21 things I've learnt from the 21st birthday season

by - Saturday, July 06, 2013

currently: keeping warm in bed.


I've spent over a year celebrating the 21sts of my good friends. It was a time where every Friday or Saturday had a shindig with speeches, shots, slideshows and super good times.

21sts can be one of the most memorable events in a young adult life. Forget your high school ball, the beauty of a 21st is that you are in the centre of all attention, surrounded by the friends and family that support you. Everyone shares their best (or not so best) memories, and are of course reminded of how worthy a person you are.

But of course heaps go into making a 21st such a special event. And after tens of 21st parties, I decided to create a list of the 21 things I've learned from the 21st season.


When attending a 21st:
1) Respond to the Facebook event.
It's 2013 and this is how RSVPs work now. Also it's a good way to see who else is going.

2) Dress to party.
If there are no costume rules, the general expectation of a 21st party for females is a cocktail dress or a nice top/skirt you would go to dinner in. For males, nice button up shirt and dark pants (which can be jeans, but must be nice jeans. Darker jeans are always better). If you're lacking outfits, just rotate them and accessorise them differently. I had two sets of friend's 21sts (one group uni, one group high school friends). So often I wore one dress at one uni party, and then wore the same dress again at a high school friend's party. And then it stops me worrying about how little I have to wear.

3) When in costume, be committed.
Don't do things in halves. You don't to attend a half-attempted party, so don't half attempt your costume. Also, don't plan your costume at the last minute if you can afford to.

4) Carpool.
Because if you're driving far, it's a lot of petrol. If you're parking at a venue, there are limited parking spots. And of course, you need to be a "bloody legend" sometimes and make sure people get home safe. If you jump into someone's carpool though, expect to return the favour.

5) Bring a gift.
I don't know why guys think they're exempt from this rule, because many times I've attended 21sts with my male friends, they never bring a gift. Seriously guys, bring a gift. Or at least shout a shot/drink to the birthday person. They've put a lot of money into this 21st and it's appreciated that you do bring something. It's what makes it a birthday and not a casual party.

6) Buy gifts in advance.
When you have six 21sts in the same month, buy all your gifts at once so you don't have to panic every weekend (like I had to sometimes.) Also aim to buy gifts around the better public holiday sales. Labour Day and Waitangi Day provided some of the best sales for 21st gifts. Don't buy gifts around Mother's Day or Father's Day - especially if you're going after jewellery. Try online as well (as long as they're a few weeks in advance). At least you can get stuff delivered to your house so you can spend more time sleeping in/recovering from other 21sts.

7) Joint birthday gifts help everyone.
So you're stuck for a gift? Chances are someone else is stuck for a gift too. Pool your money together and get something awesome. (this also helps when buying something a bit more pricey online.)

8) Be prepared to document the night.
Even if it's making sure you have enough battery on your cellphone. Crazy stuff may go down at the 21st you attend, so you're gonna want pictures and video. Specially if people are in costume.

9) Don't talk through an entire speech.
It's plain rude. Also, don't try and leave during speeches either.

10) When saying a speech, better keep it shorter than longer.
This is especially true when you have 10 different people saying speeches. Tell one story (preferably funny and slightly embarrassing for them) and then say nice things about the person for the most effective speech. You may have hundreds of stories of their embarrassing childhood but save those for throughout the night. And I stress again, always end with something nice about the person, otherwise it feels a bit weird for everyone.

11) Eat dinner before.
Unless the invite says dinner is included, chances are all that you can eat will be the usual finger food snacks. So don't expect to feed yourself a lot at the 21st.

12) Get on the dance floor.
At LEAST once. Make an attempt even if the DJ is lame. Dancing is a good way to get a bit loose, bring up the energy of a party, and keeps you from having to make lots and lots of conversation when you run out of things to say. But don't be a dance floor jerk and annoy everyone by smacking into people and spilling drink on the dance floor.


When planning a 21st:
13) iPod > DJ any day.
So you've got money for a DJ. Congrats. How about use that money to buy more chips instead? Spend some time creating a playlist with your favourite party, iconic 90s and singable songs and put it on shuffle. Because I will be fair when I say this - it's much easier to get into a song when it isn't a remix. Also, I swear if someone remixes Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" with something like the Harlem Shake, you will be smacked.

14) When inviting people, be prepared for plus ones.
People like to attend parties with their partners, it's a matter of fact. Usually it's because their partner will be the one driving them to your 21st. So, unless your 21st is a dinner with set reservations, you need to be open to partners being invited along.

15) Not everyone who clicks "attending" on Facebook will actually attend.
Facebook isn't some sort of binding contract. Usually, for every ten people that click attending, one of those people will probably not show up. Your "Maybes" are usually people who are in another city/country, or people who have seen your Facebook event and don't want to commit themselves (depending how crummy their night's going and how much effort they want to put in.) If not everyone attends, don't be too disheartened. Be glad that the people who came really want to make sure you have a good birthday.

16) If you're having a costume party, pick a theme that's easy to dress to.
And give ample notice, cause chances are they may have to buy something for it. Unless it's like a really difficult theme, like 1992 which I got once and found out all the good costume ideas were taken.

17) Book your 21st in advance.
This includes venue-wise and social calendar-wise (aka on Facebook). If you're born in a month where there are a ridiculous amount of birthdays (September, April, May...) then you're gonna have to make sure you steal your Friday or Saturday. Otherwise you will clash with someone - and this does happen.

18) The less clean-up, the better.
No one likes cleaning up. More so when you're a bit drunk or tired or in heels.

19) Food, food, food.
Preferably one you can eat without smudging your lipstick. But if it's a tasty bit of finger food with a mix of savoury and sweet, the masses will be happy. Also, c
ake is never out of fashion. Always have a cake. Alternatively cupcakes are good too cause they're just so much easier to distribute.

20)
 Get someone to be the camera person.
Because if the night is amazing, you'll want someone to be there capturing it all.

21) Ask for help.

Get your close family and friends to help you set up and pack up your 21st. Because so much may go on, and you'll be busy hosting and getting ready... You'll be grateful for help - and for someone to drive you home.

There's no fullproof way to have a perfect party, as much as you try to plan it out. What happens at the party is just all up to you having a good time.

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