I don’t know how to change the car’s oil or what to do when the laptop freezes. I never was great at keeping the checkbook and am even worse at home repairs.
But I do know how to shop for my wife – although it is an elusive mix between imagining possibilities while paying attention to details.
I don’t pretend to know what’s right for everyone when it comes to shopping. I work hard at it, though, and care only that it’s right for her.
You probably already know what’s best for the special woman in your life. But in case shopping for her for the holidays makes you break out in a sweat or, even worse, is something you really don’t ever think about, here are 20 things to consider with the season now officially underway.
Tip 1 You like it, but will she? Ask yourself that question before you buy – especially when you’re shopping in the hardware, sporting goods and lingerie departments. “Fancy underwear? That’s for you, not me,” says Charlottean Lesa Kastanas, a member of my advisory team for this story. “If you want to spend money on that, fine, but there had better be an accompanying gift that gives me the inclination to put on that uncomfortable present.”
2 Put in front-end time. Take her to dinner, then to her favorite stores. Ask her to show you what she likes most. You won’t remember, so type her choices into your cell or better yet, take photos. WARNING: When she points to a cashmere sweater, don’t be checking your cell for fantasy football updates. WARNING II: Some people prefer not to be asked; they want to be totally surprised. If that’s her, skip to No. 3.
3 Put in front-end time, Part II. Ask her best friend. “Men typically don’t like to ask for help,” says couples therapist Susan Morrow, speaking here about a man buying for a woman. A man who does ask, she says, is “a different sort, and she’s going to love you for that. Plus, women are schooled in shopping, from having considerably more reps.”
4 Get her size right. If you have a list in your wallet, make sure it’s not the list she gave you 15 years ago. Cut out the box accompanying this story and ask her to fill it out for you.
5 Seriously: Get the size right. Most likely to succeed: Sweaters (but check first if she can wear wool if you’re leaning that way).
6 Be careful: Not all size 10s are size 10s. Ask for a list of her favorite brands, and the sizes that go with them. Or look in her closet at the tag on her favorite sweater or blazer – get the size and the brand. WARNING: “I don’t want him selecting my clothes for me,” says one friend. She suggests enlisting her friend who dresses well, or perhaps a grown daughter. She does not mention enlisting a grown son.
7 Shoes are high-risk. My wife has still not found just the right occasion, and possibly never will, for the red and black (with what I thought were subtle touches of silver and gold) studded and strappy Pour La Victoire platform heels I bought on sale last Christmas (see No. 1). Then again, she wore the vintage black suede Halston pumps with crossover straps until they fell apart.
8 A gift of a massage or trip to the spa can score big – but not if it’s already part of her routine. “Don’t try to give me a gift certificate for the nail salon – I’m already going,” Kastanas says. “It’s not a gift, it’s a service, like getting your tires rotated.”
9 Buy local. Go to a craft show or art gallery and pay attention to what she likes. Look for an interesting list of possibilities in the Dec. 4 CLT_Style.
10 Give her a getaway weekend. There are great winter rates at the beach, and going there when you usually don’t can push you both out of your comfort zones – in a good way. In the mountains, my favorite is Spring House Farm ( springhousefarm.com) in Marion, which offers six modern cabins on 92 acres in the woods, fireplaces and little or no cell coverage. Also, Grove Park Inn ( groveparkinn.com) is a 100-year-old Asheville resort hotel that lets her step back in time, or into the spa. You can add an “aura imagining photo” to her massage – the colors, interpreted for her, indicate “emotional, physical or environmental changes.”
11 A getaway weekend at the NASCAR Talladega race in May could work – just be careful on that one (see No. 1).
12 Why does it matter whether it’s Giorgio Armani or Armani Collezioni or Armani Exchange, A/X? It’s the details. Suppose she bought you the basketball signed by Charlotte’s NBA owner that you had on your list – only it’s signed by Bob Johnson or George Shinn. That’s why.
13 Just because you get a 15 percent discount at work, don’t buy all your presents there. Looking for a discount? There are always markdowns in the stores. Online, two sites I go to are myhabit.com and gilt.com – both can be pricey, but look for the 70 percent off sales.
14 The exercise equipment you think she’d like for the holiday? Really?
15 Get the right color. Humor author and columnist Dave Barry writes that if a woman asks for a green scarf, a man will buy one “based on his concept of ‘green,’ which he got from crayons in the second grade. She will look at the scarf as if it were covered with maggots, then show it to her friends and say: ‘I asked Harold for a green scarf, and just look at what he got me.’ They’ll all have a good laugh, and she’ll return it.” NOTE: Save the receipt.
16 Has she ever wistfully mentioned a lost book, doll or other childhood favorite she’d love to own again? Try eBay.
17. Give her music, the way she wants it. Does she listen to CDs? Or does she download all her music? BONUS TIP: If she likes music that tells a story, sometimes rocks, sometimes leans toward folk/country, try Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern.”
18 That local play or symphony performance you’ve always begged off from? Two tickets fit nicely in a stocking.
19 Buy her the things she won’t buy for herself, recommends Observer columnist Tom Sorensen. “A lot of women will buy nice stuff only if the price is dramatically reduced. So buy her the stuff she can’t justify – that dress, that sweater, that skirt, those boots, that great leather jacket or coat.”
20 Find a gift to remind her of a special time. A bottle of wine from the winery you once toured, a scarf from the town in Ireland you visited, a special photograph that you can get framed. Or to remind her that the special time is now, draw, paint or write something; carve, compose or create something. Do it from your heart.
To help you achieve your gift-giving goals, print off this handy homework sheet.