Tagged: holidays

Find the Perfect Gift

This I Wear  | Find the Perfect Holiday Gift

While Black Friday is not my jam, I totally get that is a tempting way to kick off a season of holiday shopping. I’ve already started my holiday shopping list, and I’m on the search for the perfect gifts for my friends and family. The lure of a good sale means it might start sooner rather than later. Even if you haven’t thought much about holiday giving yet, I’m going to guess that Black Friday and its friends (Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday) are on your radar. (Wait, is there something on Sunday or is it truly a day of rest?)

So before we start whipping out cash, I thought I’d come up with a little (intentional) holiday shopping guide to help you stay focused and mindful when shopping this season. And not so coincidentally, I think it will help you buy the best gifts yet!

Here’s how to do it:

1. Make a list. Yeah, yeah, I know this sounds boring, but making a list ahead of time, especially when you’re shopping for gifts for others, is a great idea. I LOVE gift giving and I find my list making process is actually more of a brainstorming session. I typically take a few minutes per person on my list to think about what might bring a smile to him or her. Sometimes this is buying something new, but often giving them something of my own, my time or an experience emerges as the best gift. The thinking about what would bring them joy makes the process so much more fun AND it helps keep me focused if and when I do shop.

Quick tips: I actually make my list in a Google doc! This makes it easy if I do spontaneous shopping since I can access the doc on my phone and remember who and what I’m shopping for. And most recently, I’ve started a “secret” board on Pinterest where I save gift ideas for specific people year-round. That way, I already have a load of ideas by the time I need a gift.

2. You have to love it! This is my year-round rule taught to me at a formative age by my Aunt Lynn. Just because something is on sale is not a reason to “love” it. Take a step back or walk away for a moment to really envision whether this is the right thing (the thing you’ll keep and care for as long as possible) for you or a loved one and not just more stuff.

3. Shop small. Buying from a local craft fair, a small business, an Etsy shop, or even a used bookstore is an opportunity to have a conversation with the person most connected to what you’re buying. When you get a chance to ask questions and hear the story of what you’re purchasing, you’re able to share that story with the gift recipient. And I think we all know that the things that have a memorable story usually end up as our most prized treasures.

4. No more stuff. Just to reiterate this because I’ve already touched on it, but how can we steer clear of just more things that pile up in our homes? And it’s actually related to that Gifting 101 question: is this something I personally like or is this something they will truly use and enjoy? Keep the other person in mind and give them something they’ll really use, rather than just something you like. Don’t know what they love? Don’t guess! Gift certificates are awesome to avoid the stuff trap, and a great bottle of locally brewed hard cider or some homemade Christmas cookies can be even better.

5. Enjoy shopping. Yes, you read that right! If you decide to shop, I want you to have fun! Shopping for others can be such a joyful experience. Don’t let the holiday shopping madness get you down. Take things at your own pace, make a day of it, stop for a cup of hot chocolate and give yourself time to be thoughtful about gifts. The more thoughtfulness and love that goes into what you buy (whether that gift is the perfect responsibly made thing or whatever), the more likely it is that your recipient will love it as much as you do. And I think you could argue that something that is well-loved, used and kept for the long haul is better at this point than an artisan-made thingamabob that is never touched.

What are your holiday shopping tips? Share them here! And if you’re the enlightened Buddha thinking you are so beyond shopping, I highly recommend checking out The Center for the New American Dream’s “Simplify the Holidays” campaign. I’m super digging their calendar with daily suggestions on celebrating the holidays without the stuff.

[Image via here / original here ]

Your Closet: Favorite Gifts, Pt.2

Winter Trees | This I Wear

It is finally cold in New Orleans this week, which has made it much easier to feel the holiday spirit. But reading more of your stories of some of the best gifts you’ve ever received might be a big factor too.

