The best presents are either:
1. Things you would never think to buy for yourself but, once you have them, cannot imagine life without;
2. Experiences that are great fun and create all sorts of wonderful memories;
3. Luxurious things that people would never justify buying for themselves.
Buying for students is easy; they’re living away from the home for the first time, poor as hell and thirsty as fuck, so nice cushions and vodka are usually well-received. But what do you buy for the people who, within reason, will go out and buy most things they need, who are old enough and wise enough to have already thought of everything? Or that Zen bastard who actually doesn’t care a whole lot about ‘stuff’ and is therefore nearly impossible to buy for? What do you gift the ungiftable?
Full disclosure: I recently went through this post and added in affiliate links to Amazon products only. Any cash raised this way goes toward my annual domain and WordPress fees.
Homemade flavoured vodka
I have a friend who made everyone a flagon of flavoured vodka for Christmas a couple of years back. All it requires is some pretty bottles (try eBay), any vodka (even the cheap kind), fruit of your choice and some forward planning.
Even those who barely dip their toes into the bamboozlingly rich and varied beautysphere can appreciate a good pair of eyebrows. I’m not going to tell you that pruning a scruffy pair is going to transform you from beast to bombshell (!), but a properly shaped set of brows can certainly make a face more polished. And you can find threading and waxing services from around £8. (Most department stores have brow bars now, and larger Benefit counters/stores too.)
My friend Maxine bought me this bag-holder as a stocking filler a couple of years ago and I use it ALL THE TIME. It’s a fold-out hook attached to a metal disc, and you hang your bag off it in bars so a) it doesn’t get all beery sitting on the floor and b) it’s harder for someone to nick. It looks flimsy but it’s cleverly weighted – you could hang an elephant off this thing.
Something you made yourself
It’s not for everyone, but if you’re the crafty type you can have a crack at making gifts. There are about a billion craft and recipe blogs out there with tutorials, but this giant Kit Kat Chunky from Anya is my favourite.
A domain name (and learn how to programme it yourself!)
There are so many bloggers writing online from crappy WordPress or Blogspot addresses. Buy the aspiring writer in your life their own domain from GoDaddy or 123Reg, and then learn how to map it for them. (Here’s how for Blogspot. Wordpress is even easier if you purchase the domain through WP itself.) Bonus points if you help them set up their own branded email address too.
My workmate Kelly told me she did this for her family last Christmas and it’s great if your mob is in to board games. Change the names of the properties to places significant to your family, like favourite holiday destinations or family haunts, and customise the Chance and Community Chest cards too. You can get DIY kits for under £20, or you can just cannibalise an old set and do it that way.
Miniature perfume atomiser
Perfume is such a boring gift. You can’t guess that shit, so to get it right it can never really be a surprise. A teeny perfume atomiser though allows you to carry a favourite perfume around with you without ever accidentally smashing the bottle. I use this one.
Crystal nail file
A crystal nail file is much finer than an emery board and never gets bent and bald, plus you can go back and forth over the nail rather than just one way. I have this one from Leighton Denny.
Who doesn’t like getting their head tickled? Spend some time watching tutorials on YouTube and gift someone an hour of soothing scalp bliss while they’re watching the Christmas telly. You can even go to town and buy some posh hair goo to lube things up a bit, like Hair Doctor from Lush.
A beautiful notebook
For habitual note-takers and list-writers, a beautiful notebook is a wonderful thing. You could, of course, go to WHSmith and buy a Moleskine, but why bother when there are so many amazing handmade ones around? These ones, for instance, are upcycled from old coffee sacks. Someone also once gave me one of these Italian Harry Potter-themed books with handmade paper pages – they’re little but marvellously well-made.
A decent umbrella
Flimsy umbrellas are shit. What you want is a weather-proof, wind-resistant model that’ll see you through life unsplattered by inconvenient rainfall. ShedRain make the world’s most windproof brollies, though Fulton is also very good.
The Great British Bake Off has made baking more fashionable than ever, and the internet is stuffed full of cake moulds, cake stands and other baking paraphernalia. This one is shaped like a sandcastle.
