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The Best 40th-Birthday Gifts, According to People Who’ve Reached 40

Photo-Illustration: Courtesy Universal Pictures

If you have a friend or a loved one about to turn 40, it’s likely that they’re currently taking stock of all they’ve accomplished so far, while in the back of their mind gearing up for a whole new batch of anxieties. It’s a birthday that can feel “like a whirlwind,” according to Christopher Choa, the director of cities and urban development at engineering firm AECOM. “Hopefully, you’ve mastered what you need to do for family and work,” he told us, “but you’re anxious about having to deal with so many responsibilities on your own.”

It would make sense, then, that such a transitional moment might call for a gift that seems a step up from the types of things you might give on any other birthday. According to Choa and the 12 other cool people we spoke to — all of whom have marched past the milestone themselves — the best 40th-birthday gifts can be things to help one stay calm and relaxed or allow for a bit of self-pampering, items that let the recipient further indulge in a favorite pastime (like a nice cutting board for the home chef), or special pieces that the recipient could have for the next 40 years. (After all, “by 40, you’ve learned to take care of your favorite things,” says Scott Schuman, the founder of the Sartorialist.) Below, you’ll find a range of ideas, from hypebeast-approved dad sneakers to stylish throw blankets to the aforementioned cutting board — that they say will help anyone entering their fifth decade do so in style and at peace.

Things for self-care

While many of the gifts we heard about were described as having a calming or rejuvenating effect on top of their original purpose, four specifically came recommended for their restorative powers. If your recipient is carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, restaurateur Michael Chernow (who owns the Meatball Shop and Seamore’s) says Healist’s topicals will help. “I’ve been buying them for all my friends,” he says, “because CBD products are not things that people who aren’t into it would ever buy for themselves.” They are a “game changer” that he uses to “stay ahead of my recovery, anxiety, and stress. What 40-year-old isn’t dealing with that?”

“If someone is turning 40, they may also be a parent,” says Danielle McGrory, the founder of branding agency Communité. In that case, she says, “the greatest gift is to give them a break from their kids!” An Airbnb gift card for the amount of your choosing will allow them the luxury of planning their own getaway. (And if they’re on the East Coast and need inspiration, we’d suggest including a link to our 70 Best Airbnbs Near NYC guide as part of that gift.)

We also learned about another means of escape, accessible even within the four walls of your recipient’s home: HigherDOSE’s Sauna Blanket, which allows the wearer to replicate the experience of a sauna while lying in bed. Chernow told us it was his 40th-birthday gift to himself. “I love it — you’ll never need to leave your house or apartment anymore to get your sauna in, and the blanket is small enough to keep in your closet.”

Your recipient will have to move their body to get a sweat on with this gift, but according to writer Ivy Pochoda, the effect on their body and mood will be more than worth it. “I wish I’d known about Pilatesology when I turned 40 a scant handful of years ago,” Pochoda says, explaining that while their courses are billed as “anti-aging medicine for your joints,” she’d “venture to add also for your soul.” Pochoda adds that a gift certificate to their classes, which boast “instructors I’m convinced are my friends,” is a perfect 40th gift for both a man or woman, with “so many” workouts targeted for both. “Since I discovered the app, I’ve been gifting it far and wide,” she says. “Predominantly to my cohort, who is hitting their 40th year, because I want us all to remain forever young.”

Kitchenware and food

Marie du Petit Thouars, the founder of cult-y candle and fragrance brand Maison Louie Marie, says that at 40, a person might find themselves with the time and space in their home to develop new skills. That’s precisely why she recommends gifting this pasta-making machine (that a professional pasta-maker has also recommended to us). Echoing Chernow’s reason for gifting his CBD products, du Petit Thouars says it’s “something you’d never buy yourself — but that’s what makes it a wonderful addition to any foodie friend’s kitchen.”

By the time you’re 40, you might also want even the most functional objects in your home to reflect your aesthetic and taste, according to du Petit Thouars, who says that this French press — which we’ve also written about before — manages to be both functional, unique, and calming. “It’s simple, the ceramic is unusual, and it’s elegant,” she says — all things that make it sound like a pretty great gift.

