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Top 10 Sweet 16th Birthday Gifts

Updated on February 5, 2015

Whats's Special About 16?

In many American circles, a girl’s 16th birthday is a special occasion. Why is it such a big deal? Because a girl’s 16th birthday celebration marks a girl’s transition to womanhood, whatever that may mean to your family and your tradition.

The celebration has roots in 19th century traditions around a girl’s “debut” or presentation to the royal Court and society. It is also influenced by the tradition in Mexico and other Latin American countries of celebrating a girl’s 15th birthday (quinceañera) as the beginning of womanhood, a celebration which includes Aztec roots. Quinceañeras and Sweet Sixteen parties share some of the same rituals (see below) such as the presentation of new shoes or a tiara. Tradition has no doubt been influenced by the MTV show My Super Sweet 16 from 2005-2008 (ending, coincidentially, right before the Great Recession) which featured impossibly expensive Sweet 16 and Quinceañera parties for celebrities and rich kids, over-the-top gifts, and sophisticated entertainment.

Back in the 19th century, a girl’s entrance into adult society was tremendously important to her middle-class or aristocratic family, because it meant she was eligible to marry and thus ally the family with other families of differing wealth and status. It’s not clear what this debut means today, as there is so much more to life than marriage. In a way, female adulthood at 16 is just more of the same, except for small things like being able to get married in some states, or being able to work more hours per week.

Still, a 16th birthday party celebrates a symbolic metamorphosis from a girl to a young woman. It can be a surprisingly glamorous occasion (a dance with a DJ, a pool party, a dress-up-and-photo shoot, riding a limo, or bouncing around in a hotel suite) even for people of modest means. It’s a way to look at what it means to be a woman (a very confused and complicated concept to be sure), to display images of glamor, beauty, and sophistication, and to be acknowledged by family members and friends as a person with adult tastes and dreams.

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Some Traditions at Sweet Sixteen/Quinceanera Parties

Often Sweet Sixteen or Quinceañera parties include some special pageantry, one or more of the following ceremonies:

  • The grand entrance. As on MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen, the girl goes out of her way to enter the party with a big flourish.
  • Sixteen-candle ceremony. The birthday girl lights 16 candles, one apiece for each of 16 people, and tells each person why they are special.
  • Shoe ceremony. The father (or father figure) carries a pair of high-heeled shoes to the birthday girl, and places them on her feet. This symbolizes the father accepting her growing up, and giving her permission to dress like an adult.
  • Tiara ceremony. The mother or mother figure places a tiara or crown on the birthday girl's head.
  • The first dance. In some traditions the father and daughter open the dance, alone on the dance floor, to some special or meaningful song.
  • The last doll. At a Quinceañera, a girl may give away a doll to a younger child, to show that she herself is growing up.
  • Birthday speech and toast. The father gives a speech before the the gifts are opened, talking about the joy the daughter has given the father, how proud of her she is, or his wishes for her as she embarks on adulthood.

Sweet 16 Gift Ideas

Besides all these things, a Sweet 16 party is also a child’s birthday party, so you will want to bring a gift if you can. What to bring?

In many ways gift-giving here is like any gift occasion for kids: if you know your teen, you can think of something that will help them follow their dreams, quests, or inclinations. A great gift doesn’t need to have anything to do with girliness or glamor. But if the party looks like it's going to be a tinselly occasion, you can add some sparkle of your own. A gift involving glamour, costume, or maturity will fit in. Or, of course, a gift involving sweetness, literal and figurative.

Some ideas:

1. Jewelry

Any kind of sparkly jewelry would be fun to give. If you don't know in detail what she would like, keep in mind that a girl can ever have enough earrings. And silver chains, for the neck or ankle, can be used with any jewel or charm of her choice.

At a Quinceañera, the mother may place a tiara on the girl's head, to show that she is cherished like a princess. Tiaras are fun in any case. It’s easy to get one on Amazon; plenty of tasteful sparkle can be had for not too much expense.

Sweet 16 Birthday Tiara 50695 by SparklyCrystal
Sweet 16 Birthday Tiara 50695 by SparklyCrystal

A lovely tiara design with plenty of bling, but not at all cheesy, cheap or childish in any way. It bends however she wants to wear it. She'll be thrilled with the quality appearance, and she will be very excited about wearing it at her sweet 16 party!

 

2. Clothes or Beauty Products

It can be risky to buy clothes outright; sizes and tastes differ so much. But if she wears stockings or tights, no lady can ever have enough of these, and lacy or sparkly ones can be glamorous. Confirm the girl’s height and weight to pick the right size; if on the border between two sizes, pick the larger, especially for a heavy or long-legged girl.

A gift certificate she can use for clothes, shoes, makeup, or jewelry would be great. Or a gift certificate to a hair salon, to get her hair cut and/or colored if that’s what she wants.

