Gifts for Girls
November 11, 2004 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Okay, I turn to thee again. I'm bad at giving gifts to females. If it's a birthday or something similar I always screw it up. I try to get anyone something small, that they'll actually use and keep. Think along the lines of a Tiffany's keychain. They're silver, minimilistic, classic and a good price. Experience has shown that my girl friends tend to think I'm buying my way into their pants, which makes things awkward. Any ideas?

I think the "little green box" carries a little too much Audrey Hepburn weight. So I thought about going to the local artsy kitchenware place and buy one of those decorative bowls, that kind of thing. Would something like this be acceptable?

Oh, and "what do your guy friends give them?" you might wonder. Gift certificates. I think those are lame and don't have any thought put behind them.
posted by geoff. to Shopping (35 answers total)
So this female ... she's your girlfriend? Or is there some other relationship you have with her? How old is she? Does she have any hobbies/interests/passions?

The best gifts are tailored to the individual.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:06 PM on November 11, 2004

Also: What's your budget?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:06 PM on November 11, 2004

I know this sounds horribly cliched, but it's true: you can't go wrong with chocolate and flowers. Beyond that, what croutonsupafreak said.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 PM on November 11, 2004

~$100, none have really any, discernable hobbies. That would be way too easy. None are girlfriends. Thus the "non-sexual" quandry. I don't have any relationship beyond strictly being a friend. Should I go for the gift certificate, is that the only way you can say "I like you, not LIKE you"?
posted by geoff. at 7:16 PM on November 11, 2004

I'm frankly a bit surprised that you buy platonic female friends birthday gifts at all, which may be a part of your difficulty.

A gift certificate can be very thoughtful if it's to a favourite restaurant or to a spa or the like, if that's the sort of girl you're dealing with. Generic 'here's a certificate for the nearest mall' does lack a certain charm.

Books are excellent, non-sexualized gifts that offer the added option of inscription to convey your meaning.

But really, the fact that you're searching for a gift you can give equally well to any one of your female friends is troublesome. Gifts should be individualized, personal, not generic. If it's the sort of thing you could have a stack of in the closet and pull one out every time someone has a birthday, it's not really any more thoughtful than a generic gift certificate.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:21 PM on November 11, 2004

I've always had good luck with the rule - get something that you would like to receive yourself. If you have some shared interests get the weirdest, coolest, most fun thing related to that topic. For example, I have a friend that I like to discuss perfume and related technologies with and for her birthday I got a chunk of ambergris (yup, congealed whale vomit ... should I even bother trying to explain?) Anyway, she was impressed. A couple of years ago I found an antique medical kit for another friend who shares my common interest in physiology. Ebay and grubby little antique stores are good for this kind of thing. Pretend you are buying toys for you both to play with and enjoy.
posted by milovoo at 7:25 PM on November 11, 2004

Here's the paradox: if you put too much time, effort and money into a gift it will appear you've got the hots for the lady, but if you put in too little then it'll seem like you're lazy or just doing it out of obligation.

I like the artsy pottery idea, especially if they keep a nice home. Another good idea is going to a store where they'd likely buy something on their own and find something decent for about $100 (what you want to spend), which they could easily return if they wanted. It's better than a gift certificate and it shows you made an effort, but they can still easily go out and find something they'd like.

If you were courting one of these ladies I'd say you should put more effort into this, but you're not. You don't want to think too much, because then you'll prolly get the LIKE effect, instead of the like effect.
posted by capndesign at 7:27 PM on November 11, 2004

You know, I think Jacquilynne's really onto something. A gift certificate to someplace you know she likes has the best of both worlds -- it says "I know your tastes" but retains a certain hands-off-ness to the whole matter. It doesn't have to be a spa; it can be a record store, a bookstore, or heck, the knitting yarn store, as long as it's someplace you know she likes.
posted by boomchicka at 7:38 PM on November 11, 2004

I know this sounds horribly cliched, but it's true: you can't go wrong with chocolate and flowers.

weeell, I'd say you can't go wrong, exactly, but you might also not be going 100% right, depending on the girl. I mean, it depends how far along the relationship is, I guess. If you don't especially know her yet, then yeah, flowers & chocolate are fine (esp. if you choose particular ones that are a little personalized). If you feel like you know her better than that, though, I would try to find something more tailored to her. But that's hard to recommend without knowing more about her.
posted by mdn at 7:41 PM on November 11, 2004

The probably is that you're not really getting them Tiffany's and the know it. Tiffany's boxes are robin's-egg blue, not green.

