Planning a party for a teenage girl is not always easy. What is in today may be out tomorrow (or sooner). So, how can you celebrate a landmark birthday like a Sweet 16 and remain the cool parent on the block?

We have answers from a seasoned party planner who has pleased the pickiest of young people. Read on for ideas on how to plan a fabulous Sweet 16 soiree that befits today’s teens.

Take their advice

Why take a chance on choosing a theme, decor, or music when you have a great resource right in front of you — the guest of honor herself?

Atlanta-based event planner Jasmine Shah says knowing the birthday girl’s preferences can narrow down party details. “[Teenagers] are good at defining what they like and don’t like,” she says. “That information is valuable and gets you moving in the right direction.”

sweet ideas selfie
Photo by Juliana Concepcion

Sweet 16 ideas and party themes

Creating a theme or vibe gives the party a jumping-off point and makes the event more fun and personal. And everyone loves an excuse to escape and get into character for a few hours.

Shah recommends themes that immediately paint a picture and allow the food, decor, and party-appropriate attire to come together. From “Neon Glow” to “The Great Outdoors,” these themes cover a wide variety of interests, ensuring they appeal to teens of all types.

Let’s take a look at nine Sweet 16 party themes and how you can make each of these ideas come alive.

1. Enchanted garden

For the birthday girl who still dreams of fairytale endings, transport your guests to a place filled with wonder and delight. Create a lush, living wall of plants and flowers to welcome friends, and hang garlands of blooms with twinkling mini chandeliers to cast a magical spell. Serve a buffet inspired by the garden, with mini vegetable frittatas, crudité, and whimsical flower-shaped cookies. And for a truly personalized touch, send your guests home with their own potted plant favors.

2. Retro ’80s or ’90s

Gathering your friends for a throwback party is, like, a totally awesome time! Guests can wear their favorite outfits from decades past, such as bike shorts and an oversized sweatshirt (which happens to be on trend right now), and famous faces and moments from that period can be placed around the space. Play famous movies or television shows like “Beverly Hills 90210” in the background, and fill a playlist with the era’s most popular tunes.

Kids will love to dig into foods that rule. Shah recommends easy, bite-size or shareable options, such as “snack stations with popcorn, pretzels, and chips, and dips like salsa, guacamole, and spinach artichoke dip always work,” she says. “Everyone loves pizza, and guests can choose their toppings and customize their pie. You can also set up a DIY food station, like a taco bar, pasta bar, or build-your-own burger station, where guests can customize their meals on the spot.”

3. Hollywood glamour

Roll out the red carpet for this generation’s biggest stars. Guests can arrive on a step and repeat with family or friends, playing paparazzi and snapping their fab outfits. Allow everyone to stop by a glam station with makeup, hair accessories, and costume jewelry.

sweet ideas cake
Photo by Juliana Concepcion

For an A-list menu, serve sliders and fries on silver platters, and set out cupcakes topped with eatable gold dust. The night’s highlight is the awards ceremony, where everyone takes home a prize.

4. Neon glow

What a bright idea! Fun, colorful, and unique, this theme gets the party started immediately.

Guests can come clad in their favorite colors: acid green, hot pink, or dayglo orange. Prop the party space with the brightest streamers, balloons, and tableware you can find. You can even rent or purchase neon signs for the entrance or above the buffet. Make sure to have plenty of fluorescent accessories for everyone to use, such as bracelets, glowsticks, or sunglasses.

Want to really get the party going? String up colorful LED lights around your house, turn off all the lights, connect your phone to a Bluetooth speaker, and pump upbeat dance music. 

5. Parisian chic

The City of Light is a perfect muse for a sophisticated, worldly party. Set the mood with invites that feature Parisian landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Towel, or Luxembourg Gardens. Guests can wear their best French looks, such as berets and stripes.

Create a mini bistro scene with small outdoor tables, chairs, and real china. Serve French classics like crepes, tartines, or quiche. French macarons make for a finish that’s magnifique.

6. Movie fest

Teenagers like little more than to lose themselves in their favorite film. Host a double or triple feature at your home, or rent out a local theater to have the ultimate movie marathon.

Make sure to have plenty of popcorn and snack boxes on hand for them to enjoy through the comedy, sci-fi, or horror flicks. Ask guests to dress up as their favorite movie characters, and hand out awards for best costume design, hair and makeup, etc.

MORE: Celebration Ideas for Every Milestone Birthday

7. The great outdoors

What better way to inspire adventure and fun than a night of camping? Whether it’s a destination site or your own backyard, the thrill of setting up sleeping bags and spending a night under the stars is unmatched.

Serve up classic campfire food like burgers and hot dogs, and end the night with some s’mores around the fire. Continue the excitement with scary stories. The next day, send them off with their own custom camping mug, a memento of the unforgettable fun they had.

8. Spa day

Transform your home into a haven of relaxation for teens to indulge in a day of facials, mani/pedis, and massages. Imagine the serenity as they enjoy a bevy of good-for-you snacks, such as fruit skewers and veggie trays. Both girls and guys can take home their own spa kit, a reminder of the blissful pampering they experienced.

sweet ideas pool party
Photo by Juliana Concepcion

9. Pool party

Get the fun started with some fun pool games, or have a diving competition, if it is safe to do so. Serve snack bar favorites like grilled cheese, fries, and yummy ice cream treats. Everyone can lounge on their personalized pool towel or tote and take it home as a favor.


Kerstin Czarra is a writer/editor covering design, culture, and entertaining for publications like domino, T Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Better Homes and Gardens, and others. She resides in Los Angeles, and her dream interview will forever be a tie between Joe Strummer and Agatha Christie.

Write A Comment