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The Strategist Haul: What the Editors Bought in December

Photo: Courtesy of the retailers

If you follow our biweekly feature Your Shopping Cart, you know that we have some eerily good intel on what you all are buying. Which led us to think that, as Strategist editors, we could turn the tables and highlight all the things we’ve been buying for ourselves. As you’ll notice, it’s both a blessing and a curse to be a Strategist editor; we’re picky, but sometimes we just have to get on with it. (It’s online-shopping expertise meets IRL needs.) Below, what we all bought in December — in addition to the holiday gifts we bought for friends and family.

Rio Viera-Newton, writer

For Christmas, I bought my sister this beautiful starry jug from Ralph Lauren. She hosts a lot of our family brunches and also takes great pride in her table arrangements, so I thought it was perfect for her home. (I picture it holding a big jug of icy, lemon-wedge-heavy water.) Alternatively, I thought she might like it as a flower vase as well. The choice is hers!

My mom has extremely sensitive skin but has also been desperate to integrate a retinol into her nighttime routine. This Christmas, I took it upon myself to find her one that yielded the same skin-smoothing and brightening benefits of a traditional retinol, without triggering any severe irritation. I love the brand Biossance. Their Squalane Vitamin C Oil and Rose Lip Balm are two of my daily staples, and I’d heard particularly good things about their Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum. It uses bakuchiol, a plant-derived natural retinol that is allegedly less harsh on the skin, along with hyaluronic acid and squalane — two deeply hydrating and moisturizing ingredients I know my mom likes. She’s been using it for a few days now and hasn’t had any bad reactions.

Dominique Pariso, writer

With the holiday gift-buying bonanza that took place this month, I didn’t buy anything for myself except a couple of new houseplants. My favorite is this ginseng ficus, which reminds me of a Lisa Hanawalt illustration. The curvy trunk and explosion of leaves looks delightfully humanoid, and they’re supposedly not too tricky to take care of. I bought mine in person in the Flower District, but they are available online too.

For our annual Strategist white elephant, I picked up this Soom tahini two-pack. Since our cap is set at ten bucks, I kept the regular tahini for myself and used the (way more festive) chocolate halva spread as the gift. It ended up going home with Rio, who reports that it was very yummy.

For my family’s annual white elephant, I bought this board game, which was recommended by board-game designer Will Sorrell. He says it’s super fast-paced and frantic, which I thought was perfect since we’re a competitive bunch. Plus, I loved the fun illustrations.

David Notis, writer


I first saw this on Dominique’s list of best party board games and then I played it at a friend’s house. I loved it so much I bought it on my phone before even heading home. It’s super simple and quick, but it can also get sneakily cerebral. I’m generally not a big board-game person (although I do love the occasional round of Catan). Also, I really hate being the one to bring a new game somewhere because then you have to explain it to everyone, which I’m never good at, and then it becomes a whole thing. Well, I brought Codenames to my friends’ house for Christmas Eve dinner this year. They always host a big group, and after dinner we usually play a game. I was nervous when I pulled out Codenames, but everyone loved it. And since the game is so simple, even my subpar instructions were enough to get things rolling. Multiple people thanked me for bringing it and asked me to bring it next year.

Hilary Reid, writer

According to a Google search conducted while shopping in John Derian, Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture and motherly relations — in other words, the ideal goddess to have on a Hanukkah gift for my mom, who has always loved gardening and plants.

I’d seen this book about the Troubles on a few year-end lists, and thought it seemed like a strong gift contender for my history-loving dad. Then, when I heard from a trusted arbiter of Dad Lit that the book was indeed as good as all the lists said, I went for it. An hour after opening it, my dad was already about 50 pages deep. I’d say it was the right choice.

For the past couple years, I’ve looked forward to shopping at oTTo hats’ annual sale, where you can find bright woolen pieces by the wonderful milliner Kika Schoenfeld. Last year, I went for a Doctor Zhivago–style gray hat. This year, I chose a softer, white open-top hat. (Mine’s not online, but picture this one without a top.) As a friend put it, the hats make your head look like a “chic turnip” — in the best way.