Fashion blogger and flight attendant Tennille Murphy told us that this Stagg kettle (that we’ve called the most stylish electric kettle there is) was a “spot on” gift from her husband. She adds: “My first thought was how pretty, dare I say, sexy, it was,” before noting that it’s as functional as it is stylish. As Murphy explains, the Stagg kettle has a digital readout enabling you to heat water to a precise temperature, which is one reason why she says it would make a great gift for any “full-time tea drinker.” And the kettle’s sleek, matte-black finish “begs to be on prominent display in any kitchen,” she says.

Another 40th-worthy kitchen tool, according to Murphy, is a high-end knife, like this Japanese chef’s knife that she owns and loves. “Japanese knives are lighter, typically hand honed, and, in my opinion, prettier,” she told us. Murphy says if you really want to impress your recipient, you could gift the knife with one of Sur La Table’s knife-skills classes. She took one and called it a “game-changer” that taught her how to best use her new knife for chopping, paring, slicing, and cutting like a professional chef. If you’re interested in giving a knife but want to shop around, check out our everything guide to knives.

Should your recipient be all set with knives, Murphy says that an equally thoughtful gift would be a high-quality cutting board they can use with them. “You can’t just cut on any old surface” once you have good knives, Murphy explains. According to her, these Epicurean cutting boards don’t damage blades, stack nicely in drawers, come in a variety of sizes, and best of all, “are very affordable.”

And should your recipient be all set with kitchen knives and cutting boards, Murphy recommends giving them this tray that she calls a “safe place to store their beauties without damaging their sharp edges.” Because it can fit inside a drawer, the tray helps to keep countertops clutter free, and “unlike wood blocks that sit on counters, it doesn’t matter which slot I lay my knives in.”

Chernow says he uses this “cool, utilitarian, and useful” pocket knife both in and out of the kitchen, and that he’s “also bought them for all the people on my team.” He says it makes a great gift for a 40th, given his belief that “the appreciation of quality and craftsmanship comes of more importance as we get older.”

Du Petit Thouars adds that she’d love anyone who gave her this healthy dark chocolate. “It’s from Belgium, where I grew up, and I always come back to it.” If you choose to go the dark-chocolate route, consider gifting this with writer and cook Skye McAlpine’s treasured dark-chocolate tip: “My secret obsession is four chunks of chocolate on hot toast with a sprinkling of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. I can’t tell you how unbelievably good it is.”

Brett Heyman, the founder of accessories brands Edie Parker and Flower by Edie Parker, told us that as she approached 40, her interest in leaving the house dwindled, but her interest in “having friends over for a cocktail and a truffle goat cheese or soft ewe’s milk on a cracker skyrocketed.” That’s why she recommends sending your new 40-year-old a cheese-of-the-month membership, like this one from Murray’s Cheese, which will ensure them a delivery of the latest and greatest fromages for as many months or years as you choose. In Heyman’s words, it’s “the most thoughtful way to say ‘I see you, and I love you.’”

Décor and entertainment

“For the big 4-0, I don’t want to give a practical gift that will be swept up in the tide of daily life and forgotten,” says writer Amanda Fortini, “but rather a beautiful, not-so-useful object that you will treasure and would probably never buy for yourself.” That’s why she chose to give her husband this set of tarot cards from Taschen, which is based on Salvador Dalí’s cards commissioned for the James Bond film Live and Let Die. In addition to being a full deck you can use for a reading, the cards, which Fortini says are “equal parts trippy and spooky and come in a purple felt box,” would make for an eye-catching coffee-table accessory.

Someone in their 40s “will have a lot to say and express,” says poet Dorothea Lasky. So gifting a full set of these (colorful yet very adult) fine-liners could be helpful. These elegant pens are also practical for home décor and organization with tips “so small that you will have plenty of room to write all of your ideas on every Post-it note around the house so no one forgets anything.” (For more Strat-approved pens, here’s our ranking of the 100 best.)