3. Connectivity

Personal electronics are a rite-of passage electronic gift; a sixteen-year-old will prize a device that can send messages, look at email or the Web, play games, display books or movies, play music, or all these things.

A small tablet computer is fantastically versatile and entertaining. The best tablet is the iPad Air, or the very latest version, the iPad Air 2. These are very high-end, but at least Apple products tend to keep their value.

The Kindle Fire HD actually does many of the same things. It has a lot for the money, it's full of features!

if she doesn't have a cell phone, she'll want one. If she's ready for an expensive phone, an Android phone also can get on the internet and play media and games, and it is cheaper than an iPhone.

To play music, anyone would love an iPod Nano (top end) or iPod Shuffle (cheaper), or an iTunes gift certificate to fill the device up with legal music.

Be sure and coordinate with relatives so you give something she doesn't have already and isn't being given by someone else!

4. A Camera

A girl interested in nature, art, or fashion will enjoy documenting what she sees, which is easy to do with today’s point-and-shoots. She might want to try it out at the party!

Canon PowerShot ELPH135 Digital Camera (Silver) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Canon PowerShot ELPH135 Digital Camera (Silver) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)

The Canon PowerShot ELPH series cameras are good for beginners, easy to use. They take great closeups, and even shoot video.

 

5. Souvenirs or Keepsakes

The celebration is bound to be an occasion she’ll look back to with pride. Any number of online sites will create personalized mementos, often sparkly or pink. For example, you can get "Sweet Sixteen” T-shirts at zazzle.com and cafepress.com.

A tabletop or wall-hanging picture frame is not a bad idea, because the occasion is sure to result in at least one wonderful photo. You can find personalized frames on Macy’s, Pottery Barn, and many other sites that will inscribe a name and date along with “Sweet Sixteen.”

6. Candy

Candy will be welcome, especially if it's tasty and pretty. If you get personalized M&M's, you can even keep a few as souvenirs. You can go online and order a bag or box of personalized M&M's with a message, and even a picture of your birthday guy or gal.

7. A Chance to Play Hostess

Teenagers value their friends, and would like to entertain them. You can give her a gift certificate so she can play host to her friends. Make it big enough to take one friend, or three or more. The gift certificate could take them to a movie theater, all-ages nightclub, paintball range, amusement park, ice-cream parlor, pizza restaurant, baseball game, or whatever weekend fun or underage night life is available where you live.

8. A Coffee Shop Gift Certificate

Most high school kids adore coffee and hanging out in coffee shops. If her parents don’t disapprove, get a certificate to a coffee shop on the way to school (Starbucks, Peets, or better yet a local business). Or, if she goes to an open high school campus, get her a certificate to buy lunches at her favorite cafe near the school.

9. A Specialized Gift Certificate

Gift certificates to all-purpose chains like Amazon, Target or a drugstore are fine; but If you know her pretty well, it's even more wonderful to get a gift certificate she can use to look at and choose from supplies for her particular passion. Good stores for gift certificates include:

  • art stores
  • music stores
  • fabric stores
  • museums
  • bookstores
  • comic stores
  • thrift stores
  • game stores
  • sporting goods stores
  • camping equipment stores

Or buy her lessons:

  • painting
  • dancing
  • cartooning
  • programming
  • game design
  • kayaking
  • climbing
  • practice time in the batting cages
  • a sports clinic

10. Cash

What’s more grown-up than cash? Put it into a nice card with a note.

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Ideas for Your Best Friend's 16th Birthday

What's the coolest thing to do for your best friend on her 16th birthday?

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Guestbook & Comments

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    • Ivylore profile image

      Ivylore 4 years ago

      My niece is very "girlie" and I loved the idea of the tiara- I also added a sterling silver ankle bracelet with a sweet 16 charm- hope she will like it! Thanks for the ideas!

    • TACTCI LM profile image

      TACTCI LM 4 years ago

      Found this from your Google+ account, congrats on the success of this lens, job well done!

    • daniela12 profile image

      daniela12 4 years ago

      I think jewelry is the most memorable gift for a 16 year old.

    • profile image

      Bartukas 4 years ago

      Beautiful lens

    • mrdata profile image

      mrdata 4 years ago

      Lovely lens! Thanks for your valuable information!

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 4 years ago

      The special M&M's are expensive but really attractive! I love the gasoline card idea. You've done some really good work on this topic. You have given me some great inspiration.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i saw the top 10 birthday girft. it so fantastic and unique.

    • GypsyOwl profile image

      Deb Bryan 5 years ago from Chico California

      I believe the sweet 16 birthday may be the most difficult to shop for. My niece will turn 16 soon and I am glad I found your "top ten Sweet 16th Birthday Gifts" article and great to find I can order right here!! Thanks for doing the homework to save me time shopping for my niece's sweet 16 birthday gifts.