Lauren Ro, writer

It was only a matter of time before I jumped on the Blundstone bandwagon, and I’m really glad I did. (I got them during Black Friday sales, when they were 15 percent off.) These have a removable sheepskin footbed that keep my feet cushioned and warm, making them perfect for everyday cold-weather wear. And the classic Chelsea shape means I can pair them with just about any outfit. They’re also surprisingly comfortable — it only took me a couple of wears to break them in. I’m still going to reach for my Bean boots during heavy snowfall, but I foresee these being my go-tos for the remainder of the winter.

This was another Black Friday purchase. (It’s even further discounted now.) I copied Hilary and bought this lightweight puffer from Uniqlo, but in beige. I have a huge down parka with a fur-trimmed hood from Mackage that I’ve had for years, but as much as I love it, it’s bulky and heavy. I wanted something that required a little less commitment but would still keep me warm. Now that I’ve had the chance to wear it for a while, I would say that this puffer is better for 40-degree weather, but not necessarily for when it’s below 30. Still, it’s roomy enough that you could easily wear several layers underneath, including a chunky sweater.

I was not immune to the charms of that gigantic Jacquemus straw hat that made the Instagram rounds a couple of summers ago, which is why this more practical (and delicate) one spoke to me. I nabbed it at Philadelphia-based boutique Rennes, when it ran a “secret” online sale for its newsletter subscribers. I’m a sucker for anything that reminds me of summer in the south of France. Here’s to looking forward to warmer days ahead.

There’s a tiny historic shopping district in Glendale, California, where I grew up. One of the best stores there (and in my opinion, in all of L.A. County) is Faye’s Intimate Apparel, a boutique that sells nightgowns, lingerie, and other loungewear for what I am (respectfully!) calling the granny set. The store has been there since 1949 and looks like a mid-century time capsule, all pastel-colored paneling and dowdy nightgowns in the best way. I had to get a Lanz, which I’ve always wanted ever since I saw them at the Vermont Country Store.

Alexis Swerdloff, Strategist editor

These monogrammed Lands’ End tote bags for my mother-in-law and her husband say “Mimi” and “Papa,” which is what my son (when he can talk) will call them. We were going to do L.L.Bean Boat and Totes, but when I went to order them, I learned that they wouldn’t arrive in time. These totes didn’t seem to be any less sturdy than the Bean ones, and they were actually cheaper.

My dad loves a book about New York City (he walked the entire length of Broadway after reading Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles, which I bought him last year), so this year I got him Sam Roberts’s A History of New York in 27 Buildings and Thomas J. Campanella’s history of Brooklyn, which Emily Gould liked-ish, and which he’s already devouring.

For my husband, I had one hit and one miss: a Jungmaven sweatshirt identical to the one he already has in navy and wears all the time. It’s made from hemp and is so soft and slouchy (without being zhlubby). I also got him a button-down from Ssense that is maybe a little too … fashion for him, that we might need to return. Can’t win ’em all.

From $20

Lauren Ro’s experience with Artifact Uprising inspired me, so I got all members of the family a book of baby photos. Make-your-own photo books can indeed be a little cheesy, but Artifact Uprising’s are on the more tasteful end of the spectrum. We went with the “Color Series” book, as opposed to the bound book (it was only $35 a pop), since we were getting them for so many people. It still felt very special, and everyone teared up while leafing through them.

I found myself in Madewell earlier this month and, since the whole store was 30 percent off, did a little shopping. I got these high-waisted “demi-boot” jeans, and haven’t really taken them off since. They are extremely comfortable for a pair of button-front high-waisted pants, and I like how they look paired with ankle boots, a chunky sock, and nearly all my tops. And then, although I needed neither a mock-neck turtleneck nor another striped shirt, I just couldn’t resist this striped mock-neck boxy top.

Maxine Builder, managing editor

The night before Cyber Monday, I had a little too much wine with (and after) dinner, and I decided that my boyfriend and I each needed full sets of monogrammed towels from L.L.Bean. He wisely talked me down to just buying monogrammed hand towels, and we went for the flint gray with black embroidery. They’re also so incredibly soft that I am now, soberly, considering getting the full set.

The only other thing I bought in the frenzy of Cyber Monday and Black Friday was an on-sale Hydro Flask at Nordstrom, since my hot-pink one has accrued quite a few dents over the last several months. I’m sad to say good-bye to the fuchsia, but hopefully this lilac version will let me keep some of my VSCO-girl street cred. It’s since sold out on Nordstrom — probably because the price was too good! — but it’s in stock at REI.

