Let’s Talk: Gift Guides 2016

Nov 30, 2016


Each holiday season, my daily blog reading is overcome by gift guides.  While some are helpful and fun, the prevalence of poorly edited 30-item guides, fully sponsored guides, and ones with clickbait-y titles like ‘Gifts for the Outdoorsy Modern Man’ and ‘The Feminist Girl Boss Wishlist’ has really turned me off this year.  But since December starts tomorrow (eek!), I thought I would just ask you ladies what type of gift guides you find most (or least) helpful.

In past years, I’ve handled gift guides in a variety of ways.  Some years, I crafted the traditional collages filled with subject or recipient specific items.  Sometimes, I crafted guides based on price point.  And one year, I posted a single gift idea at the end of each work day.

My friend Meghan, built her gift guides as a list this year.  There’s always the traditional collage.  Or I could build them using photo widgets featuring snaps of each item, like in this post on Shopstyle.

Beyond format, what kind of gifts do you need help with?  Co-workers and friends are always popular Ask Belle subjects.  I also have emails asking for boyfriend gifts and sibling gifts.  And each year, there’s at least one post filled with inexpensive White Elephant/Secret Santa gifts.

It seems silly of me to spend hours crafting gift guides that may not help anyone find good gifts.  So leave your thoughts in the comments about which formats work best and who or what you’re shopping for this season.

Ask The Edit, Gift Guide

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  1. Mac says:

    I just started a new job a month ago, and so am a bit stressed about co-worker/secretary/staff gifts. This is also the first year I have had my own secretary, so I have no idea what kind of gift is appropriate. I also always have trouble purchasing gifts for my slightly older family members, like my aunt and my parents-in-law.

    I don’t necessarily care about the format of a gift guide, but I do appreciate when it’s separated by price ranges.

  2. Madeline says:

    Parents! Things that are thoughtful for the people who buy what they want when they want it.

  3. Sally in Boston says:

    One vote here for Office Secret Santa (aka Secret Snowflake at our carefully politically correct workplace)!

    Especially if it includes what to get the colleague you learned is, in fact, your colleague when you drew his name out of the repurposed candy dish… Not that that happened to me yesterday or anything…!

  4. Aleks says:

    Boyfriend gift guide for the guy who claims he doesn’t need anything, isn’t into anything fashion-y, and doesn’t play video games, please.

  5. Alison says:

    I have loved all of your gift guides but I find your ones for guys especially helpful, especially stocking stuffer ideas for men. I always struggling coming up with things beyond the “big gift” each year for my husband.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Fun gifts for beauty lovers please! Format wise – I really like the way acupofjo formats her gift guides. The pictures are big enough that you can see what the gift is and there is an explanation under each one. The collages are kind of a pain because it’s hard to see the pics and you have to scroll up and down to see what picture matches what description. Thanks so much for asking and for putting together great content. I love your blog! Happy holidays 🙂

    • Nicole says:

      I second these comments on format. The collages are a pain – much nicer to see the pic and explanation in one easy spot.

  7. Amy W. says:

    Co-workers and assistants/secretaries for sure! I’m a first time manager of a legal assistant and I am LOST at what to get my fabulous, incredible, makes-my-life-so-much-easier LA. Help!

    • Nicole says:

      Yes, I second the request for what to get for admin assistants! This is my first year having an assistant and I’m clueless as to what the protocol is and what I should get her.

  8. Hyi says:

    Dad gifts! Specifically, dads that need nothing and have no hobbies that lend themselves to gift giving.

  9. Liz says:

    Parents and bosses for sure, they seem to have everything already! No real preference on format, though I don’t love the list as I’m more visual (she probably gets a lot of click throughs though to see what she’s talking about).

