Holiday Gift Guide: Girly Stuff Edition

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Yes, video games and electronics and cookbooks are all coming, but this was relatively popular this year, and frankly, the holiday season is the time when I want to break out the bubble bath and the sparkly eyeshadow.  My enthusiasm bubbles over.  Plus, the women on this blog--at least the ones who wear makeup--deserve one post a year where they get to dominate.

Fragrance

I'll just rehearse the advice I gave last year:  fragrance is intensely personal.  Not merely because different people like different scents, but because different scents react differently on different people.  The chemicals in your skin make some fragrances smell divine, others smell like old socks.  So unless your lady has a favorite line of perfumes to which she is already loyal (I pretty much love anything from Ralph Lauren), now is not a good time to be plunking down $65 on a bottle of perfume on the grounds that "that smells nice".

Luckily, Sephora has brought back its fragrance samplers.  The idea is brilliant:  they give you a bunch of little samples, and a voucher that you can bring in that's good for one bottle of any of the scents.  So she can try out a bunch of different perfumes, and buy the one she likes.

They have three this year:

  • Collectors Edition:  DKNY, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Dior.  Last year this was my favorite of the bunch, but this year, I find it less interesting.  It's also more expensive than the other two kits.  But if you're shopping for someone who tends towards classics, this is probably the set for her.
  • Best sellers: Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, Stella McCartney.  These fragrances are mostly light and easy to wear; this set is probably what I'd pick for myself.
  • Deluxe Edition:  Don't ask me how they title these things; most of the fragrances in all three sets are pretty deluxe.  These are a little bolder and sexier, from brands like Versace, Dolce & Gabana, and Prada. 

This year, they also have a Collector's Edition and a Deluxe sampler for men, which I think is new.  On a side note, I'd advise women to go try it on in the store, but if you like L'Occitane en Provence, I've become a huge fan of their Cedar perfume, which is part of a line of let us say, less traditional scents with fragrances like Neroli and Myrtle.

If you already know what your giftee likes, those box sets are a little trite, but it's actually a nice way to do fragrance--building up the scent with several products makes it last longer.  And very few women will buy one for themselves, so I'm still a fan of them.

Makeup

This is probably the area I know most about, and no, not because I slather it on with a trowel every day; I just think makeup is fun.  (Yes, yes, I'm sure I need it.)

Foundation:  Not all makeup is worth spending much money on.  But foundation is one of those things that is hard to get reliable quality from in drugstore brands. I remain a fan of the Bare Escentuals starter kit for most women--it gives a beautiful porcelain finish on most types of skin.  This is actually an easy buy as a gift, because the kits only come in four colors--each contains two foundations, so you can figure out what works for you.  Even the least detail-oriented boyfriend can figure out whether his girlfriend's skin is very fair, medium, or dark.

I, however, am afflicted with hideously dry skin, which can make makeup cake no matter how you moisturize.  Thus, this year I've switched to Lorac Natural Performance Foundation, which has the added bonus of coming in a very cleverly designed bottle, where the top twists to make the pump spout come up, and twists back to make it shrink back into the lid.  No more worries about what happens to my foundation in a packed suitcase. 

ConcealerLorac Double Feature, hands down--one tube contains a concealer on one end, a highlighter on the other. (Particularly effective in the inner corners of your eyes) 

Eyeshadow:  Eyeshadow is one of those things it is not necessarily worth spending a lot of money on--you can get very good results with the stuff from the drugstore.  But people don't usually give a $5.99 Maybelline Duo to adults.   If you want to give eyeshadow, I recommend the Bare Escentuals set of nine eyeshadows, which they do every Christmas.  It has a nice breadth of colors, all of which are beautiful. 

A fun stocking stuffer is Eye Envy kits--I like the Smokey Eyes and the Precious Metals--which provide appliques you press onto your eyes.  They're too expensive for every day (and too loud, IMHO), but they're fun for someone who doesn't know much about makeup, but might like to splash out occasionally on a special occasion.

Lipstick:  Don't do it.  Lipstick is a terrible gift, because women can't even pick out colors that look good on themselves without trying them on.  If you want to give the gift of lovely lips, think lip gloss collections, which guarantee at least a few shades she'll look good in.  I often go with Smashbox, but I'm not a fan of their colors this year--too heavy on the bright pinky tones--so I'd go with the Stila collection.

Eyeliner:  Smashbox remains the champ at eyeliner.  I am an enormous fan of their Master Class series, which contain an entire set of two eyeliners, mascara, eyeshadow, and brushes, coordinated to eye color.  I'm using their green set right now, and can't say enough about how great it is.

Their waterproof eyeliner is terrific (and probably what I'll use at my wedding), but the classic favorite is their cream eyeliner, which comes in a ton of colors and goes on beautifully.  For a first-timer, I highly recommend the 10-color palette, which gives you some variety, and lets you figure out which colors you like.  It's also conveniently portable.

Mascara:  If you don't go with the Smashbox kit, I am of the opinion that expensive mascara is overrated, particularly since you're supposed to throw the stuff out every few months.  Most drugstore brands are perfectly fine, and more than a few of the makeup artists I encounter use Maybelline or Cover Girl.  But if you want to splash out on a gift, or for yourself, Sephora has a great sampler for a reasonable price. This is particularly great because you can just use a few at a time, so if you tuck the others in the fridge, you can probably make it last all year.

Brows:  Despite endlessly proliferating brow kits, I remain loyal to Smashbox browtech, brow brush, and a good set of tweezers.  But there's something sort of dispiriting about getting brow tenders for Christmas.

Blush:  Just too hard.  It never looks the same on as it does in the store.  Best let the lady pick this one out for herself.

Face Care:

I'm still loyal to the Philosophy line of facial care, even though I don't much like any of their other products (their perfume makes me smell like an old lady.)  Their makeup optional kit is an all in one solution that comes in different formulations for various skin types, though I'd start off with the "sensitive skin" version unless you know your recipient has super-oily skin, or the hide of a rhinocerous.

More than a year before it first started to get buzz, the Clarisonic face system is still getting great reviews.  It appears to be in that minority of devices that actually do produce a noticeable improvement.  I don't use it myself, because my skin is too sensitive for basically anything more intensive than gentle cleanser and some water.  But everyone I know who has one absolutely swears by it.

Bath and Skin:

For my money, L'Occitane en Provence makes the nicest bath and body products.  Their verbena products are absolutely my favorite line of scented bath things, though they have lots of lovely fragrances.  Post bath, their shea butter products, particularly their body cream,  can turn the scaliest dry skin soft and supple.  And their hand treatments are great for people who get chapped hands.  QVC sells giant bottles of their products at reasonable prices--reasonable for a pretty pricey line, anyway.

Clothes:

Unless you're a professional stylist, I'd stick to scarves and gloves, or a gift certificate.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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