Buying for the woman in your life is a challenge – one that’s often compounded by the strong impression that she already has everything she needs.
Christmas is a time for giving, but it’s not necessarily a time for fulfilling needs or ticking boxes. If her trusty Converse have holes in the soles, it doesn’t mean she wants you to replace them; in fact, the gift of a wholly unexpected pair of heels is likely to be far better appreciated.
The one caveat? Pay attention to what she’s been saying. If she has told you she wants a new pair of Converse, she’s very likely telling the truth; similarly, although popular lore would steer you away from practical gifts for the home (or otherwise), if you’ve been hearing about the Kenwood Chef she just has to have for months on end, buying one would be a safe bet.
GET YOUR COAT
Why it's a good idea: They say that an outfit isn't really an outfit without a beautiful coat, so outerwear is an essential buy. There are gorgeous coats available at a range of prices. Figure out which styles she loves and loathes from a look at her current collection.
What you should look for: Think carefully about the colours she wears; if she's a monochrome dresser, with a touch of denim, stick along the same lines, with the addition of navy and grey. If she favours brighter colours and prints, you might want to go for something a little bolder – if she's really into the outdoors, think about a practical parka that is waterproof and well insulated (Timberland has a great selection).
What you should avoid: Don't think that because she owns three black pea coats, she has a thing for black pea coats. She might, but she won't be excited by the addition of another. Nor is this the time for major experimentation; you might think she would look great in a leather jacket, but if she's more diamond studs than shoulder studs, you could end up in the bad books come Christmas day.
For example: River Island's oversized bouclé coat, €120, comes in cream, baby pink (very Simone Rocha) and a rich raspberry, and will look great on dressy occasions as well as with jeans and ankle boots.
BAGS OF JOY
Why it's a good idea: Bags are objects of desire of the highest order. They have the perk of being practical as well, at least most of the time. Buy leather and you'll be giving a hard-wearing gift that lasts a long time.
What you should look for: Leather is always going to win, unless your giftee is a vegan, in which case look at fabric – canvas is good – alternatives. If she's a big designer fan, pay attention to which she favours. The good thing for those buying for serious designer fans is that many labels – such as Marc Jacobs and Chloé – have lower-priced diffusion lines (Marc by Marc and See by Chloé).
What you should avoid: If it feels cheap, it is cheap – good faux leather can be found, but it comes at a price, and anything that's less than €50 and pretending to be leather is not going to feel like a luxe product. If you're unsure, go for a classic shape such as a tote or shoulder bag, in a muted tone: think black, navy and grey.
For example: Whistles Limited calf-hair satchel, €490, is the ultimate non-designer designer handbag – beautiful and functional, and in a cool classic navy.
Why it's a good idea: There are few women who don't wear fragrance. Perfume makes a long-lasting, if slightly romantic, gift; it will remind her of you every time she wears it. Bear this in mind if you're a man planning on cutting all ties in January, in which case just get her a a tea towel.
What you should look for: The safest, albeit least inventive, method of perfume-buying is to take a good look at what's on her shelf, note the emptiest bottle and buy that for her. If that's not an option, think luxury: Chanel's fragrances are always a worthy investment, and Versace does some of the best-looking packaging.
What you should avoid: If you have no idea what kind of scent she likes, seek advice, either from a friend or from a salesperson. Err on the side of caution; nothing too overpowering or statement. If you hate the smell of it, she might well agree.
For example: Versace's Crystal Noir, €43 for 30ml eau de toilette at Boots, is described as an "ultra-feminine" scent – but don't let that put you off. It's muskier than most, making it both sexy and girly.
Why it's a good idea: Blame Carrie Bradshaw, but there are few adult women alive who don't know – and appreciate – the lure of a good shoe, and even fewer who have never heard of Manolo Blahnik, the designer championed by the Sex and the City character. Shoes, once a practical necessity, have become the ultimate in covetable luxury – and as a gift, the right pair of shoes could be worth their weight in gold.
What you should look for: If you've been paying attention, you'll know what kind of shoe wearer she is. Stilettoes? Chunky heels? Christian Louboutin or Proenza Schouler? She might even be disinterested in designer labels and have more of a yen for unique, individual designs that won't be instantly recognisable by their soles.
What you should avoid: Shoes can be returned, so don't worry too much if you're taking a little risk (but do ask for a gift receipt) – just don't use this as an excuse to inflict your fantasies on your unwitting recipient. Six-inch stilettoes might seem a fabulous idea, but you're not the one who will have to negotiate Grafton Street in them.
For example: Blue snakeskin stilettoes, €245 by Lucy Choi (niece of Jimmy Choo) at Seagreen, a great classic shoe in a standout material and will work for day and night.
