MintStyle with Rachel Weingarten: Holiday Gift-Giving Etiquette


One of the more interesting facts to emerge from the Black Friday shopping weekend is that a majority of us splurged on ourselves instead of others.

Since many of us still face daunting gift lists, I’ve enlisted the help of gift giving and etiquette experts to answer some common gift giving dilemmas and help make shopping more manageable.


How personal should gifts be? Should you try to tailor them to the taste of the person receiving them, or is it okay to try to give a gift with your personal flair or personality?

Dominique, CEO of Schurman Retail Group (includes Papyrus) recommends choosing gifts that reflect the tastes of the recipient and not your own. In other words, if they love all things kitschy, now isn’t the time to try to refine their style by presenting them with something preppy or refined.

Gifts for Co-Workers and Supervisors

Who in your office should get a gift? Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Etiquette Questions (Skyhorse 2010) says, “Unfortunately, I think that in most offices it can get competitive with gift giving.”

She’s a fan of the Secret Santa policy in which each person is randomly (and secretly) assigned one co-worker and a spending cap is set. Oliver also says to stick to the Secret Santa and don’t buy separate gifts to impress your boss or supervisor.


How do you decide how much to spend on a gift and does price matter? Schurman says price should not be the driving factor. “You can work within your budget and find creative ways to achieve the impact you are seeking.”


What about gifts of jewelry? Is it only for close relatives or a significant other? Blue Nile “Diamond Guy” Expert, Josh Holland says, “Jewelry is a very personal gift, and at times needs to be returned or exchanged.”

Holland advises ensuring that the retailer has a good return policy. “Avoid 10-karat or 24-karat gold. Pure 24-karat gold is too soft for everyday wear, and 10-karat gold doesn’t have enough gold content to be acceptable for fine jewelry.”

Holland also offers this relationship guide to help you best choose:

Starting Out: In this initial stage, you are looking for a gift that will communicate your strengthening bond. Sterling Silver bracelets and necklaces are great choices and can be engraved for a personalized touch.

Getting Serious: Now you need to offer a gift that signifies your deepening relationship. Classic pearls, vibrant gemstones or black diamonds are perfect for work, a night out, and with a sweater on an average day. For added thoughtfulness, choose her birthstone or favorite color. (Blue Nile Black Diamond Bar is a statement-making necklace is available for $275.00

Committed: It’s time for a gift to convey your feelings and commitment. Diamond stud earrings and eternity rings are timeless expressions of love and are guaranteed to impress.

Household Items

Is it okay to buy something for the house? Do I have to know their décor in advance? Katherine Poole, a founder of Hen House Linens (, says that first and foremost, you must consider for whom you are buying.

She says the recipients taste and current decor should always be considered. Ask yourself, “Is the recipient comfortable with color or do they need a punch of bold pattern to spice up a neutral palette?”

If choosing table linens, Poole says, “Consider where the table is located.  For a table on a porch or outdoors, I would pick a pattern I love.  For a casual table in a kitchen, I might go with holiday colors that evoke the season.  For a more formal dining room, I think it makes sense to match the decor.”

Other great gifts can include aprons (really, they’re incredibly popular and come in a variety of stylish options) or a table runner.


What’s the rule on writing in the overleaf of a book? Is it okay/expected to write a personalized message, or are you better off allowing them to potentially return it? Schurman believes it is preferred to write a personal note on a card.

She explains, “This way the book itself is not inscribed but your personal thoughts can be shared and saved.”

Unexpected Gifts

What if you forgot to get a gift for someone? How long after the holidays is it okay to send something and how do you handle receiving a gift from someone you haven’t bought anything for?

Schurman says it’s never too late to follow up with a gift. “What a delight when it is received!” Oliver advises keeping some small gifts around in case you need one at the last minute.

As for the gift received but not reciprocated, Schurman says a thoughtful thank you note is the perfect solution.

Other Gift-Giving Etiquette

  • Always say thank you- even for (especially for!) a holiday bonus.
  • When possible send a handwritten note. If you might be delayed in writing your thank yous, send an email immediately and follow up when you have a chance.
  • Ask for gift receipts if you want to keep prices private
  • Don’t randomly regift. If a gift is in pristine condition and would be appreciated, feel free to redistribute the wealth.

 Look for part one of our two-part gift guide next week!

Rachel Weingarten loves buying gifts, but does not necessarily believe that it is better to give than receive. Connect with Rachel online at her new gift etiquette and ideas site or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to Rachel with your burning style questions at mintstylerachel [at]





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