Fancy online tea shop, Whittington’s Tea Emporium, is a London-based start-up selling all sorts of unique teas. Quit teabags forever and start drinking the proper stuff. (And don’t forget a little strainer – I use this one.)
SO USEFUL. I can’t think why anyone with ears wouldn’t have this, and with the Premium version you can listen on your phone to almost ANY SONG at ANY TIME. And to think I used to have a Discman. You can buy gift cards in denominations of £10, £30 or £50 from Argos, Boots, Morrisons, Co-Op, Homebase or Tesco. More information here.
Like Spotify, but for movies. For the price of a DVD per month, you can watch unlimited movies and television shows until your eyes fall out of your face. You can buy up to twelve months at a time here.
The world’s best eyeshadow palettes
I am a HUGE fan of Urban Decay palettes – I’ve got four – and I’ve given loads away to friends as gifts too. The colours are rich and varied and the quality is, in my opinion, superior to MAC, Benefit or NARS. The Naked or Naked 2 palettes are a pretty safe bet for anyone who wears eyeshadow ever, and there are even half-size versions from £20. Debenhams often has 10% off beauty promotions, too.
Themed DVD hamper
My mother loves psychological thrillers, so last year as a gift I bought five movies famous for their big surprise endings. (For the record, I got The Prestige, Momentum, The Life of David Gale, Zodiac and Mulholland Drive. You can also do this with superhero movies, films starring a favourite actor, Oscar winners or shitty rom coms.)
Thunder Mountain toffee vodka
Even if you don’t like vodka. Drink straight from the freezer. (And put that shit on ice cream, it’s the nuts.) Buy it here.
There is a whole world of beautiful shit to hang on your wall out there that doesn’t cost a fortune. Etsy is a treasure trove of small-run letterpress and litho prints, which are my favourite, and there are tonnes of talented designers and illustrators selling their wares too. Obviously it takes some time to separate the gold from the garbage, but that’s part of the fun! At the moment I’m especially loving this moonshine poster and this chick, who designs and makes screen-prints inspired by different areas of London.
A spare battery
Sadly functional but unbelievably useful. If you’re buying for someone who has a phone with a removable battery (e.g. a Samsung S5), you can buy spares from Amazon. Alternatively, a portable charger will give any gadget a hit of extra juice on the go.
Local produce hamper
Investigate your local purveyors of cheese, preserved meat, fudge and jam, then crack out your posh tissue and curling ribbon and tart them all up in a lovely hamper together. Plus you’ll be helping independents keep afloat.
Do you have a hardcore whisky fan in your life, or a gin connoisseur? Perhaps someone who’s really into their craft beer? Buy them a bottle of something a bit unusual. Sipsmith is a fantastic gin made in London (and you can cheat a bit because they’re starting to be sold in Waitrose now), and Beer Hawk sells exotic beers from around the world. Butler’s Gin has also issued a limited edition of 500 bottles of lemongrass and cardamom gin (£31.50 each). If rum is your thing, try The Duppy Share.
Really posh tights
I’ve written before about how much nicer posh tights are than your supermarket specials, and I’d hugely recommend Wolford. They do sparkly ones but if you really want to give something they’ll wear all year round, get them a pair of Velvet De Lux 66 opaques, £22.
A magazine subscription
The easiest thoughtful gift in the world: buy them a magazine subscription to a title of interest to them. There are loads of baking, crafting, fitness, music and movie mags out there, and buying a subscription is usually significantly cheaper than getting them from the newsagents. I use iSubscribe.
Joseph Joseph kitchenware
Popular with arty types and design aficionados, Joseph Joseph make colourful, clever kitchen accessories. We have a tonne of their shit in our flat because my housemates love it, and it’s all pretty amazing except for the herb slicer, which may well be the most pointless thing I’ve had since my mother bought a Sodastream in the nineties. Full range available from John Lewis.
Most girls have tonnes of costume jewellery lying around all over the place, but there are some great ways to organise it. My friend Carla hangs hers from a pinboard in her room, and I use one of these ingenious Stackers modular jewellery boxes. There are also dozens of adorable jewellery stands on Amazon and Etsy too, including this amazing handmade wooden replica of the Liberty department store.
