gifts they'll want in a pandemic

What’s the Best Thing (Under $200) You Bought Yourself This Year?

Author Tayari Jones signed up for a monthly cocktail-subscription box that she uses for Zoom happy hours. Illustration: Debora Szpilman

As Strategist editors, it’s our job to notice how people shop. Over the past nine months, we of course reported on people all of a sudden buying sourdough starters and bidets and sweatpants and home-office chairs and Zoom lipstick. But we also heard the stories about people just going for it and buying things that in Normal Times they would never consider, from new pairs of old-school roller skates, to prime cuts of mail-order pork, to baby grand pianos. So as the holidays rolled around we decided to ask some of the most interesting people we know a simple question: What is the most satisfying thing you bought for yourself this year? Below, all of the under-$200 things these folks with discerning taste — who include a congressman-elect, a Real Housewife, two Coppolas, a butcher, some bakers, and even a couple of candlestick-makers — bought in quarantine that would make great gifts. If you’re looking for more affordable ideas, we’ve got options under $50. And if you’re looking to splurge, we’ve got options over $200, too.

Jamaal Bowman

Congressman-elect, New York’s 16th Congressional District

The Force is like my religion. This game helped me get through fundraising and dialing for dollars for my campaign. It’s one of the most incredible gaming experiences anyone could ever have. You travel from planet to planet as a Padawan on your path to becoming a Jedi. It’s awesome.

Miranda Kerr

Model; CEO and founder, Kora Organics

I am obsessed with karaoke, and I got the Bluetooth karaoke microphone so I could perform on the go. It has been one of our favorite family activities during quarantine.

Sarah McNally

Founder, McNally Jackson

A fabulous robe to slightly glam up my quarantine life. It’s from Laina Jane, a sexy mom store on Christopher Street.

Penelope August

My daughter loves it: She’s looked at her hair and mine, and our saliva (TMI?), and she goes around the park picking lichen off rocks and collecting leaves to examine. I help her make the slides and focus the lens — it is very much a hands-on toy.

Phillip Picardi

Writer; host, Unholier Than Thou podcast

This bright mix of citrus and white florals is the right amount of freshness for an everyday clean scent for the air (and upholstery) in my home. It far beats the noxious fumes of Khloé Kardashian’s favorite, Febreze.

Franci Girard

Founder, the Sixes

I put one drop directly in my mouth at the beginning of a day. It calms me without making me groggy.

Rebecca Zhou

Co-founder, Off Hours

The perfect weight, a super-flattering fit, and the drawcord ankle cuff is really comfortable. I bit the bullet and bought two pairs — I already owned one — and now I have enough to wear in between laundry days.

David McGillivray

Co-founder, Off Hours

I had to have them and I don’t regret a thing. They don’t offer much support from an orthopedic perspective, but they are incredibly comforting to slip on in the morning.

Nicky Hilton

Entrepreneur

My daughters are obsessed — I use it as my new bribery trick. In two minutes you have rich, creamy, barista-quality hot chocolate.

This is great for sculpting and lifting. It feels so good. I love using it for lymphatic drainage.

Amanda Assad Mounser

Founder and accessories designer, Mounser

Opening the set of 150 colored pencils gave me the adult version of the rush I felt as a kid upon receiving a 120-count Crayola box.

Brian Davis

Founder, Wooden Sleepers

These felt like a serious upgrade from the Baggies I usually work out in. A nice cut in a functional lightweight mesh that’s great for running, but just as good for kitchen kettlebell workouts.

Yi Guo

Founder, Yi Collection

Tiler Peck

Principal dancer, New York City Ballet

Life is too repetitive these days, which is why I love the variety in this perfume set. Wearing a different one each day feels like a nice little surprise.

Michael Cuby

Editor-at-large, Them

Snuggling tightly in the comforter’s pillowy soft contours is the first time I’ve found peace since the blissful innocence of my childhood.

Lisa Dennison

Chairman, Sotheby’s North and South Americas

The Ferrari of all pans. Named after Avalon, the mythical island where the sword of King Arthur was forged, it has a five-ply copper core and a hammered black finish that is much swankier than my everyday stainless-steel versions. It comes luxuriously packaged and includes, believe it or not, silk storage bags, making it feel a bit like expensive lingerie.

