sweater with you in case you feel chilly with your bare shoulders. You can find the 10 best eco-friendly sweaters here.
Like off-the-shoulder styles, sweetheart necklines have remained popular for Sweet 16 party dresses for decades. This type of dress has a neckline that dips in at the center of the chest, just like the top of a heart! You often see this type of neckline on formal dresses, especially cocktail dresses with full skirts or ballgown-style full-length dresses.
One of the keys to pulling off an adorable sweetheart neckline gown is to wear jewelry that accents that dip in the neckline, like the perfect pendant or necklace. Take a look at the 15 best sustainable jewelry brands to find the perfect piece for you!
Don’t forget to fix your hair to match the perfect outfit you pick to wear to a Sweet 16 party! The general rule of thumb is that you put your hair up for a formal outfit, and you can leave it down or wear it in a ponytail or braid for a casual party.
Of course, you can do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. If you love the way your hair looks all blown out and silky, just add a jeweled barrette for a formal hairdo. If you prefer your curls piled up on your head, try an elegant chignon or a bun held in place with pearl-tipped pins.
If you decide you need a clip to hold your elegant hairstyle in place, take a look at the 10 best affordable and eco-friendly hair clips here.
The final touch to complete any outfit for a Sweet 16 party is the accessories you match with your dress or suit. For guys, a belt and just the right tie can pull your outfit together. For girls, you can add anything from a jeweled tiara or headpiece to a handy clutch or purse to hold essentials like lipstick and a cell phone.
For a more casual Sweet 16, try adding a belt to your party dress to give it a defined waist or a pop of color! You can check out the 10 best ethical and vegan belts for women here.
Clutch Vs Purse
If you receive an invite to a formal or black-tie Sweet 16, you should carry a small clutch instead of a purse or shoulder bag. At more casual parties, a purse or handbag is totally acceptable.
You also want to make sure you pick an ethically sourced purse or handbag for a party accessory, Consider the 15 best affordable vegan leather purses here.
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