Magnificent hand cream
Most people won’t treat themselves to nice hand cream, just grabbing the basic Norwegian formula stuff from Boots for £3. But, there are so much nicer, more luxurious products out there! My housemate swears by L’Occitane’s Shea Butter and London-based Aesop make some of the loveliest hand cream I’ve ever tried (I own the 500ml bottle of this one). For super dry hands or sensitive skin you can’t beat Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Hand Cream. I’ve also recently discovered Laura Mercier’s Ambre Vanille Hand Cream. Smells like crème brûlée.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like their beds covered with all sorts of feathery delights (like me), and those who don’t hold with any of that unnecessary comfort (like my miserable, minimalist housemate, James 2). For those that fall into the former category, unusual soft furnishings can be a cool gift idea. Dwell often have a good selection, but searching ‘screen print cushions’ on Etsy pulls up nearly 1,500 possibilities.
Especially good for ladies who like trying new things, companies like Birchbox will sent a box of miniature beauty products to you every month. Available as one-offs or in three month, six month and twelve month subscriptions.
I have never had to shave my face, but I can only imagine it’s total balls. Sure, if you’re a girl you’ll probably shave vastly greater areas of skin over your lifetime, but at least the ol’ leg ‘n’ armpit routine only takes about three minutes. Or you can just wear tights. If you’re a dude, shaving requires all that weird face stretching shit and sticking lavatory paper to your chin. If you don’t do it, you either have to go around looking like you sleep under a bush or fanny around with beard trimmers. There is no escape. Give some dude in your life a reprieve with some sort of pro shave/facial combo. (If you think they are too ‘manly’ to go for a facial, buy it anyway. They will definitely enjoy it, no man alive doesn’t secretly enjoy sandalwoody stuff getting massaged into his mug.) If you’re in London, try Ted’s Grooming Room or Murdock London.
Some people are happy to use their phone calendars to plan their lives, but I like to write shit down. Instead of buying a generic diary for Paperchase, though, I use a leather Filofax, which is beautiful and also only costs about £4 to ‘renew’ each year. The pocket size is perfect for handbags – I own this one in dove grey and it’s still going strong after four years.
Music and movie posters
If you’re buying for a music fan, you can track down old-school vinyl sleeves on eBay, which you can frame (it’s cool to have more than one too, so buy a few and make a triptych. You need 13″ x 13″ frames, or Urban Outfitters do them for a tenner). Movie posters are also cool gifts – independent cinemas will often give you them for free after a film closes if you ask nicely (although you will need one of these big-ass frames if you get a full-size one – I got mine from Red17), or you can find vintage ones or reprints on eBay. We have a poster from Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing in our living room.
Customised cuddly toys
When I was a baby one of my parents’ friends sewed me a duck called Goosey (yeah, my parents don’t have very good farmyard animal recognition skills). Goosey is old, decrepit, too fragile for the washing machine, wrapped in a bandage and missing half his head and both eyes from when the dog chewed him when I was nine. He still sleeps in my bed. If you’re not up to the challenge of sewing your own cuddly chum, Sarah Jones of Toxic Noodle makes the most adorable soft toys. She’ll do custom orders, or hand-sew a plush version of a family pet.
Similarly, Carla Juniper, who illustrates this blog when she’s not designing infographics or sucking down copious quantities of decent wine, does custom digital portraits. She also does bespoke Christmas cards.
Learn to sew
Take a friend to a craft cafe and learn a new skill; they’re popping up all over the place and offer friendly, idiot-proof environments to learn knitting, croquet, sewing or dressmaking. Ray Stitch fabric store and cafe in Islington that does classes covering pretty much everything, from £42.
Harry Potter Studio Tour
I’ve never been because I’ve only seen half the movies, but everyone I know who’s been to the Pinewood Studios Harry Potter set has raved on about it. My friend Sam, who took his mum for her birthday last year, even designed a Daily Prophet newspaper for her as gift-wrap. Two tickets for 2015 cost £62, buy them here.
