Men are more eager to please when buying holiday gifts than women are, according to a new holiday survey, but the real question is, do they?
The American Express study of American gift-giving habits found that "appropriateness" of a gift was the key consideration for women shoppers while "desires of the recipient" was the overriding factor for men.Men may aim to please but interviews with fashion experts revealed their aim isn't so good.
"My father had the dearest intentions," recalled Kim Hankin-Barrett, manager of personal shopping services at Saks Fifth Avenue, "but he sort of took what the sales person had to say over his memory of my mother.
"In other words, he bought for the 6-foot sexy redhead salesgirl and my mother was 5 feet tall and blond. One year he bought her an apres ski dyed-yellow fox coat. You know, she was supposed to throw it on by the fire at St. Moritz. It would look great on the redhead but my mother looked like a short fat lemon."
The key to the right selection, according to Linda Lee, director of personal shopping at Macy's Northeast, "is having the right information."
When customers come to Lee for holiday assistance - and that includes many men - she requires the full rundown from a recipient's size to figure type (full-bosomed, big-shouldered) to clothing type (traditional, adventurous).
"I'm looking at a high-waisted cashmere sweater," she muses, "that has a lot of ribbing. If a woman is big-busted she might not look good but a man might not know that. He might say, `It's pink. My wife looks good in pink'."
Indeed, according to the American Express survey, men have the hardest time shopping for their spouses.
"It's important to remember," comments Hankin-Barrett, "do you want to give her fantasy or do you want to give her something she can get use out of?"
Interestingly enough, both agree that if the recipient is a traditional gray flannel suit type, fantasy is in order. The same for someone at home with the kids. But if she has significant disposable income and indulges her own fantasies, a little tradition may be called for.
Then, of course, there is the lingerie question.
"I think lingerie is a beautiful gift," laments Hankin-Barrett. "Women cringe at spending $60 for a bra and underpants. You know, women have a secret place where they're chintzy. There are women who will not spend $12 on a pair of panty hose. Those are lovely presents for women who like that."
One wouldn't, of course, buy lingerie for a female boss, but for one's spouse, well, experts forgive inappropriateness here, but only here.
"I think there's always a purpose in buying lingerie," says Lee. "The fact that it's not appropriate in a woman's eye may still mean it's very appropriate in the man's mind. I wouldn't touch that one."
As to men giving gifts to female bosses, experts agree that sweaters and handbags are not too intimate. Pins are better than earrings. Fragrance is touchy. Safe bets are small leather goods, scarves, gloves, chains, desk accessories, and what seems to be the big seller - food baskets. At Macy's, that means coffees or salmon and caviar.
A gentleman's mother is a lot easier to tackle with virtually no intimacy boundaries. Top gift - robes.
Safe bets for female secretaries include sweaters and handbags, too, and certainly not lingerie but Hankin-Barrett insists, "I'm thinking of my husband's secretary and the most meaningful gift is cash, frankly."
This season, for some reason, retailers are strongly suggesting gift certificates, theater tickets, and an excellent idea by Hankin-Barrett, sending flowers to a secretary's home, not at random, but right before Christmas when she can use them while she entertains.
Remember, both experts urge, because the more you know the better, don't hesitate to ask. Mothers, they say, should be easy.
"The big mistake is `special and different,"' warns Hankin-Barrett. "That means they have to return it."
Another faux pas can be last-minute shopping.
"On the 23rd, my husband hits Fifth Avenue and 57th Street like Mr. Kamikaze Credit Card and he's the perfect victim for a sales person. Every year I go to Hermes to return scarves because he's the one picking over the leftovers on the 24th and he thinks he's won because he's leaving the store with packages on the 24th and he's done all his shopping so fast.
"If he put more thought into it before he hit stores, he'd have greater success."