  10. Mimi says:

    Subscription services for wine, beer, spirits, e.g., Italian red of the month, with advice on delivery issues. Same advice for pets, books for children, foodstuff.
    Vegan handbags. Workout clothes for specific functions, including yoga, running, cross fit, Pilates, BAR. New running program? Tights that don’t fall down. Yoga pants that aren’t see through in down dog. Sweat quicking efficient capris for BAR and Pilates. Functional cute tops for these activities that are not for 18 year olds, so cover the back, the underarm/upper boob area that goes to heck after 35.
    Cooking gift sets, including spices and rubs. Suggestions on putting together gift sets. Regional candies, chocolates, nuts, and coffee. Favorite thermoses for coffee, soup, cold beverages. Great tablets, at different price points, with Luddite friendly notes on how you can use Microsoft suite but also stream tv, movies. But literally tell us how it works and how much it costs, in other words, wifi is fine, data package is necessary. Thank you!

  11. Christine says:

    Brothers! Gifts for guys are tricky already, and when it’s not a significant other guy you’re buying for it’s even harder to find a gift that will be appreciated.

  12. Nicole says:

    In-laws, please 🙂

  13. Kay says:

    The collages help for a quick view of the recommended items (especially when links are frequently blocked from a work computer). While there was an overwhelming number of gift guides posted on Black Friday by bloggers this year, I’ve always looked forward to yours because I trust they’re not just sponsored items. I find your opinions and testing of makeup and beauty items to be extremely helpful, since I can’t possibly test out every $35 shampoo on the market. Categorization doesn’t matter–by “role”, “personality type”, or price point is fine. I appreciate suggestions in the $10-$50 range, as that is where most of my friend and sibling gifts tend to be. (Too many suggestions out there for some $300 cashmere sweater for mom…)

  14. Addie says:

    My dad and my brother are always the two people I struggle to buy for most. My dad had expensive taste and can buy whatever he wants, my brother I don’t see very often and we’re very different. The format is mort appreciate is a list of pictures with a description under each one.

  15. Anna says:

    White Elephant/Secret Santa would be interesting. I also second parents.

  16. Jenn S. says:

    Bosses or former bosses! I was just promoted this week, and my now-former boss (now my peer!) has made a tremendous impact on my career.

  17. Cait says:

    Second the request for bosses! Also co-workers and other people at the office who you want (or are expected) to give a little something to, but not a full “gift.”

  18. Meghan says:

    I struggle with the format every year and making my guides something that are actually helpful and not the same gifts you see on every.single.blog! I decided on lists this year because I think it’s easier to click + make a decision vs. searching for a matching link from something seen in a collage but that’s me 🙂 Thanks for the link love + looking forward to seeing those you put together!

  19. Erin says:

    I still always appreciate gift guides for female friends – those who love makeup, etc. Very helpful for sisters-in-law!

    • Stefanie S. says:

      The problem with the list format is that the descriptions are usually so vague that I waste time clicking on links just to end up looking at an item that I never would have been interested in to begin with. I’d much rather be able to look at a photo of what the author recommends.

  20. Melinda says:

    Parents / in-laws. They are the hardest.

  21. LizzieUK says:

    Dads who have no hobbies and don’t seem to need anything. I just can’t give him another family picture or wool socks…

  22. Rachel says:

    I’m not one for the collages either. Definitely struggle more with men (my husband’s dad, uncle, brother). Clothing seems oddly intimate, we don’t spend more than $50ish on each other, and a lot of great items seem too quirky/weird for real life.

  23. Firstgirl says:

    Husband & in-laws!

  24. TheLoop says:

    Site-specific guides. Especially if you can do popular sites like Amazon, Nordstrom, Uncommon Goods etc. Because let’s be honest, I am not spending $8 in shipping for a $15 Secret Santa gift and most gift guides point to random cutesy websites where I can’t find a gift for more than one person. But give me a good gift guide for coworkers/bosses/friends from one of the aforementioned sites (esp Amazon Prime eligible) and I will no longer fear holiday shopping.

  25. ABVV says:

    White Elephant/Secret Santa/stocking stuffer gifts from Amazon would be great! I’m sure there are a lot of people with Prime memberships looking for inexpensive but fun stuff that isn’t the ubiquitous Starbucks gift card.

  26. Katie says:

    Inexpensive gifts for co-workers for sure!

  27. Katelyn says:

    Consumables! I would love ideas for people who have a lot of “stuff” and “don’t really need anything” about items they might enjoy and are consumable for the most part. The ideas I have right now are Honey Baked Ham and fruit from Harry & David- those things are reasonably affordable, but not something most people would buy for themselves because they are a “splurge.” I know in the corporate world, my dad would give and receive similar gifts each year, but as a government employee whose in-laws and parents are retired, nobody is inundated by those gifts yet.