Illamasqua make-up lesson
Illamasqua is my favourite makeup brand ever, and they do lessons and courses from their flagship store in Beak Street, London. Most of their courses are for professionals, but their two-hour sessions are great for enthusiastic amateurs! I’ve done their Dragstar Superstar (!) lesson with a friend (review here) and it was great fun – although the styles were over the top, you’ll still develop new skills good for everyday looks too.
An awesome dressing gown
Everyone needs a snuggly-ass dressing gown to ponce around the house in when they can’t be fucked to put on any proper clothes. I’m not talking one of those lightweight teatowel things either, I mean an enormous, heavy beast of a bath robe. All department stores have good ones, so go in store and have a grope.
Ignore Boots’ perfume counter, it is a monstrous joy-suck and only stocks the same boring fragrances as worn by basically everyone. Instead, try Penhaligon’s, who make the most beautifully smelling things for both ladies and gentlemen. Both my mother and my well-groomed flatmate wear Endymion, and I use Juniper Sling, a unique fragrance of cinnamon, juniper berries and brandy.
The great thing about these is that once someone’s got one you can carry on giving them charms for future gifts. I have a Links of London bracelet but you have to pay every time you want one soldered on, bastards, but other brands like Pandora can be attached at home. Links are good for traditional everyday object charms, but Thomas Sabo have a lot of brightly coloured, unusual designs.
A trip to the theatre
I used to have a boyfriend who worked for See Tickets, so I have seen almost all the long-running musicals in London. Matilda is my favourite and good for pretty much everyone; lyricist Tim Minchin has done a sublime job of making it work for grown-ups, too, but Phantom of the Opera is a classic with a really cracking score. I just saw Miss Saigon and it is fantastic – lots of big special effects (and quite a bit of raunchy dancing, so maybe not one to take your parents to). I’d also recommend The Book of Mormon (my review here) for those who like their humour politically incorrect with cussin’ aplenty.
Get Into London Theatre’s yearly theatre sale also starts on 9th December for shows all the way up until mid-February. Tickets are bargainous but run out quickly – more information here.
Cashmere, which is combed from the stomachs of an especially silky-bellied variety of goat, is the most luxurious fabric there is. You can buy gloves from Johnstons from £22 and many high-street stores do decent cashmere sweaters, but if you really want to push the boat out a top quality jumper from Brora or Pringle will set you back around £300. (Make sure you print out washing instructions to give with your gift! Cashmere is not meant to be machine washed or dry cleaned, despite what the label might say. As a natural fibre, it needs gentle handwashing and should be left to dry flat.)
Everyone loves music, but everyone also insists on listening to it via their tinny Apple headphones. There’s a whole range of incredible headphones out there to fit any budget, and I’m certainly no expert, but in my experience Bose’s noise-cancelling headphones are so effective you can barely hear anything even when you’re not playing music.
This INCREDIBLE lamp
No explanation necessary. They will do it with a UK plug fitting though at no extra charge. I really, REALLY want one.
Alternatively, here’s one made from a Danish pickle jar for £49.
Handmade in Tennessee!
The Ginger Pig butchery courses
One of my foodie workmates recently went on one of these and had a great time. Personally, I’d be furious if someone got me this for Christmas, but that’s because I am crap at cooking and also a gold-plated, 24 carat pussy, but for the enthusiastic carnivore, this 3.5 hour course (complete with two-course dinner and take-home meat) could be perfect. Gift vouchers cost £155 per person and are redeemable against pork, beef, lamb or sausage-making courses.
A shopping date
If you well and truly do not know what to get someone, don’t buy them tat just for the sake of them having something to open on Christmas day. Instead, take them on a shopping trip (with a rough budget in mind) and spend the day together. Bonus points if you take them out for a nice lunch too.
My other blog, Curious London, has a bucket list with sixty unique things to do in Britain’s capital city. If you’re looking for something cool and unusual to do, check it out.
That’s all I’ve got, but what’s the best and/or most thoughtful gift you’ve ever given or received?