Congratulations! If you’ve been invited to attend a friend or loved one’s quinceañera, you’re getting a chance to see a beautiful coming-of-age tradition that happens in many Latino families. It’s a lovely event to celebrate with family and friends, and is culturally similar to a Bar Mitzvah. But for first-timers, there can be a lot of questions about what is or is not appropriate to wear to a quinceañera. Here is a breakdown of what’s encouraged, what’s not, as well as some tips for proper quinceañeraetiquette.

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Before we dive into what you should wear to a quinceañera as a guest, we’re sure there are other things going on in your life too! If so, you should definitely go read some of the other entries in our What to Wear series that we have going on here at bsci-ch.org:

What’s A Quinceañera?

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A quinceañerais an important rite of passage for Latino girls, and the tradition is most commonly celebrated by Catholics, although secular latino girls or those of other religions might also honor the traditional as a cultural event. It marks the 15th birthday of a girl and the passage from childhood into womanhood. It’s a tradition that dates back to ancient times, where at the comnig of age, girls would begin to learn the traditional skills expected of a woman (we know it sounds old fashioned). These days though, it’s a party that celebrates a girl beginning her journey into womanhood. In Spanish the Quinceañera refers to the girl herself. The cultural and religious traditiona celebrates God, family, friends, and of course the birthday girl herself. This is an affair for anybody who’s close to the burgeoning woman, so it’s really quite an honor to be invited.

For those who aren’t familiar with a quinceañera, think of it as a Sweet Sixteen party, except that the girl is 15 and there is a Latin twist on things. It’s a beautiful custom with deep cultural and religious roots, and there are lots of colors, delicious food, and familial love to go all around.

What to Wear to a Quinceañera for Women

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Since a quinceañera is all about the birthday girl, guests don’t want to wear anything too revealing or flashy. Let the lady of the hour have her day and enjoy her chance to put her best foot forward in an extravagant dress. When it comes to choosing a dress color, pretty much anything goes. Just be sure that the color won’t clash with the theme of the party. Make sure to do a quick check to find out what the birthday girl is wearing, and if you want to extra careful, avoid clashing with the family as well. You want to avoid detracting attention away from them.

Ladies don’t have to feel confined to wearing a dress, but make sure whatever you’re wearing is fully formal – no semi formal or smart casual looks allowed! Imagine it’s a princesses’ ball – because essentially that’s what it is, with the birthday girl taking the role of the princess. another important thing here is to make sure whatever you’re wearing is age-appropriate; after all, this is a 15-year-old girl’s party. Anything too revealing will send a negative message to parents and could be seen as a bad influence on teenagers.

Fortunately, ladies have lots of options when it comes to showing some skin. A little goes a long way, so if the outfit reveals some leg, keep the upper half of the body concealed. A strapless dress can be okay, just have a shawl or jacket as a backup cover and keep the length of the dress long.

The watch word here is tasteful – make sure whatever you’re wearing is formal, tasteful, not too revealing, and not too flamboyant so as to not draw attention away from those who’re being celebrated at the event. As long as you’re working within these confines, you’re allowed to wear whatever you like.


For the top half, remember that cleavage is basically a no-no at a quinceañera. Not only will it send a negative message to the girl’s parents, but it will also take the attention away from her. It’s okay to wear a V-neck, but keep it modest, and avoid low-cut styles that are sleeveless. Baring midriff is also something to be avoided. No matter how casual the party is, it’s just not a good look for a 15-year-old’s birthday, especially if you’re an adult.

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Another thing to consider is where the party is taking place. Home parties tend to be more on the informal side, so there is more room to play with different styles. Try to have a solid idea of the parents’ attitude towards clothing, and again, know the party colors so that there isn’t any unnecessary clashing. If the party is at a hall or a church, go for something more formal. Keep dress lengths at the knee or lower, and avoid showing off the shoulders.

