Finding the perfect holiday gift can be maddening — is this the color they’d want? Is it something they already have? Is it so last year? — but really, once you have a sense of a person’s taste, it’s not impossible. This season, we’ll be talking to members of various tribes to find out exactly what to get that serious home cook, teenage girl, or techie in your life. Think of it as a window into their brain trust — or at least a very helpful starting point.
As a category, “wives and girlfriends” is both comically generic and perennially inscrutable. “My wife is very hard to shop for — she doesn’t usually like me to pick out clothes, and she doesn’t really wear jewelry or accessories,” says Diana Glazer, co-head of ICM’s Theater Department, who’s been married for over a year. Meanwhile: “I’m also hard because I really like to not say what I want, because if people love me, they will read my mind, right?” Mind-reading isn’t possible, so this is the next best thing: four hard-to-shop-for women recommending a bunch of foolproof gifts for the usually hard-to-shop-for wife or girlfriend.
We’ll start with clothes, since that comprises the bulk of holiday shopping and wish lists. There are a few pieces of apparel that will work for all tastes and sizes, starting with silk loungewear. Liza Darwin, who heads up editorial content at AwesomenessTV, gave us the idea. “I’ve been eyeing this Lunya sleep set for months now, but I feel a little too indulgent dropping $178 on luxe silk PJs for myself,” says Darwin. “However, If I received them as a gift,” like from her fiancé, “I’d be thrilled and I’d most definitely wear them every night.” We also like this — slightly less expensive — minimal two-piece silk set in stone gray.
Eberjey is another can’t-go-wrong brand for silk, and while we’ve included long-sleeved pajama sets from them in other roundups, we also like this “shorty” pajama set.
This plush velvet puffer is very high on Glazer’s current wish list. “This is one of those things I can’t bring myself to buy for myself, but would be thrilled to see by the menorah on one of eight mornings I imagine presents will be waiting for me,” she says. Velvet aside, it’s a highly practical gift for anyone living in the northern half of the country.
For a more matte option, we’d also point shoppers towards Everlane’s new seasonal puffers. This one is also cropped, and because it’s from the brand’s new ReNew line, it’s made from 47 recycled water bottles.
Another wear-to-death option: a fancy shawl. “Scarves come and go, but these Virginia Johnson shawls truly last forever,” says Darwin, who’s had one for nearly a decade. (It even survived her college years.) Darwin partly loves the line for the prints, which are like painted works of art in their own right. The same goes for this tiger-and-snake-print Gucci shawl, which is an insane $495, but too beautiful to not suggest.
Daina Trout, founder and CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha, says fancy workout gear is always an ideal practical-but-splurgy gift to receive. “Getting in a good sweat just makes you feel good, and I try to squeeze one into my busy schedule a few times a week.” Trout likes leggings from luxury athleisure e-comm brand Carbon38, which sells this Catwoman-like slick, shiny pair, in 11 colors.
We also like these jewel-toned leggings that are made from recycled water bottles (and are high-waisted and never ride down.)
One way to buy clothing that a hard-to-shop-for will like is to simply make it quippy and funny. “My recent bad hair day solve has been to wear silly dad hats,” says Serena Dai, an editor at Eater. “I’ve been on the lookout for new ones to add to the collection since they’re such delightful, easy ways to lighten the mood of the day.” She likes her co-worker’s “I’m an Olsen Twin’” at, as well as this “Too ugly for Glossier” hat from Witschy. “But you probably have to have a very particular (and secure) relationship with your girlfriend or wife to gift it,” Dai points out. If that’s not the right sentiment, try this swoosh-less Nike cap.
Glazer used a similar strategy for a recent gift for her wife, with this beach towel that’s printed with powerful LGBT slogans and sayings from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. “I’m trying to embrace the political at every opportunity,” she says. That sentiment could also go on a T-shirt: “I just love everything about this shirt,” Glazer says. “There is nothing I don’t love about it, and I don’t give gifts to people who wouldn’t like this shirt.”
Laia Garcia, editor of the Wing’s magazine No Man’s Land, says this immersion blender is at the top of her wish list this year. “Jack, my fiancé, is the one that usually cooks in our house, but there are a few things that are in my wheelhouse, like tomato sauce. I like to make it from scratch and have been perfecting my recipe for a few years now. Right now I put it in a little food processor I have, but I know the immersion blender is the best way to do it and I know it’s the thing that’s going to take me next level in my sauce-making.”
