13 December 2010

How to Buy Girly Gifts for Women of Uncertain Ages

Spending an hour or two in Selfridges buying Christmas presents on behalf of other people is becoming as much of a festive tradition for me as...well, it's becoming my first festive tradition. This was the third year running that Papa dispatched me to Selfridges to buy six presents (about £15 each) for various of his female PAs/administrators (age 20-ish to 50-odd), most of whom I haven't met.

C/wise from top left: Purple Tea for One mug (£12); Ollie & Nic make-up bag (£15); Philosophy Silent Night shower gel (£13); Orla Kiely notebook (£15); I Love Your Style book (£14); Crisp Champagne candle in tin (£15)
There wasn't a 50-minute time limit this year and I took the liberty of visiting Liberty and Anthropologie as well as Selfridges but then I had the added challenge of not repeating myself from last year or the year before. Everything I bought was £15 or under and although there was some degree of repetition from previous years (this wasn't the first year a candle was included), the presents were all suitably different from one another in style and appearance. Hopefully, all tastes will be catered for.

After three years of this anonymous gift buying, I've picked up a few tactics for choosing presents that will be generally pleasing to women whom you don't know well--or even to those you don't know at all.
  1. Buy your presents from quality shops. I shop at M&S and Accessorize but I wouldn't buy these anonymous-£15 presents from either of these shops. It's better to buy something simpler from a classy department store like Liberty or Selfridges than a more extravagant gift from a less special shop. Equally, it's hard to find something that isn't lovely in Anthropologie (jewellery, candles and pretty kitchenware are all good bets for £15).
  2. Give your gifts an upgrade with pretty packaging and wrapping paper. An ordinary mug can look a lot more thoughtful when given the Anthropologie treatment--wrapped in colourful tissue paper and tied with ribbons. Style definitely trumps substance.
  3. Choose presents that suggest luxury. A candle with "Champagne" in its name implies opulence, which can counteract a gift's lack of personalisation.  
  4. American and hard-to-get-hold-of brands seem more interesting than something you can buy in any branch of Boots. Philosophy and Fresh trump Sanctuary Spa and Origins; gift packs of beauty products from Boots should be avoided. Don't buy any beauty product that suggests weight loss, wrinkles or cellulite.
  5. Jewellery (although not pierced earrings unless you know the recipient has pierced ears), purses and other accessories are good ideas--it's hard to go too far wrong with something that has a little bit of sparkle in it even if you don't know the recipient's taste. Clothes of any kind are best avoided, unless you are sure you know the size.
  6. If you can't make it to the shops, you might try browsing the following online stores for inspiration: Austique, Mercer & Wells, Do, Ollie & Nic, Magma and Our Shop.

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