The weather can also play a part in choosing the ideal outfit. The spring and summer seasons are perfect for pretty pastels and florals; just don’t make them too flashy. It’s okay to have sleeveless or off-the-shoulder outfits, as long as the bottom half is more conservative. As a general rule of thumb, don’t show off too much skin, and don’t wear anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable wearing in front of your granparents. Winter parties or those in cooler weather are the best time to play with sparkles and sequins. Again, it shouldn’t be too flashy, but a bit of fun can add to the festive mood of the party.

If you’re in doubt, it’s always OK to ask the hosts what’s appropriate, especially if you don’t come from that culture yourself. Just send a quick email or a message asking whats’s appropriate and what’s not – whoever’s hosting will be happy to help you out, as they’re going to be doing their utmost to make sure the birthday girl and the guests have a good time.

Which Shoes to Wear?

The shoe decision will depend on several factors, including the chosen outfit, the location, and the time of year. Open-toed shoes are fine, but avoid super-casual shoes like sandals and flip flops. Also, stilettos and very high heels might be taken the wrong way – as if you’re trying to one-up the birthday girl. Stick to a cute pair of flats, some pretty wedge heels, or even some office-appropriate pumps. In short, heels are OK, but nothing too high. For the cooler months, a pair of ankle booties can be cute, too. Keep in mind that parties held in churches or formal banquet halls typically call for closed-toe shoes. Remember, there will probably be dancing involved, so take that into account when choosing your shoes.

Quinceañera Behavior & Etiquette

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Finally, for people who’re attending their first quinceañera, they might not know what to expect. A run-down of some proper etiquette and general rules of behavior is in order.

First, expect the party to begin with a religious ceremony. This usually takes place at a church, but it could also be held in a banquet hall or even at home. What follows is a reception or party, and the birthday girl will be the center of attention.

She chooses a “court” beforehand, usually made up of close friends or family members. Depending on the preferences of the host family and the birthday gril, as well as the specific culture, the court can be made up of up to 14 young men and 14 young women, although you’ll also frequently see different combinations (e.g 4 girls and 1 guy).

Together, they might perform a choreographed dance, and her friends and relatives might give speeches in her honor. It’s crucial that guests don’t wear the same type of outfit as the quinceañera’s court (the damas and chambelanes). Typically, the court will be wearing formal gowns if they’re girls and tuxedos if they’re guys. Try to check beforehand to see what colors and styles they’re wearing. Guests definitely don’t want to be mistaken for the court.

Throughout the event, it’s customary for guests to give the birthday girl special gifts, such as a tiara, a Bible, a rosary, or a bouquet of flowers. The family will usually let any guests know if they’re to give the teen any of these items. That being said, this is a birthday party, and a very special one at that. All guests should have some sort of gift for the birthday girl. This should be something that is thought out and unique to her. She is transitioning from a child to a young lady, so choose something meaningful. Some ideas include jewelry, a piece of art, a religious symbol like a cross, or something related to her interests. Be respectful, but make sure that you let her know she’s loved.

On top of the dancing, the religious ceremony, and the court, some other quinceañeras traditions include things like a ritual involving the birthday girl receiving her ‘last doll’, signifying that she’s too old for kids toys any longer. Typically, she’ll gift the doll to a younger sibling or relative as part of the ritual. The birthday girl will almost definitely be gifted a bouqet of flowers – symbolically, her ‘first flowers’ as a young woman. Piñatas also frequently make an appearance – 15 piñatas to be exact, one for each year of the birthday girl’s life. Then there’s the cutting of the (usually very large) birthday cake, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear a birthday song as well, although depending on the family this may be a traditional birthday song in Spanish or the more familiar ‘Happy Birthday’.

Because the party is typically a very large affair, family and and close family friends are sometimes expected to chip in towards the costs of the event. This isn’t neccesarily something that’s easy to bring up in a conversation, so the best thing to do is probably to ask someone who’s in the same position as you. Find someone who’s more familiar with the host family’s specific culture and preferences, and ask them whether or not a contribution might be appreciated, and follow their lead.

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The most important thing of all when it comes to attending a quinceañera is to HAVE FUN. It’s a birthday party on steroids, and nobody likes a party pooper. Put your best foot forward and enjoy the fact that you’ve been asked to join in on such an important day in the young woman’s life.