I’ve owned the same ski jacket since eighth grade, and though I’m just as impressed as you are that it fits, I figured that after 15 years of wear, I’ve gotten my money’s worth. So it was time to get a new, more technical ski jacket. I opted for this one from Patagonia in navy. It’s fairly lightweight, but it’s waterproof, windproof, and warm, with a generously sized hood that has come in particularly handy for the icy cold weather that’s hit New York City in the last week.

Chloe Anello, junior writer

This is probably not the most interesting purchase, but I really love this toothpaste. I first started using it maybe eight months ago, when I received it as a press sample, and to be completely honest, I didn’t think much of the whole charcoal-toothpaste trend at first. But after I used it for a few months, I noticed I had no canker sores — I used to get them multiple times a month. I’m now a loyal customer and will never go back to regular toothpaste again.

I found this at the Rag & Bone sample sale for so cheap. I don’t even remember if I tried it on (sample sales tend to be a high-adrenaline haze), but I loved the style, and the price alone made it so worth it.

Anthony Rotunno, senior editor

My family decided to do a Secret Santa–style gift exchange this year, and I drew my mom. Via a video of herself singing original lyrics she wrote to the tune of “Santa Baby,” she told Santa she was hoping to get some athleisure this year. After such a performance, I couldn’t let her down, so I bought her the beloved CloudKnit sweatpants in navy and a matching hoodie. My mom is pretty on it in terms of what the kids are buying, but I’m not sure she has discovered Outdoor Voices. I’m excited to introduce her to a brand that I think she might grow to love and wear a lot.

Not long after I wrote about the water bottle slash thermos I used every day for years, I lost it! A friend recently came to the rescue when she surprised me with one of these insulated MiiR tumblers, which I’ve been using and loving. I can’t compare it to a Hydro Flask or a Zojirushi or a Yeti, because I haven’t used any of those (though my friend thinks the MiiR is sleeker than the Yeti). But I can say it keeps hot coffee hot and cold water cold, and the lid has a nifty snap-open spout you can drink from on the go. It’s the type of thing I think my mom would love for her morning tea and afternoon walks, so I got her one in blue to (sort of) match her new sweatsuit.

Instead of surprising each other with gifts, my husband and I agree to let each other splurge on a few things we want. This, from Only’s newish holiday collection, is one of those “Christmas splurges.” The brand has done a few collaborations with the Parks Department, but the hoodie was new to us, and the green on white is classic Parks.

The pink (salmon?) on navy, however, is far from classic — you might even say rare — at least when it comes to NYC merch. Which is exactly why I snapped up this T-shirt with one of the city’s trademark logos.

Liza Corsillo, writer

This month, I went to Paris for my best friend’s wedding, and, at the airport, on a whim, I picked up this portable battery charger. I’d always been a little skeptical of these, but quickly found it indispensable. I have an iPhone 7 that struggles to hold a charge longer than five or six hours, and I was planning on taking pictures late into the night at her wedding. And because of a national strike in Paris, none of the subways were working so I really needed my phone for navigating around the city. (I also bought a new pair of sneakers to help with all the miles I walked and biked.) In the end, I used the Mophie every single day of my trip, and I’m using it now while visiting family in L.A. It’s as slim as a small notebook, so I can carry it with me in a small purse. It even works well to charge my iPad, so I can do some illustration work while sitting in a café.

Full disclosure: This bracelet was given to me. However, aside from my engagement ring, it’s the best piece of jewelry I got in 2019. I’ve always wanted some sort of astrological necklace, signet ring, or charm bracelet — I’m an Aries — but this is the only one I have seen where you can include more than just your sun sign. And because it’s small and very subtle, I don’t feel weird wearing it every day. I actually wear it so often that a co-worker noticed it and bought one as a Christmas gift for a friend who is extremely into astrology.

Now that we’re all grown up, my family has transitioned from buying lots of gifts to drawing names Secret Santa style. This year, I drew my dad, whose top priority in life is being cozy. He needed a new bathrobe, and since I firmly believe bathrobes should also function as towels, this was a perfect choice. I also like that it’s wearable all year round, so he can lounge in it in the summer too.