    I also second that I like the format of the gift guides on Cup of Jo.

    • IRMcK says:

      Definitely this! Also while I adore my MIL, she’s so difficult to buy for. The things that she DOES need are usually so far out of my price range, and I don’t want to give her crap she can’t use.

  28. Abby says:

    Boyfriends who only buy things that are “Made in America”.

  29. Beth says:


  30. NHD says:

    Gift guide for gifting from afar! We’re not traveling to either of our parents’ houses this year, and I’d love ideas for things to have shipped to both sets of parents and multiple adult married siblings. I often fall back on food gifts but would love other ideas.

  31. Cara Leigh says:

    How about a post on giving cash or its equivalent? Such as when and to whom it is appropriate to give this, cash versus store-specific gift certificates, and what to write in the card. I suggest this based on having friends and a receptionist who appear to be struggling financially, and I don’t think they want a $40 candle.

    • HH says:


      Or maybe a discussion on cash or gift cards and appropriateness? I give my hair stylist a gift – usually nice wine and fancy chocolates – but perhaps she’d just prefer a bigger tip?

      Belle – Corporette has discussed this a few times, so maybe that’s a better source? Here’s one re: secretaries: https://corporette.com/secretary-gifts/ (Not that I have one. HAH!)

  32. Nicky says:

    I hate going to stores and malls this time of year. I want gift ideas that I can have shipped to me for cheap/free and that will arrive quickly OR that I can grab at Target. Specifically I need a gift for White Elephant, one for my babysitter, and some stocking stuffers for my husband and my mom.

  33. Lauren Lewow says:

    I love to buy fun xmas pjs for family and friends but I’ve been having a hard time finding quality this year. Any pics you like?

  34. Carolyn says:

    Dad, boyfriend, brother….all of whom aren’t into fashionable things at all…practical but fun?

    Also, I love when it’s a picture then a link with a price…I hate collages because you have to scroll up and down the page to find which links refer to which item.

    Would love Amazon and Nordstrom ideas – all about the free shipping 🙂

  35. Cmoze says:

    Second for consumables – I usually send a centerpiece or wreath to aunts/uncles/grandparents but there are only so many sleighs with fir and candles one person needs.

    • Rebecca says:

      There were some cool food gifts on oprahs favorite thing list this year. A cake made out of cheese, chocolates that come packaged like a book, some
      English muffins that look amazing!

      Also, on a separate note – I love seeing suggestions about cool gifts on Etsy. It can be hard to wade through all the shops and find cool unique ideas there! Thanks 🙂

  36. Kate says:

    Flat pics a la Instagram! Mixed in with some pics of you using them in daily life.

  37. Veronica says:

    Parents, sister, best friend. All on a budget! Just an easy to click format. Thank you very much! 🙂

  38. Keilexandra says:

    I have two format preferences:

    1) Don’t link to things with coy clickbait text like “you need this thing.” Describe the item so I know what it is before clicking. (Not saying that you do this, it’s just a pet peeve that many gift guides in particular are prone to.)

    2) Pictures within same-screen view (without scrolling on a 13″ laptop) of the purchase link, preferably also of your descriptive text.

  39. Allison says:

    This isn’t exactly a traditional gift guide request, but I would like to know your opinion on office gifts. Am I a suck up if I give a gift to my boss’s boss, even though we are friendly? I am in an executive roll, do lower level employees, with tighter budgets, feel pressured to give gifts if I give them one, or am I being rude and leaving them out if I only give a gift to my boss? Also, what’s the best way to give a gift to a co-worker? (Should I try and be discreet?) Sometimes our office pools money for group gifts, I’ve always found that awkward because not everyone wants to participate. Maybe we should just have a no gift policy and agree to enjoy the holiday party together!

  40. AAR says:

    Like many of the women, I would appreciate guidance on gifts for boyfriend/dad/brother – men are always so hard to shop for. Also, office gifts: I just became a new attorney, and I don’t know what’s expected in terms of gifts for paralegals, associates more senior than I, partners, etc.

