With Christmas less than two weeks away, millions are beginning to rue their procrastinatory ways. With nary a gift purchased, panicked shoppers are often tempted to take the easy way out with gift cards, neckties, and bottles of cheap perfume. Such presents might technically fulfill your holiday obligations, but they're unlikely to score you much love: Don't expect any impromptu lingerie shows, for example, if you plan on giving your girlfriend an oven mitt.
Lucky for you, magazines are bursting with gift ideas. In an editorial ritual seemingly as old as Good King Wenceslas, glossies festoon their December pages with products that will allegedly make your friends and family swoon with glee. The key word, though, is allegedly—some inevitably disappoint by suggesting presents that only a tycoon could afford, or by favoring organizational schemes that are as parseable as Finnegan's Wake. So, which magazines will help you gain renown as a gift-giver nonpareil, and which deserve lumps of coal? Slate perused this year's print guides to separate the dreck from the handy.
Condé Nast Traveler, December 2007 The Pitch:"Items for the peripatetically inclined"Target Audience: 28-year-old investment bankers who insist that you haven't lived until you've tried the divine coq au vin at this fabulous bistro in the Seventh Arrondissement, where … what? You don't visit Paris six times a year? You poor thing—take this $20 bill. Organizational Spirit: Lazy and underwhelming. Despite an emphatic cover tease, this gift guide is woefully slim on ideas—just a dozen, and only three under the $100 mark. The simple gridlike layout is disappointing, too: The one-page "guide" resembles an advertising insert more than a legit feature. Standard Absurdity: A $1,559 satchel complete with Champagne cozy is recommended for "The Sybarite."Bright Idea: A stylish steel compass from Dalvey for a mere $66. Bottom Line: Condé Nast Traveler is more egalitarian than its gift guide indicates; in the very same issue, there's a sharp feature on semiaffordable family vacations and a primer on finding Belgium's finest beers. For some reason, however, the editors saw it fit to only recommend gifts for five-star travelers. If your loved ones prefer more carefree travel, steer clear—the last thing you need while backpacking across Laos is a $28,000 Joan Hornig necklace. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 2 (out of 10)
Gourmet, December 2007 The Pitch: "55 Fabulous Foodie Gifts"Target Audience: Devotees of cucumber foam. Organizational Spirit: Disjointed, with another alluring cover tease that doesn't deliver inside. There's no coherent gift guide, per se, just a series of front-of-the-book gift pages. The editors also chose the irksome fashion-spread approach, with dishware and kitchen gadgets crammed into full-page photos, then described in run-on captions. Standard Absurdity: A section dedicated to ridiculously expensive cruises, the most egregious of which is a 114-day, around-the-world voyage that starts at $20,999. Bright Idea: The guide's one redeeming feature is an inventory of special tipples, like Flaming Heart, an $85 blended Scotch from Compass Box. Bottom Line: No one likes to be jerked around, least of all when holiday stress makes life more difficult. If Gourmet is going to flaunt its gift guide on the cover, it shouldn't force its readers to sift through the entire magazine before realizing where those gifts reside. And cruises? Stick with what you know, and recommend some meat pies instead. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 2.5
Outside, December 2007 The Pitch: "What Every Man Wants This Year"Target Audience: Software engineers whose affection for heli-skiing is obvious by virtue of their perpetual goggle tans. Organizational Spirit: Maddeningly fashion-spready. Full-page shots of male models sporting an array of gear feature cramped captions. Aesthetically pleasing at first glance, perhaps, but ultimately more trouble than it's worth. Not helping matters: The captions occasionally obscure the product shots, much like those black bars that TV networks use to obscure naughty bits. Standard Absurdity: For "The Jet-Setter," a TAG Heuer Carrera Automatic Chronograph Tachymeter for $2,895. Bright Idea:"The Luddite," by contrast, is said to favor a $93 forest axe from Sweden's Gränsfors. Great for chopping wood and, one presumes, teaching varmints a lethal lesson. Bottom Line: Beauty can be the enemy of efficiency, and Outside's handsome-yet-baffling guide is a case in point. Gift guides work best when they're unabashedly servicey, rather than treading the fine line between journalism and art. Outside's good suggestions are too often lost amid the attractive clutter. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 4.5
Town & Country, December 2007 The Pitch:"More than 170 presents that will keep smiles bright this holiday season"Target Audience: The direct descendents of feudal lords, particularly those who enjoyed foxhunting and oppressing their serfs. Organizational Spirit: Sprawling and slightly cheeky. You get the feeling that whoever put this guide together got a subtle kick out of recommending gifts that only 0.00001 percent of the population can afford. Standard Absurdity: Where to begin? How about the $5,250 stuffed polar bear from Steiff —what better way to tell your child, "You're not one of the little people, dear." The $17,920 watch from Chopard, meanwhile, screams out, "Thank you for being my trophy wife."Bright Idea: An ash sled from designer Wolfgang Sirch, for a relatively affordable $390. Bottom Line: Unless you and yours are bigwigs on the Palm Beach charity circuit, Town & Country's guide won't help with your gift quest. But it's an entertaining read nonetheless, if you like chortling at the delusional pretensions of the fabulously wealthy. Take the $8,350 python biker jacket from Giorgio Armani—I dare any owner of this garment to show up at a Mongols meeting and announce their desire to join. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 5.5. Not useful by any means, but a fascinating peek at a very peculiar, Botoxed brand of decadence.