Jenna Milliner-Waddell, junior writer

Command Broom Gripper

I love most things about my still newish apartment, except for its lack of closet space. I know this is a common New York nightmare, but I don’t even have a closet in my main living area, which has made it difficult to find storage solutions for things like cleaning supplies, specifically my broom. I considered getting a free-standing closet for a while — until I came across this. While I would prefer my broom and Swiffer WetJet to be completely concealed, this was the best option for both my wallet and square footage. If the worst thing a guest could think about my exposed broom is that I probably keep a tidy home, that’s okay with me.

During my hunt for holiday gifts this season, I obviously came across a few things I fancied for myself, one of them being this lipstick. A few months ago, I wrote about finding the first lip gloss I could tolerate, and now I have the lipstick version. The color is my perfect nude, and it doesn’t make my lips feel dry. The true test was Christmas dinner: a combination of Thai takeout and a home-cooked meal. As I watched other family members stain the rim of their wine glasses with their clearly lesser lipsticks, I smiled to myself, proud that mine never rubbed off after every sip.

Never having ordered from Need Supply, I truly risked it all when buying this final-sale jumpsuit. The risk was worth it. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it fit, and I couldn’t beat the price for what’s essentially a full outfit. I purchased it when it was on sale for $44, and now it’s even less than that. I’m not bitter, though, as I’ve already gotten a few good wears out of it.

Jessica Silvester, contributing editor

Cold proof that the best purchases are born out of desperation: I was about to get ready for a Christmas Eve party when I actually looked in a mirror. It was dire. Holiday stress had dulled the entire surface of my face; the only sign of life was a forehead blotch left by an oversqueezed zit. I had to do something, fast, so I grabbed this Bliss pumpkin mask from Target (where I didn’t even know they sold Bliss). After a tingly 15 minutes slathered in a squashlike puree — the mask is formulated with a blend of pumpkin enzymes and natural AHAs meant to break down dead skin cells — it made my complexion instantly jollier and brighter. Meanwhile, it even shrunk my forehead shiner. I just kind of wish it smelled a little more like pie.

Right about now, I would normally be wallowing in another New York winter. But instead, thanks to this book, I’m doing fruit fasts with Linda Ronstadt during the heyday of the Troubadour. I’m collecting my phone messages at the Beverly Hills Hotel and shopping for turquoise tube tops at the Fiorucci store off Rodeo Drive. I am Eve Babitz in 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s California — these are pieces that she originally wrote for Esquire, Rolling Stone, etc. — and it’s all a lot weirder and cooler in her own sharp words.

These exist! I had otherwise been struggling to find warm socks for my 2-and-a-half-year-old that weren’t too bulky to fit inside his shoes. There was a negative Amazon review that said they run small, but I’ve found them to have great stretch and to hold up well after many hours running through sleet and leaves and mud.

Karen Iorio Adelson, senior writer

I really didn’t need another camel mock-neck sweater, but I couldn’t resist ordering this one from Anthropologie during a sale. The tortoiseshell buttons on one shoulder and slightly longer length set it apart from some similar sweaters I own, it’s very soft and comfortable, and it looks good with jeans or leggings. So far, I’ve worn it to work, a family Hanukkah party, and just hanging around the house. It always makes me look put together.

Most of my water bottles lean sporty, so I wanted something a little nicer to take to work every day. This glass and matte off-white silicone bottle looks a bit more grown-up sitting on my desk than my CamelBak bottle. It’s also dishwasher-safe, which is always a plus.

Peter Martin, senior editor

I never thought I’d have strong opinions on kids’ books. They all seem cute enough. But now that our daughter is in a stage where she wants to be read certain books over and over (and over) again, there’s a little bubble of joy in my heart when she happens to pick the ones that I like. Along with Giraffes Can’t Dance and literally anything by Sandra Boynton, the book that we’ve been reading and loving the most these past couple of months is How Do You Dance?, by Thyra Heder. It’s a fun and silly story about all the ways that people glide, beckon, flit, and scrunch up their faces when they dance. Thyra and my wife are friends from college, so we had to buy one of these books for ourselves. It would be jerky not to. But we didn’t have to buy a dozen more, which we gave to nearly every kid we know this Christmas and Hanukkah.

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 acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Strategist Haul: What the Editors Bought in December