Illustration: Nicko Phillips
Years ago, in a past life, I was Gayle King’s assistant. Gayle is a perfectionist when it comes to gifts; As part of this job, I spent many hours in his glass-walled office helping him find the perfect gift for someone or another. His ability to track down something that totally felt them, whoever they were, was unparalleled. But to me, his true prowess was the least personalized gift. She kept a list of exceptionally excellent standby options handy; one phone number I memorized, for example, was for a now-closed Midwestern store called Nonnie Waller’s, which made Southern-style pound cakes. Topped with a bouquet of fresh flowers and packed in a hatbox, they could be shipped the next day to anyone they want to thank or congratulate or celebrate on a whim.
I saw the value in this concept of having a one-size-fits-all article to help you automatically check off people on your list. But still, during my time working for Gayle, I spent the better parts of November and December shopping extensively on a case-by-case basis for the many members of my extended Italian family. The masochistic Catholic in me feared that it would destroy the Christmas spirit to give the same gift more than once.
Then COVID happened. We wouldn’t be seeing any family in person for Christmas 2020, but I still wanted to buy things for them. I stumbled upon a pair of pale Eberjey slippers — sizeless and under $50 — that seemed ideal for quarantine. Everyone could use comfortable shoes right now was the basic thought. So: I ordered not one but three pairs for a trio of aunts over 60.
The January returns were enthusiastic. But even if it wasn’t, I knew forever I’d be shopping for these women in multiples. It suddenly became clear that some gifts were worth repeating.
So how do you find the worthy ones? Again, I channel Gayle. One year, during a trip to Australia, she brought me a fringed handbag in brushed olive green suede; another year for Christmas, she bought my future husband and me pure cotton bathrobes. Yes, these pieces were chosen especially for me – and, no, most people can’t afford to buy someone a Pratesi bathrobe – but they still indicate a general, overarching quality that Gayle’s gifts have. always had: that of delight.
By delicious, I mean satisfying – and by satisfying, I mean the gift feels great in your hands. This, I see now, however ridiculously obvious it may seem, is the key to a repeatable gift. I suggest you simply ask yourself when shopping, is this something I want to touch? If you do, you can probably assume others will too.
Last Christmas I gave the aunts a cuddly Nordic beach dress, each in a different neutral hue, and their responses were again overwhelmingly positive compared to previous years, if only in the sense that they actually texted me a reply. . (In my years of individual gifts — when I carefully picked them out an Ole Henriksen sample set, a coral costume necklace, and monogrammed scotch glasses — I received no messages.)
This year, I’m considering offering a long “Sherpa” vest from QVC—Bethenny Frankel is a fan of the line. I can even have it for a fourth aunt, who I usually spend the most on. Why deprive it? In addition, it will be all the more satisfying to click on add to cart (x4).
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