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Planning a Sweet 16 Party? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Two teens wearing sweet 16 party dresses while enjoying ice cream cones in the city.

Your ultimate guide on how to plan a sweet 16 party.

Start With a Party Style & Theme

Before you start shopping for Sweet 16 dresses, buying up a ton of party favors, or telling all of your friends that there will “definitely be a DJ” at your party, take a giant step back! Come up with an idea as to what you want your party to look like overall. Do you want it to be a total dance party? Or are you thinking about a small group of girls out on a lake somewhere? Having a vision in mind for your party will help you make big decisions about your budget and guest list.

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: Come up with your top one or two priorities for the party. Whether you’re dreaming of an amazing party venue or wearing the most fabulous dress ever, knowing what’s most important to you will help you understand where you should focus your time (and money!).

Figure Out Your Budget

Speaking of money, you really do need to come up with a budget before you buy anything. Whether it’s $100 or $10,000, you have to know how much you have to spend. Come up with that number by sitting down with your parents (or whomever is helping you throw your big celebration) and having a conversation about budgeting for a Sweet Sixteen party. Budget in place, go back to those top priorities and figure out how much you need to spend on those. Then look for ways to save on the rest!

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: Keep in mind that your food, drink and venue will most likely make up about 40-50% of your total budget. That leaves about half of your budget for all of the rest of the party elements, like decor, entertainment, and your dress.

Compile The Guest List

Figure out how many people will be at your Sweet 16 by putting together your guest list. We suggest creating an exhaustive guest list first and then trimming it down from there. Start with your family first. Then move on to your extended family. Once you’ve listed out your family, move on to your closest friends, and then the rest of your friends. Don’t forget about sports teammates, church friends, or neighbors that you love hanging out with but maybe don’t go to your school.

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: Can’t decide who to keep and who to cut? Separate your guest list into friend circles (as in friends who all know each other and would hang out together at your party). Then decide which friend groups you really want to have there and which ones you could cut. (It doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with them at some other time!)

Find A Party Venue

The three things you need in order to figure out your venue are the date, your budget, and the number of guests. With that information, you should be able to make a good decision about where to have the party. Of course, if you have a big guest list, you may not be able to have it at your house. In that case, you’ll want to reserve the date at a nearby venue as soon as possible. Look online for options, read reviews, and then make a couple of appointments to go visit your top venue picks. Once you’ve booked your venue, pop those party invites in the mail!

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: If you’re choosing a venue that is known for hosting proms or weddings, you’ll probably have to be flexible about the day of the week. During the busy season (typically spring and fall), Saturdays are often booked at least a year in advance.

Plan The Menu

Now that you have your venue, you can start planning out the food and drink menu. If your venue requires that you use their catering, you’ll probably have a menu of options to choose from based on your budget and party style. If you’re doing the party at home or at a venue that allows you to bring in outside catering, then get creative. Buy premade food in bulk and then serve it up on pretty platters. Or make part of the meal and have part of it catered (for example, make beans and rice, and then order the tacos from your favorite Mexican food restaurant).

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: Can’t decide what to serve? Think of your favorite food in the entire world and then plan the menu around that! So for example, if you love creamy mac and cheese, then make it the centerfold of dinner and have a mac and cheese bar with all the toppings for guests to customize their own!

Buy Your Sweet 16 Dress

Start by browsing Sweet Sixteen dresses on PromGirl to get a sense as to what’s out there. Save your favorites and look for themes amongst your top picks. Maybe you love the look of a short dresses with a higher neckline or maybe you saved party dresses that are mostly metallic gold and silver. Once you have an idea as to what you’re looking for, narrow down your options and order your favorite. For more ideas, check out our Prom Girl party dresses right here and formal dresses right here.

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: Ordering your Sweet 16 dress is sort of like ordering a dress for prom. You’ll want to have it at least a month in advance so that you have time to get it altered. When you take it to be altered, don’t forget to bring your shoes and any other accessories you’re planning to wear.

Figure Out Your Hair & Makeup

Right around the time you find your dress, you’ll also want to start thinking about who is going to do your hair and makeup. If you’re super confident in your beauty skills, then by all means do it yourself. It’s totally fine if that’s not the case though. There are lots of options: You can hire a hair and makeup person to come to your house or make an appointment at a salon. Need a budget friendly idea? Have your hair blown out at a blowdry bar or salon and then make an appointment at a makeup counter for a free makeup trial. Buy a lip gloss or lipstick from the makeup artist so that you have it for touch-ups that night!

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: Your idea of glam might not be the same as your hair or makeup artist. So use photos to show your makeup or hairstylist what you want. Find photos online (Instagram and Pinterest are great places to start) and bring them to your appointment so that you’re both on the same page.

Plan Out The Entertainment (Or DJ!)

It wouldn’t be a party without a little music, so take the time to think through what you want your party to sound like. Do you want it to feel like an upbeat nightclub? Or something more instrumental and laid-back? Decide the vibe and then find someone to help you pull it off. Hire a DJ or band for the party or simply ask a friend to put together a playlist of songs for the party.

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: To really take it up a notch, hire entertainment to play up your theme. So if it’s a BBQ outside under sparkly bistro lights, get a bluegrass band to play for an hour and set the tone for the evening. Or maybe you want a swanky feel. In that case, hire a jazz trio to serenade everyone as they arrive. The options are pretty much endless!

Find a Photographer

Last but not least, make a plan for photo and video. If it’s in the budget, hire a photographer and videographer to help capture the day and get all the shots you want. If you can’t afford a pro for the full party, that’s okay too. One idea is to hire a photographer to take portraits of you and your family ahead of the party. That way, you get some great shots of you in your dress but don’t have to hire them for the full party. Another idea is to assign a friend or two the job of photographing the party. Give them a shot list (as in the photos you really want to have from the night) and then let them handle the rest!

Sweet 16 Party Planning Tip: Consider renting or creating a photo booth for the party. Print two copies of every photo: one for them as a party favor and one for you for your photo album!

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