I'd firm up some of the answers already here and say: what else are you doing for them? Do you do other nice, kind, sweet, or gentlemanly things for them? Or are you an "event" gift-giver? I ask because "event" gift-giving by itself is, indeed, often perceived as buying a peek inside their pants. Giving gifts is looked upon with suspicion if its not part of a larger pattern of emotional, physical, culinary, and financial, etc., generosity.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:45 PM on November 11, 2004

oops, didn't see all that on preview.
yeah, i'd agree on books and cds. That's what most of my friends get for birthday gifts.
Bath soaps etc are really more for women to give other women, I think. Knick knacks are also fun (I have a glow in the dark saint, a jesus action figure, a squeaky venus de milo, and (too) many other similar styled gifts.

I'm frankly a bit surprised that you buy platonic female friends birthday gifts at all, which may be a part of your difficulty.

posted by mdn at 7:46 PM on November 11, 2004

the artsy bowl sounds fine to me, given what you've said about these women being platonic friends of yours. and i agree about nixing any generic mall type gift certificate.
posted by ifjuly at 8:02 PM on November 11, 2004

Jenga, Tito's, and some shot glasses.

It's a power trio of happiness.
posted by keli at 8:33 PM on November 11, 2004

IMHO, a hundred bucks is too much to spend on a platonic friend who does not also wear the "best friend" label. I would definitely think you were trying to buy your way into my pants if you spent that kind of money on a birthday present for me.

A book or a nicely-bound journal make good gifts; do they have Amazon wish lists? Even if you don't want to buy off the list, that will give you a good idea of the sorts of things that interest them.
posted by headspace at 9:00 PM on November 11, 2004

I think $20-$30 is a more reasonable friend spending range. As a girl myself, I would like cute socks (several pairs with interesting images or patterns, available at The Limited or Nordstroms), nice well-bound journals, unusual boxes, CDs, books, or gift certificates.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:07 PM on November 11, 2004

Alcohol is also a good gift -- a really nice bottle of wine or high quality gin, vodka, etc.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:08 PM on November 11, 2004

Yeah, if you're buying your female friends $100 gifts I can see why they think you're trying to seduce them. I would recommend books, CDs, DVDs, etc. for such occasions, ideally something to do with shared interests.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:42 PM on November 11, 2004

I sort of echo jacquilynnes comments and croutonsupafreak's. I'm not so much surprised you are giving you are giving your platonic female friends gifts, but that you are this troubled by it. Buy a personalized book or CD as others have suggested.

It seems like you are somewhat concerned about their perception of you, the gift-giver but, beyond telling us what you dont want to be perceived as (romantic or lame) you havent told us how you want to be perceived.

Maybe you do want to get into their pants but just don't want to be obvious about it... :)
posted by vacapinta at 9:42 PM on November 11, 2004

geoff., I'm going to pretend that you do indeed plan on spending about $100 on your female friends, so I'll give you suggestions along this line.

First I recommend a nice silk scarf. They begin at $50. Coach makes some very pretty ones. If you get one too pretty (lacy or frilly), that's when you cross that line and it gets too much like a personal gift. If you’re still thinking about the keyfobs & keychains, Coach also makes some really nice ones and so does Cole Haan. I also suggest a warmer, outdoor scarf, and you can't go wrong with cashmere, which would run right around $100. Almost all high-end retailers offer a version of a cashmere scarf, but banana republic always offers a good cashmere line.

If you were going to delve into the bath & body thing, I’d try L'occitane, which offers very quality products. It can get a little too intimate in this area, but if you stick to hand care, body lotion and accessories, you're fine. You start crossing the line with bath stuff and oils. The good thing about l'occitane is that the products are packaged in a gender-neutral packaging, so it doesn't cross into prissy/personal.