For a gift that’s also an investment in Sunday mornings at home: “I’m dying for one of those thick waffle makers. You’d open that and immediately want nice, thick waffles,” says Helena Barquet, who makes up one half of the couple behind Coming Soon. This one by Cuisinart can cook two waffles at once.
The duo also recommends Great Jones, a cookware start-up that offers affordable pots and pans in a variety of fun colors for any burgeoning Ina Gartens in your life. There’s actually a swath of new cookware start-ups to choose from. Strategist writer Maxine Builder loves Potluck for being one of “those rare brands that’ll both satisfy professionals” and amateurs alike.
“I have a major sweet tooth, and it definitely shows in our cookbook collection,” Darwin says. “My fiancé and I have been slowly working our way through Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar book, so when I saw that she was publishing another one entirely devoted to cakes, I knew I’d want it, too. Whipping up one of these creations seems like the perfect cure for the impending winter blues and/or boredom,” Darwin says.
If your partner prefers savory over sweet, there’s also this new cookbook from the celebrated chefs behind New York restaurants Contra and Wildair, co-authored by Alison Roman, the cook and writer behind Instagram’s favorite cookie.
Tahini fiends will get a kick out of this massive masterpiece, constructed of over six pounds of gourmet halva and available in numerous interesting flavor combinations. “I would love to receive this; I’m not sure who else [would]. Well, my mom,” Glazer says. “But still, it’s delicious, and an acceptable amount of excess.”
If your partner is the one who’s hosting the festivities this year, finding a way to chip in is a gift all by itself. As Marguerite Mariscal, the VP of brand and design at Momofuku says, “Oysters make every occasion more festive. Island Creek Oysters are tops and ship to your door ready to shuck in quantities of 50 or more.”
Trout adores these Hedley & Bennett aprons for cooking — they are essentially a status apron for professional chefs, partly because they look good, and partly because they’re ultra durable: “Each apron goes through a rigorous testing process to make sure it stands the test of time, and that those food stains won’t stick,” Trout says. Plus, there are clever design details that make a difference, like an iPhone pocket.
“One thing that I definitely, definitely need is a rug, which I have been putting off because I have a cat and you know how cats just love to barf everywhere,” Garcia says. Cold Picnic’s geometric, organic-looking patterns are still very popular, and they please all crowds: the colors aren’t too loud, but owning one is kind of a thing.
“There was a time when candles were kind of a phoning-it-in gift, but I think a good candle is a nice add-on gift,” Dai says. “They feel like a luxury and a treat, and they’re not really a thing people buy for themselves with frequency. I’ve been digging the not-too-sweet smell of the white tea scent from Ilha, a Long Island City-based company whose name is a reference to the owner’s Taiwanese heritage: I like that it’s got that identity bent, but mostly it’s a nice candle because it can burn for hours without overwhelming the nose, nice for sensitive-to-smells folk like me.”
Mariscal also pointed out that the Hay Sonos One collection just went live. For those unfamiliar, the Danish design firm (and perennial Strategist favorite) Hay has teamed up with Sonos to create speakers in five different colors that are a bit snazzier than the usual chrome-and-black tech hardware.
One way to encourage a hobby or a new pursuit is to get someone the necessary adjacent accessories, like nice planters for a partner attempting to develop a green thumb. “I’m particularly bad at getting new pots for my plants in a timely fashion and I usually end up getting dumb cheap ones instead of taking time to find cool stuff,” Dai says. She recommends this affordable, textured option, which is “interesting, but still simple enough to go with the mishmash of any other décor in an apartment.”
Caitlin Mociun, the founder and designer of Mociun, says that she often gifts ceramics to her friends and family. She particularly likes these planters by Friends, which “all have little faces on them. And they all have different expressions.” Put flowers or a plant in this to round out the gift.
Or: go all-out and give her a status-friendly BZippy & Co. vase.
Wall art is a solid choice if you feel pretty confident about someone’s taste. “We’re in the middle of moving apartments and in need of some colorful art for our new place,” Darwin says. We couldn’t possibly suggest actual prints to buy — it’s too personal — but if you’ve landed [on] the right one, the best way to give it as a gift is to frame it. Framebridge is a sleek service that lets you upload a photo of the print through their app and view it in a few options before ordering a custom and direct-to-consumer frame.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.