  41. Stephanie says:

    I would also love to see what’s on your wish list. A gift guide for yourself, if you will – I always know the “big ticket” things that I want, but I struggle to come up with ideas for myself in the $20-50 range for family members who won’t buy anything extravagant and think giving cash or gift cards are not personal.

  42. Tardis says:

    In-laws are tough for me. Now that my siblings are getting married, I am having a really tough time shopping for my sister-in-law, who doesn’t like chocolate, jewelry, cheese, or wine… What on earth do you get for someone like that??

  43. Kristen says:

    I second the boyfriend gift guide! Mine has great taste, but also already has everything I can think of…

  44. R says:

    Gifts for the hard to shop for at low price points, i.e. extended family members, colleagues, holiday party hostess gifts, dog walker, etc. It seems like there are a lot of random people you’re supposed to get gifts for that really add up. I’d like to find more unique yet inexpensive things to give to people I’m not particularly close to, but am socially obligated to buy them gifts.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Personally I am not a fan of gift guides. They usually just have things no one really wants or needs. A cutting board in the shape of a pig? A square ice cube maker? I say, if you don’t know what to buy your mom/dad/sibling/significant other, then he or she probably doesn’t need or want anything. Why not just suggest you don’t exchange gifts? Or what about a simple gift card?

    The holidays are supposed to be about coming together, not buying each other stuff that will end up at the thrift shop in a few months after your Marie Kondo-ed your home.

  46. Laurie says:

    Price-wise gift recommendations would be really helpful, and also by person (i.e. family, friend, coworker etc), but if it’s possible, can you publish a guide to browsing Etsy? I get so overwhelmed by the sheer number of stores there, and I feel like I never really uncover the best-selling gems.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I love the idea of consumables.. I bought close friends a butter pack from BannerButter last year and they loved it. They have almost everything one could need and are foodies so it was a great gift- highly recommend! The seasonal varieties of butter made it extra special.

    The prices on other gift guides are outrageous- they almost read like wedding registries- $400 for a wine fridge, $250 for a vase, etc- much too rich for my budget.

    I second the request for a guide on how to navigate Etsy. I found a cute phone case on Etsy recently, but it literally took about 4 hours of browsing to find. It seems no matter how specific you make the filters, there’s still massive amounts of results.

    Another idea: gifts that give back. I once gifted my family with a sponsorship for a child in Africa and it was one of their favorite gifts. Granted that’s a commitment you’re placing on someone to pay the $XX every month to continue the sponorship so it may not (very understandably) work for everybody, but it’s the concept of giving a heartfelt gift or charitable donation that will make an impact. Perhaps a donation in somebody’s name or a tote bag or something from a charity. I’ve been eyeing the baseball caps from Love My Melon and will be getting one for a family member this Christmas.

    One last idea: a membership somewhere- maybe a museum or the zoo, though memberships can get very expensive.

  48. AttiredAttorney says:

    -Love the gifts that give back. A roundup of interesting charities for people that care about different types of causes would be great.
    -Gift guides where every gift is under $50
    -Semi-homemade crafty gifts (baked goods, seasonal decorations, etc) basically a vetting of projects on pinterest that could be given as gifts.
    -Gift guides where you can shop online but pickup in store or where all the items are available in “regular” stores. When I need a hostess gift, I’m generally not planning 3-5 days in advance to have something shipped, but rather swinging by the big box mall on the way to a party.

  49. CeeCee says:

    Geez where to start. What to get my boyfriend, soon to be fiance’s, parents? What to get his sisters? What to get this brother and sister in law?

    My siblings and I quit doing little $20 gifts long ago- my brothers and I go in on a huge gift for our parents and our parents gift us individually, but that’s it. Better yet, I’ve finally nixed this with my girlfriends just this year, but now I’m in this trap again! As a hater of “stuff” I am at a loss.

  50. Tess says:

    Hi Abra,

    I would love a gift guide for adult men (brother in law, extended family, etc) as well as Mother in Law! I have a mother in law that just buys whatever she wants for herself, so I’m looking for non-durable goods 🙂


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