NEW YORK – Have you ever said “thank you” through clenched teeth? The gift in that nicely wrapped box was so not what you wanted: comfy clothes instead of designer duds, or a kitchen gadget instead of a shiny piece of jewelry.
Sometimes, though, the best gifts are the ones you use, and, frankly, most of us probably wear hoodies more than haute couture.
With a closet full of beautiful boots and gravity-defying heels, flat-foot, furry Uggs weren't at the top of celebrity stylist-designer Rachel Zoe’s shopping list. They were OK for other people – she might even have suggested them – but she didn’t see them fitting into her closet until someone gave her a pair.
“Once you put them on, you can't go back,” Zoe says. “In my house, it’s now the family at-home shoe. I wear them all the time. My son has 10 pairs and my husband has 10 pairs.”
Bradford Shellhammer, founder of Fab.com, which sells unusual items like canvas carryalls screen-printed with images of designer handbags, says gifts fit into three categories: the things everyone knows you want, the bad surprises and the amazing things that make you wonder, “How did I live without it?”
A. Mitra Morgan, founder and chief curator of decorative home-goods website Joss & Main, can’t imagine her busy life without the wallet-phone case wristlet her mother gave her last year.
Morgan has almost unlimited access to the pretty things on so many gift lists. Her mother, however, thought her daily necessities were too scattered. She didn’t know it at the time, Morgan admits, but mom was right.
Morgan received another love-it-later gift, this one from her husband. He gave her flat-bottomed pizza scissors.
“Coming from my husband, this was at the level of receiving a vacuum. I thought, ‘Really, this is what we’ve come to?’ ” Morgan says. “But it’s awesome!”
Christine Frietchen, a shopping expert who is advising TJ Maxx and Marshall’s this year on their gift-giving programs, says a gift is something you wouldn’t get for yourself. And the best way to know you’ve given a successful gift, she says, is if the receiver becomes an evangelist for it.
Adam Glassman, creative director at O, The Oprah magazine, was never at risk of buying the Patagonia fleece sweatpants his brother got for him a few years ago. “Never in my life did I think I’d need sweatpants, but I live in them,” he gushes. “When I come home from work, they are my go-to item. I wear them more than any other clothes in my closet.”
The only gift he might treasure more is the Eddie Bauer silk long johns his other brother gave him, something else he didn’t think he needed or wanted.
“Where was the Tom Ford, the Gucci?” Glassman says with a laugh.
But after a few winters of layering the long johns under his more fashionable pieces, he’s now buying them as gifts for other people.
Shellhammer says friends and family can't ask for the items offered on Fab.com because the website sells things people don’t know exist. Items such as a shower curtain with a map of Paris (what enthusiastic traveler wouldn't want one?) or a pug T-shirt for your favorite dog lover. (Shellhammer predicts the Mountain Pug Tee will be a top seller this season. The entire shirt becomes the face of a pug, wrinkles, jowls and all.)
And Shellhammer says it’s OK to be playful and show a little sense of humor when giving a gift. You’d be surprised how many positive comments the website has received about a hedgehog dish brush, he says. “It just gives you that crack of a smile.”
Brian Berger says the Yumaki toothbrush his business partner gave him is a present he’ll always remember – and appreciate. And, it’s something he uses every day.
His partner was trying to make a point as he and Berger recently launched a men’s undergarment and socks business called Mack Weldon that also is courting customers with the idea of “elevated basics,” Berger explains.
Some other gift ideas from the experts:
• Kitchen knives.
• Comfortable earbuds.
• Colorful tights and leggings.
• Berry bowls.
• Miniature flashlights that fit in pockets and purses.
• Pretty soaps.
• Personalized tote bags.
A lot of people do skimp on themselves, especially in a season where they are spending so much money, so an upgrade of something mundane to luxurious – or at least more fun – can be a very thoughtful gift, says gift adviser Frietchen.
“Have you ever had a really nice hair dryer, a really good dryer? You think a hair dryer is a hair dryer until you have a good one in your hand. It can change your life,” Frietchen says.