In a panic? The gifts to skip (and a few ideas they’ll actually like)

For Her

If you’re currently looking for last-minute gifts for a woman, firstly why have you left it so late? Secondly, read on for some ideas about what she definitely won’t want this year.

The face of a woman who has just received a bottle of her favourite perfume. Credit:iStock

Anything scented: Even the word “scented” evokes unpleasant feminine hygiene products. If you refer to your gifts as “smellies”, this is also a black mark. To be avoided is anything that you might get for or receive from a distant great aunt: no pot pourri, make-your-own-bath-bomb sets, scented wardrobe sachets or drawer liners. Controversially, I might include candles in this list as I’m never quite sure when you’re supposed to light them. A big, expensive bottle of the perfume she already wears, however, is lovely.

Or weight/shape-related: A sky-wide category, but examples would include diet books, an item of clothing that’s too small, an item of clothing that’s too large. This category extends to fitness equipment, especially if the recipient is pregnant or recently pregnant.

Tech: As a general rule, tech and electronics are out, though there are subcategories. A great pair of earbuds or the new Drybar blow dryer brush is welcome. A 15-in-1 multi-tool, less so. A laser hair removal device or IPL machine is fine if she’s specifically asked for a Philips Lumea. Unsolicited, it will carry with it the implication that she’s a yeti in search of deforestation.

Footcare: A hard-skin remover for feet is not very romantic, while good things to wear on your feet are. One of my best presents from my husband was a pair of Penelope Chilvers Chelsea boots that are still going strong five years on and would have been far too expensive to buy for myself.

Bad jokes: Avoid anything funny, or – more accurately – “funny”. Presents described as humorous are unlikely to raise a chuckle on Christmas Day. Such objects include a male chest inflatable bath pillow, socks personalised with the giver’s face and a book called How to be a Good Wife. A “boob job fund” money-box combines poor humour with our second category (give nothing that implies she should change shape). There is a whole subcategory of this genre involving phrases about prosecco written in curly-wurly calligraphy across mugs and cushions. Cheap and with the implication that she’s an alcoholic.

Anything ageing: Reject any presents that suggest decrepitude – a hand-rail, a subscription to Saga magazine, easy-grip utensils or a pressure cushion.

Or “sexy”: A friend still winces at the memory of the scratchy, tiny red lingerie she was given when she’s more of a comfy bralette-and-briefs type. As well as the covert pressure that such choices might exert, there’s the embarrassment of having to unwrap sex toys or manuals in front of family members. That’s not to say all underwear is a no-fly zone – there are some brilliant brands that are designed to make the wearer feel gorgeous yet comfortable. But since most women don’t even know their correct bra size, gift in the form of a voucher.

Top-tier gifts: Men, you are in luck, for in 2021 women will actually be fine with whatever you proffer, so long as it isn’t the gift of Omicron.

For Him

Men – and, in my experience, particularly older men – are a nightmare to buy for: not thoughtful enough to drop hints nor articulate enough to tell you outright. Worse still, over time, they have built up an impressive stockade of panic-bought novelty gifts.

However, there are certain presents you can guarantee all men will utterly despise. Steer clear of these and half the battle is won.

Aftershave: Like the books you read, the aftershave that a man wears is a deeply personal choice. It is something he has chosen himself, after experimenting with numerous others, because it acts as an extension of his personality. If you buy a man some aftershave based on its name, or the shape of its bottle, or whatever the Amazon description happened to be, you are robbing him of his true self. Out of politeness, he will start wearing your gift, but part of him will be lost forever. I have a bottle of aftershave from 15 years ago, and I’ve been trying to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

Gadgets: A decade and-a-half ago, the get-out-of-jail card for difficult men was the gadget. A mid-priced trinket that did something cool and unexpected and was only tangentially useful. Well, guess what? It isn’t 2007 any more. We’ve all got smartphones now, which means that we carry every imaginable gadget with us 24/7. A universal translator? Our phones do it. A toy that can identify birdsong by sound? Our phones do it. Games? Phone. Music player? Phone. A magic box that shows us what every one of our exes is doing? Phone. I’m sorry, but our phones have robbed you of 80 per cent of all gift options.

Anything hobby-related: This might seem counterproductive, because surely a man would love to receive something that has a clear and direct link to one of his interests. Wrong. Do not do this. Do not buy a fisherman a tie that looks like a fish. Do not buy a golfer a T-shirt that says “I’m Simply Tee-riffic”. At no point purchase a keyring that is in any way affiliated to the thing that a man in your life leaves the house to do for fun. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, you are buying a present for a person. A flesh and blood human being, with hopes and dreams and aspirations. Their personality does not end at “fish”, and you buying them a novelty ceramic fishing boat clock will only underline the fact that you only have a superficial connection with someone you claim to love. Second, these gifts are rubbish.

Whisky paraphernalia: Look, you know we’ve seen Mad Men, because we spent six months Brylcreeming our hair in 2010. And you know we went through that weird phase of drinking spirits that turned our face inside out every time we took a sip. But stop cluttering our kitchens with unnecessary whisky paraphernalia. We don’t want to be crushed to death by a cascade of whisky stones every time we open a cupboard. We don’t want elaborately shaped glasses we’ll be too scared to use. At a push, buy us a bottle of whisky. But, please, do not buy us a present that suggests our personality is “whisky guy”. We couldn’t take it.

War Paint: You may have seen this advertised but think again. We do not want to wear make-up. Even if it makes us look amazing, we’re not that evolved. The other day, you caught us brushing our hair with a dinner fork. Maybe a decade from now, but not today.

The Telegraph, London

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