Also you could try a nice pair of fitted leather gloves. I've noticed that these are back in style for the winter, the kind that are very tailored and go halfway up the forearm. They can be found in department stores. Another thing that might work are small make-up bags. They're to keep make-up in, and thrown in a purse, and they always get dirty (from make-up), so the turn around is quick. Jack Gomme makes a few cute ones (look at the "April" style), and I know Bloomingdales carries his line. You could also try the candle approach, although I personally think candles make a lame gift, but illuminations makes nice ones.

The last thing I can mention is the MoMA store, which has great gift ideas and in your price range. All that said, the bowl idea sounds really nice, too! However, if you really are worried about sending a neutral, 'don't want to send you any signals' vibe, stick with the gift cards, which are sterile.
posted by naxosaxur at 9:57 PM on November 11, 2004

Rubber gloves, denture fixative and a miner's lamp.

Test the friendship.

(seriously though, a card and maybe a bottle of wine should be enough for someone you aint dinking. Save your money for when you fall in love and are then bled dry..)
posted by Frasermoo at 1:55 AM on November 12, 2004

Rule one, which always works....

A nice out of print book is the finest gift you can ever give. Men and women both appreciate that you think highly of their intellect (even though you know they are assholes...), and that the volume is OOP trebles the worth cause they feel extra-special recieving a rare volume.

Always get the Hard-cover w/dust jacket, and always get the best copy available. It's your friend, dammit!

And...ehhh...if it's a guy friend, just buy him a bottle of Chivas...LOL.
posted by red cell at 3:08 AM on November 12, 2004

Addendum: ART biogrphies are always great. Think (Picasso. Warhol, Phil Glass). Think OOP bios of the US Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Washington, Thom Paine). When in a complete lurch, seek out an old copy of Ben Franklin's autobiography...the neatest gift a pal could give, EVER! (Plus, if you're so willing, you will get LOTS of sex from that, guaranteed...)
posted by red cell at 3:27 AM on November 12, 2004

Have you considered asking? Generally I wouldn't but then I'm quite good at picking out personalised things for the category of people I would get presents for. I'm just off for a birthday lunch for a female platonic friend and she made no bones about what she wanted, but it would have been no problem to actually get her something that was relevant to her interests just as a result of listening to her when she says what she's interested in.
posted by biffa at 4:21 AM on November 12, 2004

Re. flowers and chocolate: Just strike the "flowers", and I think you're on a good track. I've been giving Cowgirl Chocolates to female friends for xmas and some birthdays for a couple of years, now, and I've never had to deal with misunderstanding.

Plus, really good-quality chocolates will tend to form a foundation from which you can launch courtship, if that's in your plans.

Flowers, though, generally carry too much baggage, I think.
posted by lodurr at 5:41 AM on November 12, 2004

mdn, I'm surprised he buys his platonic female friends birthday gifts. In my experience it's unusual for friends to buy each other more than token gifts for their birthdays. Spending $100 on each friend who has a birthday seems quite unusual to me. The few gifts I do get tend to come from my female friends. If his female friends are getting the wrong impression from his gift, it may not be because of the specific item, but because he's giving it at all.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:44 AM on November 12, 2004

is there some weird cultural mismatch here? maybe geoff is super rich or from a different culture or something? (in which case you're probably best asking people more like yourself).
unless we're all presuming incorrectly that these women are offended, when in fact you are, indeed, buying your way into their pants. in which case i'm even more confused.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:19 AM on November 12, 2004

The best gifts I've ever gotten from guy friends who were definitely friends-and-nothing-more include: an old magnifying glass with a ceramic handle, a really nice compass for hiking, a miniature orange tree, and -- my favorites -- any number of fountain pens. Pens come in just about every price range and can be used every day or for special occasions (thus upping the perceived value, since the recipient will think about you every time she signs her name to something). If she's not into the whole fiddly nature of fountain pen writing, most of the nice companies make great rollerballs too. And they come in all styles (elegant, simple, funky, classic, retro, techno, etc.), and sometimes they can be engraved (name? date? initials? very cool), and they go really well with nice stationery (an excellent followup gift).

Pens. Yup.
posted by picopebbles at 6:48 AM on November 12, 2004

If a guy I knew who wasn't pretty well-off bought me a $100 birthday gift I would assume he was trying to get into my pants. Especially if the guy giving the gift was single. Double-especially if I was also single. Somewhat reduced on this if it was a milestone birthday [30/40/50, for example, or 21], or if it were a Chrsitmas gift which people tend to go more overboard on. I know that is not the question you asked, but that's how it works on my planet, ymmv.

