High: A Ferragamo tux ($2,950), less a traditional gift than recommended attire for a New Year's Eve holiday party; a Lenovo ThinkPad ($1,999).
Low: A section devoted to eleventh-hour grabs, from gossip magazines at the grocery store to storage bins at Kmart. Even the magazine concedes: This last should be filled with an I.O.U. for an actual gift.
The Verdict: A gift guide that skimps on gifts is a hard one to wholeheartedly recommend.But if you're the kind of guy who thinks his presence is gift enough around the holidays, here's a manual for making it indispensible. (The secret: Teach that presence how to make grilled-cheese sandwiches.)
Elle, December 2009
The Pitch: "135+ cheap and chic gifts—for even the toughest on your list."
Target Audience: Style mavens of recently reduced circumstance; young public relations assistants of perennially reduced circumstance.
The Approach: Elletackles gift-giving by interest groups, imagining personas for its readers that are occasionally flattering ("The Gourmand," who will like a fondue set or a knife rack) and occasionally not ("The Bookworm" might be OK, but someone should really have a word with "The Partygoer," who apparently needs a hangover-helper kit in her stocking.) Others, like "The Sailor," are merely confusing. (Is Elle courting naval subscriptions?) The densely packed pages, some with as many as 16 items, make navigating the guide an eye-taxing proposition, but gifts of note are called out as "Editor's Picks." Whether you, like Editor Joann Pailey, have an especial yen for a Where's Waldo-ish printed Lanvin umbrella ($228) is another matter.
High: Few and far between. All in all, Elle does a fine job of keeping its gifting within restrained budgets. Riveting Rosies, well-accustomed to you-can-do-it articles about high-powered working women who can have it all, may be startled to find that the more expensive indulgences (a taupe and chartreuse Bottega Veneta duffel bag, $2,100; a Banana Republic wool toggle coat, $300) are earmarked for men.
Low: While there are cute finds on the cheap—a Day-Glo Jonathan Adler pill-case key-chain in the shape of a capsule, $20, for example—there are also several trompe l'oeil winks at lusher times. Can't afford a gift from Tiffany's? How about a Tiffany-blue porcelain box from same ($75)—the gift, de-gifted? Not flush enough for an iconic quilted Chanel handbag? Try a set of Assouline Chanel books in a quilted slipcover ($550)? Or perhaps you've recently maxed out the gold card—here, take this Jeremy Scott for Longchamp tote in a gold-card print motif ($345)!
The Verdict: A good mix of surprising new ideas, actually desirable products, and the requisite just-for-the-label trifles (Hermès "memory card game," $215).
Outside, December 2009
The Pitch: "Our favorite holiday loot, with the perfect present for every person on your list … and one or two things for you, too."
Target Audience: Wilderness man (temporarily) cubicle-bound.
The Approach: Color coordination, which works better as an organizing principle than you might expect. Bonus points for the appealing presentation and products styled in semi-crumpled wrappings.(Just try not to get giddy at the primal sight of torn tissue paper.)
High: Tech toys are the big-ticket buys. The Garmin Nuviphone G60 ($299), a SmartPhone with trail-ready GPS, will keep hikers happy, though one wonders if in our Age of the iPhone and BlackBerry, it's really a worthwhile purchase. A Tag-Heuer watch (the 43mm Aquaracer Automatic) tops the chart at $1,800.
Low: Most of the magazine's suggestions fall in the $50-$200 range, but a few stocking stuffers, like Smart Wool socks ($14) and Plymouth gin ($25) are sprinkled throughout.
The Verdict: The downside is a lack of variety in what is already a small guide: four different liquors grace an eight-page spread, and four watches from different brands all look strikingly similar to Rolex's classic Submariner. (For comparison, just turn to the back cover, where the thing itself is advertised.) There's also a surprising omission: women. Outside's audience is no doubt heavily male, but only a single item, a Lole marled-wool sweater ($100) is specifically for the ladies. (A few other options are given in passing, but not displayed.) True, many nonclothing items are technically unisex—a lady camper will get as much use out of a Leatherman Wave multitool ($99) as a gent, name notwithstanding—but overall, the boys'-club vibe is strong.
Wired, December 2009
The Pitch: "What we want: No bayberry candles, no fruitcake, no neckties (well, one necktie). 100 great gifts we're giving—and hoping to get—this holiday season.
Target Audience: Anyone who can marshal three or more talking points in a Kindle vs. Nook debate.