I have two favorite gifts: First, I received a pair of earrings from Qatar as a gift from my dad when he came home after a 6-month stint in Iraq in 2006-2007. While not a supporter of the war, he made the courageous decision to volunteer to work overseas, as his way to support the troops in combat. Obviously, I was worried for his safety, but extremely proud of the sacrifice he was willing to make for this country. To me, the earrings remind me of my dad’s sense of loyalty to the Americans serving abroad and his courageous spirit.

Secondly, during my 2 years in grad school, I worked at a coffee shop in DC where I got to know many of the customers who frequented the shop. One of the regular customers was an avid knitter and offered to make all the baristas a custom scarf as a token of appreciation. I boldly asked for a yellow scarf (my favorite color at the time) and was in love with the way it turned out.

I had only been dating my boyfriend Brian for a few months, and we had been dating long distance the entire time. That Christmas, I was a first year law student in my very first semester. I should stress that Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. My family does it up big: we set up lots of decorations, drive around to look at lights, and go to Christmas-themed plays. You can understand why I was extra disappointed that the whole season was being destroyed by the stress of studying for finals.

Brian decided to fly to Chicago to meet my family for the first time the weekend before Christmas. He carried my Christmas present in his luggage, a misshapen lump wrapped in Christmas paper, and I could not for the life of me guess what it was. I gave him his gift (which involved a Barney Stinson inspirational poster) and then eagerly opened mine. It was a plush Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas decoration. Basically, it was Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, and Hermie the dentist elf. When you push a button, they say lines from the cartoon and sing “Misfits.” It sounds really odd, but it was the perfect thing for the girl who loved Christmas and felt like it had been stolen from her that year. Not only that, but the way he obtained the present made it that much more impressive. It had been opened by someone else at his office’s White Elephant gift swap. He used all of his steals for me, because as soon as he saw it, he knew I would love it. I know he bought me other things that year, but I can’t remember any of them now. This Rudolph showed just how well he knew me, after only a few months. The boyfriend that went out of his way for me in everything he did, who stole a Rudolph for me, will be my husband in a few short months.

I spent my junior year of college in Paris, where I have a lot of family, including–at the time–my grandparents. We had a standing Wednesday night dinner appointment, and I really appreciated getting to spend that time with them, particularly since my grandfather’s health started to decline not too long thereafter. When I was coming home to New York at the end of the school year, they gave me a book, from the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, a French series of books by important & classic authors. The one they gave me was the complete dramatic works of Sartre. While I appreciated that they knew me well enough to pick a writer I enjoy, what struck me about it was the gesture of giving me the first piece of something that could become an amazing collection. My grandfather had a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with books from this collection that I hugely admired, being a total nerd about such things, and I knew that they were extremely important to him as well. While I haven’t gotten any other books from the Pléiade yet, I was really very touched to get that first building block from my grandparents.

Ken (my dad!):
I don’t have an all-time favorite, but here are a few of my favorites: 1) Christmas 1971 – from my parents – a black, incredibly-powered 1969 Chevelle SS396, the stuff every muscle-car maniac dreams of owning; 2) Christmas 1976 – from my wife Yvette – a beautiful little grey furball named Tigger (I thought I was getting scuba gear…); 3) February 2004 – from my mother – my Dad’s Rolex watch and his wedding ring when he passed away. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him. 4) November 2008 – a wedding present from my second wife, Fran – a beautiful White/Silver Harley Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle. Most beautiful motorcycle I’ve ever owned, and my favorite by far. 5) And as always, saving the best for last – the birth of each of my 4 kids was the stuff that was “life-changing”. Just doesn’t get any better than that!

Thanks to everyone who sent in stories. If you’re still searching for the perfect gift to give a friend or family member, try asking this question to each other. And for those of you who shared stories, I hope these posts were a great conversation starter to say “thank you” to the person whose gift you decided to write about. For more inspiration, read about one of my favorite gifts as well as more stories from readers.