IT'S A WRAP
Why it's a good idea: A cosy wool scarf is something very few women will buy for themselves, because they are expensive and seem a little like an unnecessary, luxury purchase. Which is exactly what makes them great gifts. Plus, on a cold day at home it can double as a knee blanket.
What you should look for: Make sure it is wool – not only is it really warm, it will last a long time, and, if it's looked after properly (that is, laboriously handwashed), it will keep its shape and texture for years to come. Some of the designs available are beautiful, and it's rare that you'll see an Irish woman brave a winter day without a scarf.
What you should avoid: Silk scarves are for wedding anniversaries and warm climates, even if they are by Alexander McQueen. Similarly, don't be sucked in by designer labels – always check the composition of a scarf before assuming any kind of tog value.
For example: Electronic Sheep's wool scarf, €94 at Bow or online at wendyswardrobeboutique.com, is a really quirky choice, and it will definitely get noticed. For the more conservative dresser, check out the selection at Avoca.
Why it's a good idea: There are loads of slick, fashion-led accessories available for tablets, smartphones and computers. What do you mean, the novelty mouse pad is dead?
What you should look for: This is the one instance in which prioritising practicality is wise. If she hasn't got an iPad, for example, she won't appreciate an iPad case. Look for tech solutions from her favourite designers, in colours that you know she loves.
What you should avoid: Juicy Couture (unless you are 100 per cent sure she is a Juicy Couture fan), Paul's Boutique (ditto), and replacements for things she has and loves.
For example: Marc by Marc Jacobs' neoprene 13" case, €67.66 at my- wardrobe.com, is both functional and cool – with added designer nous.
HOME SWEET HOME
Why it's a good idea: Homeware is a tricky prospect for some; in the 1980s and 1990s, buying a woman something for the home was akin to buying her an apron and a sign that said "kitchen wench". Nowadays, we've relaxed a little – but buying a Kitchen Aid for a woman who has no interest in cooking will not go down well.
What you should look for: Unusual gifts for the home are a must. Minimalist Scandinavian designs are still very in, but there are loads of Irish designers out there who are making serious waves – Carolyn Donnelly's range for Dunnes is one of the best, and the prices are reasonable.
What you should avoid: Anything too practical. So while a beautiful tea towel by Irish designer Ursula Celano would be perfect, a pair of oven gloves or a wooden spoon might be a little too Stepford.
For example: Reiko Kaneko's Staffordshire bone china drip collection, cup and saucer €28, mug €17.50, teapot €75, and egg cup €12.50, at articledublin.com is expensive, and looks it.
Why it's a good idea: Hollywood has led us to believe that love is professed in terms of precious jewels and metals, and it's a gift that is sure to be appreciated.
What you should look for: Pay attention to her style. If she wears stud earrings and stud earrings only, that's the direction you should be going. If she's more glitzy, think costume jewellery (Rhinestones on Dublin's Andrew's Street is one of the best costume jewellery shops around, and the staff are very helpful).
What you should avoid: You can rarely return earrings, so don't take any big gambles – and if you do, be sure to check the returns policy. If you're planning on spending big, make sure the wrapping matches the package. And don't think that classic is always good: if she's not the pearl earrings type, that's unlikely to change.
For example: Irish designer Natasha Sherling's diamond studs, €495 from the Marvel Room at Brown Thomas, are beautiful, set in 18ct white gold.
Why it's a good idea: If you really love someone, a ring is the perfect gift. She'll have it forever – so it's worth bearing in mind that rings mean business, and should not be purchased lightly.
What you should look for: Rings are an emotional investment, so try to find a ring that reminds you of her in some way – if you see a ring and think of her, chances are she'll love it. (This rule will not apply if the ring has a member of One Direction on it.)
What you should avoid: Pictures of One Direction, slogans, anything from the Argos catalogue – they do some lovely jewellery, but more for teens and tweens. Don't go for a diamond unless you're willing to back it up with a wedding.
For example: Aquamarine wraparound ring by Amoc, €995 at the Design Loft in the Powerscourt Townhouse, is a beautiful piece of jewellery, delicate and unusual.
THE WICK OF IT
Why it's a good idea: A fail-safe present for the woman who has everything.
What you should look for: There are many great Irish candle-making brands. Galway's Cloon Keen Atelier does an incredible gooseberry leaf candle; Cork's La Bougie recently launched fragrance diffusers to go alongside its range of candles; and Bog Standard, based in Co Down, offers candles, soaps, hand care and Irish linens.
What you should avoid: Cheaper candle ranges will use a lot of synthetic ingredients and smell artificial. If you can smell it outside the door of the shop, it's unlikely to be a luxurious, long-lasting fragrance; similarly, anything brightly coloured is unlikely to have many natural ingredients and the odour may linger in fabrics.
For example: La Bougie's sage and bitter orange candle, €29.95 at Arnotts, is a unisex scent you can both enjoy.