Impossibly comfortable, fun to look at, and they double as stuffed animals if you have kids at home.

Naj Austin

Founder, Ethel’s Club

The color is bright and happy, and it comes with shorts, so I feel like I’m putting on an entire outfit.

Charlotte Cho

Co-founder, Soko Glam; founder, Then I Met You

It tastes as good as it sounds — creamy, with a sweet rice flavor just like Korean nuurongi (which is also known as “scorched rice”).

Heidi Rose Robbins

Astrologer; host, The Radiance Project podcast

Jules Blaine Davis makes the most beautiful heart-shaped cutting boards. I bought two and use them for everything, from cutting up apples to serving a snack of carrots, nuts, and orange slices to the kids.

Alison Freer

Costume designer

It’s a paraffin-wax dip machine like they have at the nail salon. Giving my hands and feet a soothing, moisturizing dip has become the highlight of my day.

Benjamin Edgar

Artist; founder, Boxed Water

I discovered Mark Thomas’s truly beautiful (and almost lighter-than-air) wineglasses at a favorite restaurant in 2019. Having them to pair with my dinners at home brought a bit of the magic of fine dining to my kitchen.

Cat Marnell

Writer, BEAUTYSHAMBLES

I spent all summer hunting for my obsession, faux fur, online, because I was anticipating eventually sitting at a lot of outdoor bars and restaurants surrounded by heating lamps. Fake is better in every way: the price, the colors, the durability. This poncho from Donna Salyers Fabulous Furs is like a portable blanket you can wear over jeans. You can wear it to bum a cigarette outside the new Delancey Street Popeyes or you can wear it to eat the chic caviar at my favorite restaurant, Le Crocodile. You know?

Akin Akman

Model; co-founder, Aarmy

Whether I use it to help organize my schedule or to take quick notes during meetings, the pencil has been a game changer for working on my iPad Pro.

Jacqueline Woodson

Author

I ordered it for both of my kids, who are dealing with all the things that happen to your skin when you’re 12 and 18.

Sophia Wilson

Photographer; founder, CityKits

People stop me on the street to ask what designer they are all the time.

Paul Scheer

Actor; host, How Did This Get Made? podcast

I’m a big Theragun person — I love its massage devices that are basically drills with a softer head on them. The Wave Roller is the brand’s newest product, and it is perfect. I have tight legs, and it’s really hard to roll them out properly. This robot does the dirty work for me: All I have to do is get on it, and it vibrates right into the muscles. It’s such a great feeling, especially if you like a massage. Get yourself one and you’ll never have to ask your partner about a massage again.

Akili King

Beauty assistant, Vogue

Super refreshing and nonirritating and works wonders on my maskne.

$113

This not only purifies the air but also doubles as an oil diffuser that’s great for aromatherapy, eczema-prone skin, allergies, and just keeping me healthier throughout cold-and-flu season. It’s also cute.

Tayari Jones

I joined with my bestie. Each month we receive a box containing everything we need for DIY mixology: bitters, exotic syrups, aromatics. When the kit arrives, we do a FaceTime happy hour. Aside from a flambé situation that set off my smoke alarm, the experience has been an absolute delight.

Mark Oliver Everett

Front man, Eels

My indulgence is buying old vinyl records to play while I sip whiskey; this one has provided great satisfaction. Marvin Gaye Live! is a stunning live record done at the height of his popularity. He didn’t want to tour and prepared everything on this album for just one show in Oakland, California. That was the whole tour.

Carly Hughes

Actress

An instant pick-me-up for your face and spirit. I use them almost every day to lift, tighten, de-puff, and refresh.

From $109 for 2

For a solo date night, I spent a little extra and treated myself to two 1.5-pound lobster tails — yes, I said two 1.5-pound tails. I cooked one and put the other in the freezer.

Sally LaPointe

Founder and fashion designer, LaPointe

Just the best. I just can’t get enough.