That said, $100 can go towards some fairly nice versions of lower-end stuff that would be a very nice gift without seeming to say "I spent big bux on you". A meal out, for example. Or a very good bottle of wine and some cheese/bread/whatever. A very nice book with a straightforward inscription. Other gifts I have liked: compact OED, weird antiquey watchmaker's vice [brass and classy/ornamental], power tools, a good backpack, antique wooden dresser-top boxes. I like naxosaxur's gloves idea actually. I would never buy myself nice leather gloves, but I'd love to have a pair. I dislike chocolate and/or flowers because to me they say "I'm sorry" or "I lack creativity" more than "this is a gift for you personally." A lot, of course, depends on the woman in question. Gifts that show thought and consideration are the best, no matter how much or little they cost.
posted by jessamyn at 6:52 AM on November 12, 2004

If you are really just friends with her, the I would stay away from chocolates, flowers, jewelry, or any other kind of gift that one would normally get a girlfriend. Make her a CD.
posted by xammerboy at 7:38 AM on November 12, 2004

The above gift suggestions are excellent, plus: Get an apppropriate card. If you are certain a woman likes snarkasm, a funny card, otherwise, a sincere card. Be careful of really gushy ones. I particularly dislike mean, "just-joking" put-down cards, but HMMV (H=her). A card that shows you get her sense of humor is good, or a really beautiful art card.

If she suggests that you just wanti to get into her pants, explain that you think anybody who gets into her pants is incredibly lucky, but this gift is without an expected payback. If you proclaim a lack of interest in the contents of her pants, she may be less than thrilled.

I have a guy friend who is amazingly good at remembering birthdays and choosing appropriate cards & gifts (Hi, S****). It's an acquired and nifty skill.

BTW, my birthday is in March.
posted by theora55 at 7:55 AM on November 12, 2004

At the risk of getting slapped for mentioning my business, a lot of the custom gifts that I do at Soapy Hollow are for guys that are buying presents when they don't know what to buy. Yummy smelling bath products are often a good solution. They're personal...but not edible panties level of personal. Nor do they cost an extraordinary amount, so you don't run into the "Ummm...?." factor.
posted by dejah420 at 9:01 AM on November 12, 2004

High quality skincare products. Really high quality.

Also, sometimes [gross generalization] women like experiences more than objects.

Just curious, but do women buy their platonic heterosexual male friends gifts?

Every time I bought a girl a gift, the notion of relationship escalation was somewhere in my consciousness, even if not formally acknowledged.
posted by mecran01 at 2:17 PM on November 12, 2004

Just curious, but do women buy their platonic heterosexual male friends gifts?

Sure, if I run across something that screams their name. But I do the same for female friends. You know, you happen to find a manuscript or out of print book that you know one of your friends has been trying to find for years...of course you pick it up and then find an interesting way to give it to them. (Presentation is half the fun of presents, don't you think?)
posted by dejah420 at 6:31 PM on November 12, 2004

mecran01, yeah, but it's always something quite neutral in my case (books, cds, baking something for them, tickets to a show, stuff like that).

i think part of how it works for me is, if a guy gives me something that's a stereotypical chick gift (chocolate, flowers, jewelry) i'm going to be suspicious. if it's more gender neutral--like a fun experience, as people have mentioned, or something luxurious but more gender-neutral like good gloves or a good pen--it's still classy but the romantic issue is less on my mind.
posted by ifjuly at 7:06 PM on November 12, 2004

If you buy any of your friends gifts, I don't see what the problem is buying your platonic desired-sex friends the same sort of gifts. I usually don't spend more than $20 on a friend, though, unless it's a special occasion (like others have said, 30th b'day, or something) or an especially close friend. And even then, it usually comes down to books and cds, just more of them! (okay, or fancier ones).

The nice (ie, more expensive) gifts I can think of that I've been given have mostly been nice books, a chess set, a pair of bookends (yeah, kinda old school, huh), or a nice vase or bowl.
posted by mdn at 9:59 AM on November 13, 2004

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