Whether or not you’re a “big birthday person,” celebrating one’s 21st year around the sun tends to be a pretty memorable milestone — at least in America. Seen as the official entry into adulthood, turning 21 means finally being able to (legally) do all the things. But, no matter how you decide to celebrate, one thing is for certain: You’ll need something special to wear.
You only get one 21st birthday, and your outfit will no doubt end up on Instagram, so you’ll want to make sure that you look and feel your best. Given the endless array of options and outfit ideas out there, we tapped personal stylist Jamie Lewis to help us find the perfect ‘fit for the big day. Before working with her clients, Lewis takes the time to understand their comfort zones and boundaries. “There is never a need to wear something you are not into,” she instructs. “On your special day, your outfit should resemble your style and you should feel confident wearing it.”
Using celeb photos for both inspiration and illustrative purposes, we’ve picked out 23 birthday outfit ideas to consider when celebrating your 21st. Whether you’re into champagne or cupcakes, denim or dresses — there’s truly no wrong way to get dressed, as long as you’re prepared to party.
Meet Our Expert
Jamie Lewis is a N.Y.C.-based personal stylist.
The Little Black Dress
Allow us to begin with the obvious: By the time you turn 21, you’ll want to have at least one LBD in your closet that you feel good wearing anywhere. Show some leg with the skirt, and choose sleeves and a neckline that complements your favorite features, like strong arms or a delicate décolletage. The ideal LBD can be easily dressed up or down with accessories, so don’t be shy about experimenting with shoes, bags, and jewelry. Sydney Sweeney’s frilly socks and heart pendant choker lend a bit of playfulness to an otherwise sophisticated look.
If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to pull out all the stops, this is it. “Your 21st birthday outfit is an ideal time to add glitz and glamour to your outfit,” says Lewis. Feel free to go over the top with sequins, sparkles, and anything else that makes you smile. If you choose to go big, however, Lewis encourages adding something more tailored to elevate the look overall. “Try a sequin dress paired with a blazer dropped over the top, like Bella Hadid’s Michael Kors look, or something more simple like a sequin top and tailored shorts,” she suggests.
When a trend is as inescapable as Barbiecore in the year 2023, don’t feel shy about embracing it for your big day. Hot pink from head to toe can look and feel powerful, like the Valentino suit and platform pumps worn by Zendaya. Even if your party isn’t Barbie-themed, your outfit is guaranteed to be iconic.
Wild animals may use their coloring to blend into their surroundings, but we wear animal prints when we want to stand out. Set the tone for the evening in a wildlife-inspired party dress and keep your accessories simple, like Dove Cameron. It’s an easy way to attract all of the attention — and, if you want to go all in, Lewis suggests incorporating the same print in your accessories. “It’s a fun way to really embrace the wild side of animal print,” she notes.
If you’re more of a jeans-and-tee kind of person, then you’re in luck: The going out top of the early aughts is back, and better than ever. “The pairing of a great pair of denim, especially in a wide leg, with a sequin top, not only marks that it's your birthday it stays true to the more casual elevated look you were after,” explains Lewis. Clearly, Zoë Kravitz could not look cooler in her shimmery long-sleeve top, cropped jeans, and strappy sandals. Wear it with a simple makeup look as seen here, or add just a pop of color with a bright pink or vibrant red lip.
A 21st birthday outfit should stand out in a crowd, so when it comes to embellishments, there’s no such thing as going too big. Sabrina Carpenter’s little black dress gets a leg up with a fun, silver fan and matching peep-toe platform sandals. The outfit exudes good taste while reminding everyone who they’re celebrating.
One thing to keep in mind: Lewis warns that this kind of outfit can easily become overwhelming. “Stick to one or two big embellishments and let the rest of the look be minimal so your pieces aren't fighting for attention,” she advises.
Bright White Boots
This is actually one of Emily Ratajkowski’s tamer looks, but we love it for a 21st birthday party outfit. Whether you’re celebrating yourself or a friend, these bright white knee-high boots not only look chic, but they’ll go with almost anything in your closet and are all comfortable enough to dance in all night. That’s a win in our book.
Lady in Red
Channel the red dress emoji — or Olivia Rodrigo — with a fiery red dress and matching pumps. That said, if you’re not the one who is turning 21, you may want to consider another look (or be prepared to receive some serious side-eye from the birthday girl). A head-to-toe red outfit always gives major main character energy, and, it is the color for fall. If you're not into wearing red from top to toe, Lewis suggests trying to incorporate the fiery hue into your outfit as a little pop of color via an accessory or shoe.
Prepare for a throwback: Paris Hilton's 21st birthday dress from 2002 is, as she would say, hot. The glittery backless dress, diamond choker, and yes, butterfly clips(!) is a birthday classic, and was even recreated by Kendall Jenner for her own 21st.