It may be more grounded in enjoying the past than predicting the future, but McGrory tells us she’s currently enjoying putting together a custom photo album from Mixbook for her husband’s upcoming 40th. “We’ve been together for over 15 years, so new gift ideas and milestone birthdays are a challenge,” she says, explaining that she rose to it by “pulling together photos from our archives, friends, and family to make him a photo book. We take too many digital photos and do nothing with them, so a bound, printed book is a novelty.” (McGrory adds that anyone choosing to give this gift should be prepared to put in the hours, however. “This is the literally the most time I have spent on a gift ever,” she says. “So he better like it!”)

Your 40s are a great decade to upgrade the home-audio situation, whether to play nostalgic high-school hits or to keep up with whatever’s trending on TikTok. On Stereogum founder Scott Lapatine’s wish list is this sculptural, retro-futuristic speaker developed by ex-Apple designer Christopher Stringer. “It’s a ‘triphonic’ wireless speaker that’s supposed to deliver truly immersive sound in any room,” Lapatine explains. Admittedly pricey, the Syng is an audiophile’s dream and would make a very special present for someone you’re close to — and ideally living with so you can reap the benefits. To hear how one of these sounds in person, head to a MoMA design store.

Photo: Retailers

Perhaps your recipient is a sucker for the latest Scandinavian dramas or lives for MSNBC’s nightly lineup? If so, consider giving them something they’ll really, really use. Former Strategist senior editor Peter Martin says a milestone birthday like the 40th is a great opportunity to take advantage of deals you can get on a 4K TV, a technology that in years past would have cost more than $1,000 to obtain, especially for a whopping 65-inch model like this expert-recommended one from VIZIO.

Fortini also says the right book can make a great 40th-birthday gift to both read and display, noting that the best to give would be one that has meant something to you personally, and you should add a note explaining why. Didion, the collected 1960s and ’70s writings of Joan Didion, is the book she says she would give to anyone she knows turning 40.

Entering any new decade brings the stress of change. Du Petit Thouars told us her go-to gift for someone anxious about their birthday is this solid brass incense burner that she calls an “elevated way to burn incense” (and looks good whether in use or not). The vessel burns the incense horizontally and has a curved catch-all brass tray underneath, minimizing mess and making it easy to clean, too.

According to Athena Hewett, the founder of skincare brand and spa Monastery, stylish candles that “don’t look millennial” are increasingly hard to find. That’s why, for a 40th birthday, she recommends going for something more unexpected and sophisticated. Fortini told us these candles from the cult perfumer Regime des Fleurs that she loves to give her friends would make for a great 40th-birthday gift. “They come in a lovely porcelain vessel that looks like an antiquity unearthed,” she explains, adding that recipients can “use the vessel to hold pens or makeup or change after the wax burns down.” And “they smell divine,” she promises.

“After I turned 40, I decided that coming home meant going under a blanket as quickly as possible,” says Lasky. “So another good gift is this gorgeous blanket by Zoe Schlacter.” (Find more comfortable and colorful throw blankets we’ve written about here.)

Fashion and beauty

At 40, “life is complicated enough as it is,” Choa told us. To simplify it somewhat, he recommends giving several pairs of well-constructed socks in a striking red. With matching socks, he says, your recipient will “never need to sort after laundering ever again, and their socks also won’t look like anyone else’s.” These red, made-in-Japan crew socks were recommended to us by Jordan Mixon, who runs sock-focused site the Sockateur, and describes them as an “elevated basic” that feels “so smooth and silky, like a fancy dress sock.”

Anyone entering their 40s will be grateful for a piece of stylish sun protection. Lasky recommends this whimsical broad-brimmed design from Samantha Pleet. “It’s always good once you turn 40 to have an enchanted rose garden on your head and block out harmful sun rays,” she advises. “This hat does both.”

“Whenever I have a birthday,” says Lapatine, “I tell my wife I want a new tattoo or new sneakers.” For a balance of comfort and cool, he notes that New Balance’s 99x series is now hypebeast approved, “so you don’t have to feel like Zach Galifianakis in that SNL parody if you’re rocking them at 40.”