Your Closet: Favorite Gifts, Pt. 1

Family Christmas | This I Wear

Over the last week, I’ve asked all of you to send in your stories about some of your favorite gifts you’ve ever received, regardless of occasion and regardless of whether you can wear them or not. Holiday gift giving can be stressful, but remembering stories of how someone’s gift touched you can be a welcome boost to put a little extra thought into holiday shopping to make sure the gifts you buy this season will be loved, appreciated, and kept.

Today I’m sharing the first in the collection of stories I’ve received. But there are more that will be shared over the next week, and I am still accepting stories through Wednesday December 13 at midnight CT. If you haven’t sent in your story yet, read today’s entries for inspiration or look back at one of my favorite gifts, and then email your story in!

The best gift I ever received was an Alexandrite and gold cocktail ring from my mom. It was passed down to her from her grandmother. My mom got it re-sized for me two Christmases ago after I had been admiring it my entire life. It always stood out to me in her jewelry drawer, and I was so honored to receive it. I have had it for two years now and always think of my great grandmother when I wear it.

Well, Ona made a Muppet version of me. This wasn’t for a holiday, but it was part of a long-running series of pranks. She colluded with my coworkers to pose this Muppet-me doing all the things I do everyday and then take pictures of the proceedings. I loved it. It takes a lot of effort to pull hijinx like that and keep them secret for so long, so I felt like a celebrity.

My favorite gift ever was from my mom in 2010. We’ve never been especially close and she’s not a really sentimental person, so it brought me to tears when I opened my gift that year and inside was a quilt she’d made for me by hand. On it, she monogrammed “To Megan Love Mom 12-25-10.”

Yvette (My mom!):
When I was growing up, I loved to read. Summers were spent waiting for the arrival of the Bookmobile on our block. I was the precocious child, and the librarians allowed me to read the “Y” books when everyone else my age was still on “J” level. My mom must have encouraged me, though I don’t remember anything she ever said to me. In fact, I don’t recall I ever saw my mother sitting down reading a book. There were seven of us children and I can’t imagine she had much time for that leisure activity. But she knew how much I loved books, and one Christmas she joined a book club and I was the lucky recipient of that “Get X free and you only have to buy 1 book in the coming year” incentive. And what were the books? Two volumes of Rudyard Kipling, two volumes of Shakespeare, and two volumes of Gore Vidal. I still have those books.

Shop thoughtfully: Opt out of Black Friday

Merci Paris | This I Wear

How important is the experience of shopping to you? I recently revisited some papers I wrote in a college class on “The History of Shopping,” which focused literally on the history of how shopping went from buying things we need to becoming an experience and a pastime. One class focused solely on how department stores grew to be a family destination of sorts when they first debuted in the nineteenth century: literally the whole family would travel together to the store and spend the day there. It reminds me of a few of my favorite stores – Anthropologie, Liberty of London, MERCI in Paris [pictured], and many small boutiques – where the visual merchandising is so stunning, you not only take your time in the store, but you specifically go out of your way to get there. The experience of shopping almost feels like one of discovery rather than just simply consumption.

Shopping is an experience, and it is ok to enjoy it. Perhaps it is even your only social time with some of your family and friends. For a period of my life, the only time my sister and I said anything nice to each other was when we were shopping (“You look amazing in that dress!”). At present, some of the only time I spend with my grandmother is helping her pick out another pair of white capri pants at her favorite store. I am grateful for that time.

But I think Black Friday is the opposite of the enjoyable social and sensory shopping experience that many of us crave. It just seems really…unpleasant. Instead, I’d like to suggest a few responsible alternatives to indulging in Black Friday shopping that you can even sleep in for and still enjoy.

Choose not to shop.
1. Spend the day “shopping” in your closet: Create a pile of the things you don’t wear anymore and donate them to a local nonprofit (especially those winter coats). Pull out what needs to be repaired and support local small businesses by taking them to your neighborhood tailor or shoe repairman. Challenge yourself to wear anything that still has the tags on it within the next month.
2. Keep it in the family: You’re already over at their house anyway, so dig into the closets of your friends and family. When I’m at home, I have a habit of playing around in my mom’s jewelry box. I love asking her to tell me about the pieces she has, and she is always willing to share the stories (and sometimes the jewelry) with me.