“There are no rules here. You want to be seen and be the center and I am here for that,” gushes Lewis. “This is your chance to wear the itty-bitty minidress, full head-to-toe sequins, whatever your heart desires."
Your Birthday Suit
One would have to be Dua Lipa-level bold to pull off this see-through look, but you’ve got to admit: It’s pretty fab. Wearing a silver sequin mesh gown with silver pointy-toe pumps and a matching silver thong is certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking to make a splash, this is a 21st-birthday outfit that is guaranteed to be memorable.
Storm Reid’s mini Prada dress is giving serious Virgo energy. If this is your vibe, go for a 21st-birthday outfit that is a simple silhouette with a lot of shiny elements. This way, you’ll stand out on the dance floor, and also look like a dazzling disco ball in photos. In the words of Beyoncé, “slay.”
If dressing up isn’t really your thing, then you’ll want to take note of Sadie Sink’s pearl-embellished jeans. The wide-leg fit paired with a white tee, oversized blazer, and silver stiletto sandals make this look both comfortable and cool.
“While this is for the laid-back girl it can also easily be restyled for a big impact,” instructs Lewis, who suggests going a bit bolder with crop tops and platform heels. Jazz it up even more with delicate jewelry for a 21st birthday outfit that is equally ideal for celebrating with a family dinner, or going out later with friends.
Add Opera Gloves
Go ahead, bring the drama. If you’re looking for a 21st birthday outfit that’s just a teeny bit extra, try adding elbow-length gloves to almost any look. We love how Iris Apatow’s pale pink gloves match her handbag while also playing off the pastel tone of her mint green dress. It’s a look that demands attention without stealing the spotlight.
This head-to-toe Gucci look on Elle Fanning is a little bit androgynous, effortless, and effervescent all at once. That said, Lewis reminds that a 21st birthday is a time to let loose. “Try unbuttoning a few buttons and allowing a bit of place to show through. It's both androgynous and sexy which makes people always take a double take.”
For another take on this 21st birthday outfit, swap the tie for a long chain or pendant necklace if you like, and try a simple pair of strappy stiletto sandals. Don’t forget a petite handbag that fits just the essentials: phone, keys, wallet, and lipgloss.
Related: Do You Even Party Pant?
A Blazer Dress
Tuxedo-inspired and blazer-like dresses are having a moment, and Halle Bailey looks breathtaking in this simple, shiny version of the trend. “This is one of the few dresses where shorter is better, especially for a party,” shares Lewis.
If you’re not down for a plunging neckline, try adding a lacy bra or camisole underneath for a bit more coverage. Think of it as a 21st birthday look that’s business in the back, and party in the front.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple for your 21st birthday outfit. Look for a stylish white dress like Chase Sui Wonders's — we recommend getting it tailored for the perfect fit. Wear it with classic accessories and a red lip. Easy, and totally timeless.
Believe it or not, Kaia Geber isn’t the only person on the planet who can pull off this simple look. Although hers is head-to-toe Valentino, we love the idea of a simple white button-up shirt paired with basic blue jeans, and blinged-out earrings. A fancy necklace or epic cocktail ring would work almost as well. If you’re going for classic American style with a little something special, this is an ideal 21st birthday look to recreate.
These aren’t your basic black leather boots. Worn by Laura Harrier, these thigh-highs take her casual miniskirt and shirt from everyday wear to an eye-catching outfit. Accessorize with sleek, cat-eye shades and a compact clutch for a 21st birthday outfit that you can wear to your bestie's party or your own special celebration.
The Biggest Bow
It’s your 21st birthday, so why not look like a present? Try adding a gigantic bow to any outfit. Keep it playful with polka dots and a little black dress like Kiernan Shipka, or add it to your everyday jeans and going-out top for a bit of birthday girl magic.
Including your favorite pair of jeans in your 21st birthday outfit will keep you comfortable all night long. The cuffed pair, worn above by Kaitlyn Dever, helps to show off her cute Miu Miu sandals, while the sparkly tank and bralette still serious fashion vibes. Plus, you already know that half of this outfit is already in your closet — easy!
An Unexpected Color
It’s easy to wear head-to-toe black, but if you really want your 21st birthday outfit to be memorable, opt for a coordinated set in an unexpected color like lime green, violet, or burnt orange, as seen here on Hailee Steinfeld. The mesh maxi dress over a matching pair of shorts and bra stands out on its own, but it’s the elegant matching coat that makes this look something special.
A Leather Blazer
There’s something undeniably cool about an oversized leather blazer; it instantly upgrades just about any outfit. If black is your go-to hue, get inspired by Vanessa Hudgens’ matching set seen here. Patent leather accessories make this 21st birthday look even more enticing.
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