Dr. Woo

Tracy Anderson

CEO and founder, the Tracy Anderson Method

I just moved to Pennsylvania, and I have to say the wine selection in the state is not great. So I’ve been ordering cases of my favorite Pinot Noir from Flowers. It’s gorgeous, not absurdly expensive, and Pinot Noir has the most antioxidants of any red wine.

Alexander-Julian Gibbson

Stylist

The tint is subtle enough for me to wear them indoors as glasses.

The cut and fun print helped me ease into my reintroduction to the outside world.

Brianna ‘Breezy’ Dotson

Co-founder and accessories designer, Coco & Breezy

The perfect nightly send-off — especially at a time when the world can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Ivy Pochoda

Author

Heritage Foods is the gold standard in ethical, ancient-breed livestock meats. Its double-cut long-bone pork chop is the Cadillac of swine — velvety, perfectly marbled, with a wonderful, almost nutty flavor. The chop is decadent but easy to prepare, and I’d venture better than anything you could order in a restaurant. Plus, you can get down and dirty with that extra-long bone in the privacy of your own home. Believe me, you’ll want to.

Michelle Buteau

Actress-comedian

Treating myself to these house slippers probably sounds silly because everyone has house slippers. But I didn’t and now my feet are so warm and comfy and cozy.

Editor’s note: House of Fraser lists all prices in British pounds, so the price shown is an approximate conversion in U.S. dollars.

Karen Phelps

Creative director, AGOLDE and GOLDSIGN

A super-functional incense burner with incredibly thoughtful packaging. I use mine multiple times a day.

Devon Sawa

Actor, Hunter Hunter

It’s been hugely helpful in getting my son to fall asleep on tougher nights, like when he has to go to bed early or when he’s had a lot of Zoom school. We throw it on after story time, and it helps him drift away.

Jenna Wolfe

Co-founder, Piecework Puzzles

Glerups
$75

I traded my Kirkland slippers for these. All-wool, comfy, and surprisingly chic!

Katie Sturino

Founder, Megababe

A fancy foam roller from Goop that I lie on when I’m watching TV. It feels like heaven.

Shannon Maldonado

Founder, YOWIE

When I received the package, I screamed, and when they touched my skin, I moaned. They are so soft and stretchy, and I never want to wear jeans again.

Scott Haven

Co-owner, Homecoming

Like so many others, I was not able to take a traditional vacation this year. This room-spray trio is one of those hotel luxuries you can bring into your home.

Tennis Warehouse listed this on its “best for beginners” list. The racquet, coupled with a MasterClass course from Serena Williams, has been so much fun. But I am still terrible.

Mi-Anne Chan

Video director, Condé Nast

I got the rug in May, three months into self-isolation. At that point, I was going a little stir-crazy, getting drunk on Zoom every other night, and maniacally “decluttering” my apartment. This was a perfect surprise: The rug just pulled the living room together. Rolling it out onto the floor was like taking a deep breath.

Maria Dueñas Jacobs

Founder, Super Smalls

This mug (along with a whole lot of sweatpants) keeps me feeling cozy and warm in the colder months of the pandemic. It has a battery in the base and can heat my tea for close to two hours, so the mug has become my constant companion on work calls, everlasting home-school Zooms, and at impromptu tea parties with my daughters.

Utibe Mbagwu

Social-media manager, Glossier

From $139

When I came across this desk lamp on Hay, a switch went off (pun intended) and I needed it. The pleated paper shade is a welcome reprieve from the mushroom lamps currently saturating my Instagram feed.

Tayo Giwa

Co-creator, Black-Owned Brooklyn

West Africans the world over know this versatile staple. Egunsi Foods’ obe ata is premade and fresh. My favorite preparation is as a sauce over rice, chicken, and spinach.

Chantel Lou Tattoli

Writer

After my brother passed away this spring, I picked out this pewter frame to display a loose Kodak photograph of us when we were little and tea-partying topless in the house we grew up in. Given all the distance between people and those they love this year, frames are making a comeback.

Michael Ian Black

Actor; author, A Better Man

It’s where my son goes to college (when he goes to college, which he has not done since March because of COVID). I’ve worn it pretty much every day since I got it.

Harling Ross

Writer