If you must shop, shop thoughtfully.
1. Find a deal on vintage items at local or online vintage retailers and thrift stores (or even eBay) that will give you the thrill of the hunt while keeping previously worn items out of landfills.
2. Give thanks by purchasing items that give back: The one-for-one model started by TOMS is being replicated by tons of young brands, including Warby Parker and newcomer OAK Lifestyle. But make sure to do your research on the brand and make sure they’re giving back as promised.
3. Support the handmade: Spend some time on Etsy and consider reaching out to a seller to make a custom gift for a friend or family member. You’ll be a part of the making process and the recipient will get something extra personal.
4. Shop local: Wait for Small Business Saturday and support your local boutiques.

How are you spending your Black Friday? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear #AltBlackFriday to share stories and photos of your post-Thanksgiving weekend plans.

The Monthly Mend: Bring an old t-shirt back from the dead

Halloween DIY: Bloody Repurposed T-Shirt | This I Wear

In my short career as a set costumer, I’ve had the opportunity to work on three horror films. Each time, I worked with amazing SFX (that’s short for “special effects”) makeup artists, who have taught me the art of making someone or thing bloody. In honor of Halloween, I’ll be sharing some of these tips with you to make a horror-film worthy bloody t-shirt, a classic foundation for any scary costume. For my purposes, I will be demonstrating on an old t-shirt, but these steps can be done on any article of clothing. This is a great opportunity to give an old stained or ripped t-shirt a new life, so try digging in the bottom of your drawers for the perfect costume items first.

Note: Every time I mention blood in the steps below, I’m talking fake blood, so please take necessary safety precautions with that box cutter.

An old t-shirt (a light-colored shirt contrasts well with the “blood”)
Fake blood (try a Halloween specialty store, costume makeup store, or make your own)
Box cutter or seam ripper
Syringe, eye dropper, or thin paintbrush
Dirt, grease, or oil (brown paint also works)
Small spray bottle (optional)

Start with something you don’t want any more – a stained shirt, for example – or find something at a thrift store. Put a piece of cardboard between the shirt layers and lay on a flat surface. Using a box cutter, cut gashes, sparingly, in a diagonal direction. You can also rip up the hem and sleeves. Then, flip the shirt over and repeat gashes on the back.

Using grease, oil, paint, or dirt, smudge around the neckline, hemline, and across the body and back. Doing this step first will prevent smudging of your beautiful blood drips in the next steps. I used a “dirt bag,” industry jargon for a rag with mineral oil and movie “dirt” (a brand called Schmere) mixed together. Mineral oil helps the dirt not look dusty and also lasts longer than dusty-style dirt.

Next, paint or syringe the immediate area around the gash starting with a small amount of blood. Real blood tends to soak into fabric in a crisp line, so resist the urge to spread it with your fingers. To make it realistic (and we’re getting real here), blood is all about directional flow, so when you are ready for more “blood,” stand the t-shirt up or hang it on a hanger. Caution: it will drip, so do this step outside or cover your floor! Add to the amount of blood around the gash. Make drips stemming from the gash. Put a longer, thicker drip at the lower corner. Repeat these steps for all gashes. When you are satisfied or sufficiently disgusted with the amount of blood on the front, let it dry and repeat on the back.

Using a small spray bottle filled with watered down blood (just enough water so it can get through the pump), spray across the body. As seen on the finished shirt, I created arterial spray by holding down the pump and moving in a diagonal fashion across the t-shirt in different directions. I wanted it to be a little bit over-the-top for Halloween, so I sprayed more blood overall.

And for that extra little touch of reality, add blood on your body underneath the gash sites. If you want to go all out, scab gel blood is available and makes realistic gash wounds.

Please feel free to share a photo of your bloody look with me through Twitter @lisammagee #ThisIWear!

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