Practical gifts sometimes get bad rap but they can be the best

Some gifts can seem last-minute and impersonal even if they’re actually quite lovely and usable.

The Badgley Mischka spring 2011 collection modeled during Fashion Week in New York.  When the calendar flips to 2011

The Badgley Mischka spring 2011 collection modeled during Fashion Week in New York. When the calendar flips to 2011

NEW YORK — Some gifts can seem last-minute and impersonal even if they’re actually quite lovely and usable.

You probably reach for those black cashmere gloves or light up the vanilla-scented candle far more often than you wear the funky necklace or beaded top that were under the Christmas tree last year.

But, still, it’s hard to get jazzed up about gloves, right?

Ed Bucciarelli, CEO and president of upscale accessories-and-beauty retailer Henri Bendel, says you wouldn’t feel that way if they were the “perfect” gloves.

Perfect doesn’t mean a painstaking search, though. As long as you know a few key things about the people you’re giving presents to, such as their initials (and if you don’t, maybe your list is too long), then thoughtful gift-giving can be essentially effortless, Bucciarelli says.

Monograms, favourite colours, scents that trigger childhood memories or this year’s hottest trends add the right level of detail to elevate a gift, say experts.

And don’t forget the pretty package. The gift wrap, says Linda Lee, group vice-president of Macy’s by Appointment shopping service, is what makes the first impression.

Advice on turning a potentially boring gift into a great one:

SCARVES AND GLOVES

Bendel’s Bucciarelli thinks a leopard-print scarf is fail-safe. It’s ageless and goes with almost any coat, yet it always updates your look, he says. “My 16-year-old daughter and my 80-year-old mother each want one.”

Nina Garcia, Marie Claire fashion director and Target style consultant, says women can never have too many lace scarves: They can transform any outfit into something romantic.

She, however, is hoping Santa Claus has fur-trimmed gloves with her name on them. “Everyone has gloves, but not everyone has fur-trimmed gloves,” she says. “You might not think about buying these for yourself, but it’s a little touch of luxury you can give to someone else.”

(She also points out to Santa the matching trapper hat.)

Cashmere is Macy’s Lee’s top choice, again because they’re a bit of an indulgence, yet available at many price points.

But Gifts.com adviser Dana Holmes says the gloves people really need this holiday season are the ones that are convertible to fingerless ones — or even just arm-warmers, those extra, hand-free sleeves that are the close cousin to the leg-warmers of the ’80s. It’s the way people can stay warm and play with the new gadget that was also under the tree.

SWEATER

A sense of the wearer’s personal style is a must for a sweater, says Holmes, but whether the recipient is tailored or trendy, frumpy is never an option.

A cardigan is usually a safer bet for women than crewneck or turtleneck because it is easier to adapt “as your own,” she says. The current “it” version is a flowy, open-wrap style.

And, she warns, don’t go for something too fitted, gimmicky or glitzy unless you’re sure that’s what this person wears. Take a quick look through photo albums or Facebook photos and take note whether this person tends to wear certain colours or silhouettes.

TIE

Women don’t always love other people buying their clothes because they often like doing it themselves and need items to fit into their existing wardrobes, says Holmes, but that’s not typically the case for men. “Men never shop for themselves unless they’re really into it, so they expect basic ties and shirts. Just don’t let it be their only gift.”

For a hipster, you might try introducing him to a bow tie, says trend and retail analyst Tom Julian. Any age man can wear one with the right attitude, he says, but it’s the younger man who can really rock it.

In more traditional ties, a 7.5-centimetre width is the norm and a five-centimetre tie is trendy.

“I think a tie is a great gift to give a man and this is the perfect season to do so,” says Julian, author of “Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Everyday Dressing.”

“Ties are narrower and ties are not just for suits and business. Ties will show that you know his style.“

—CANDLES

Candles are a go-to gift, especially for party hosts, but it’s because they’re so pervasive that they have a bad rap, observes Gifts.com’s Holmes. A seasonal fragrance might encourage the recipient to use it right away, she suggests.

A candle that’s been personalized for a particular occasion, colour, scent or to match initials reassures that it wasn’t just one from the stock in the giver’s hall closet.

Bendel’s Bucciarelli encourages candles with unusual scents that can become conversation topics, or those that match a person’s specific love of a flower or food.

—FRAGRANCE

For the friend who loves a particular designer but is watching his or her budget, a designer fragrance can be a really special gift, says Rochelle Bloom, president of the Fragrance Foundation, an industry trade group.

“If you can’t afford the whole outfit, this is a way to get their fashion vibe. Designers are really involved with fragrances, especially a Marc Jacobs or Donna Karan type,” says Bloom.

Also, fragrance is the perfect way to enjoy the scent of a favourite flower note — elegant rose, delicate jasmine, calming lavender — in a form sure to last much longer.

Once again, though, the key is knowing a little something about the person you are buying for.

Lee says she’s even turned umbrellas into a great gift. “You might think the umbrella is an ordinary gift, but if you know that the person is always leaving something behind, you buy them three umbrellas — one for the office, one for home and the third because we know you’ll lose one of the other two,” she says. “With the right sentiment it really does work well.”

“Razzle dazzle” doesn’t always make the best gift, agrees Holmes. “Some gifts are appreciated more after the fact, and they’re the ones that will be used over and over and over again.”

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