Lapatine also admits that his concert-tee collection is “out of control.” If you’re shopping for someone whose wardrobe also leans toward “faded and artfully thrashed” band merch, he recommends perusing the online stores Tyranny and Mutation and Jerks (formerly Teejerker). For the discerningly nostalgic 40-year-old, Lapatine adds that the Jerks range “recently expanded to include thrifted Britpop tchotchkes and Clinton-era pharmaceutical-marketing paraphernalia that would make for a unique desk decoration.”

[Editor’s note: Jerks prices its tees in British pounds, so we’ve used an approximate USD conversion.]

For the well-coiffed woman or man who might want to start their new decade with a quality hairbrush, Hewett says this Yves Durif comb-and-brush set that she keeps spotting feels like the “Mason Pearson for our generation.” A well-made brush like this one, she says, offers a more luxurious massage for your scalp, is better at detangling, and stimulates the oil in the follicles to smooth and shine your hair. (Hewett notes that this one is the perfect size for throwing in your bag, too.) “And like any good quality tool, its excellent craftsmanship is just obvious to an adult,” she adds.

Heyman told us that jewelry is one of two gifts (along with the cheese above) that would assuage her “slight dread” because it’s “personal, meaningful,” and, if chosen well, “cool as hell.” If you’re looking for inspiration, she says one of the best pieces of jewelry she ever received is an ID bracelet with “I Love You” in her daughter’s handwriting engraved onto it. While Heyman’s style from the ultra-high-end jeweler Sidney Garber is no longer available, this 14-karat yellow gold Mejuri bracelet, while still expensive, costs a fraction of Garber’s pieces and comes with the option to engrave for no extra cost. Mejuri, we should note, is fast becoming a Strategist favorite for special jewelry, with some of its hoops making an appearance in our list of 130 gifts you can buy for less than $104 (all of which were recommended by people with exacting taste). The brand is also one of nine that our own staffers recently tested jewelry from, with our tester concluding that Merjuri uses “quality materials for less [money] than what you’d typically pay at a traditional retailer.”

For an even-more-affordable piece of jewelry that’s still engraved (and a little more playful), Pochoda recommends this set of two necklaces that both you and your recipient can wear and connect when together. She says she received it for her own 40th from one of her best friends, and that as well as having a “cool 1980s babysitter aesthetic,” it also “stands as an awesome and youthful reminder of deep and enduring friendship at a time when it was (and still is) too easy to get lost in a selfish labyrinth of parenting and professional obsessions.”

A person approaching 40 will be interested in preserving their best stuff for the next 40 years, says Schuman, who recommends giving both men and women a fashion essential that many overlook: A pair (or two or three) of shoe trees. “Shoe trees are super important to maintain good shape and order for both dress shoes and expensive sneakers,” he told us, adding that they’re “a great way to maintain what we already own.” Schuman doesn’t have a favorite style: “Buy the best you can afford,” he told us. While there are less expensive plastic options, these shoe trees made of 100 percent cedar have a handcrafted look that makes them a bit more giftable, and are also quite functional (in addition to helping shoes keep their shape, the cedar’s moisture-absorbing ability will help dry them out between wears).

In kind of the same vein, du Petit Thouars says these made-in-Italy scented tablets from Santa Maria Novella are a great gift for the clotheshorse about to turn 40. “My husband first gifted me these, and I now cannot live without them in my closet,” she says. Rest them on any free space in your closet, and the rose-infused wax will have your clothes smelling like a summer garden (just note that the brand says not to let them touch any fabric directly).

For a practical but still luxurious gift, Murphy recommends giving this anti-aging cleanser and moisturizing face oil from True Botanicals, a brand that she describes as “a beautiful, all-natural skin-care company with products that are good for the body and for the planet.” According to Murphy, the moisturizing face oil “fights the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles” (True Botanicals calls it “our best-selling moisturizer”), and the cleanser “purifies while gently cleansing, without stripping skin.” She adds that they come in amber glass bottles that would look very nice on the shelves of a medicine cabinet.

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What Are the Best 40th-Birthday Gifts?