Tis the season for fretting over what to get the people. To help with the endeavor, every year, we write about our most recent favorites. So, coming just in time for the holiday season, here’s our 2017 gift guide – things that would be awesome for anyone in your life.
Before we get started though, we’d love it if you’d check out stuff from our beloved sponsors. The Hanger Project has some wonderful shoe care products; Proper Cloth sell cozy knitwear (probably hard to gift their MTM shirts without your friend knowing); and Chipp’s grenadines are among the most useful ties anyone can own. Dapper Classic’s socks make for nice stocking stuffers; Huckberry has things for the outdoorsman; and Twillory has both whimsical and basic button-ups.
Additionally, we have some wonderful gift suggestions in our shop, organized by various price tiers. Throw this corner kick charm on a chain and you have a necklace, or give that clotheshorse in your life this Duke of Windsor themed shoehorn. Our Gentlemen’s Association subscriptions could also be that year-round gift that keeps on giving – a handrolled and handsewn pocket square, made from fabrics picked out by Jesse, delivered to your friend’s doorstep every month.
OK, to the gifts!
I grew up in San Francisco, eating special occasion candy from See’s and Joseph Schmidt’s Chocolates. A few years ago, a gift guide from Sweethome turned me on to Muth’s Mudjeskas, sold through Muth’s Candies in Louisville, Kentucky. They’re caramel-covered marshmallows, but that hardly begins to describe them. They ship well, everyone loves them, and if I am frank, they trounce their California competitor, Scotch Kisses from See’s, in every category. This year I may try the chocolate-covered ones. -Jesse
I’ll admit, I am not a pen guy. My handwriting is almost illegible, and so I’ve always preferred a keyboard to the manual writing experience. But a few months ago in London, I stumbled upon the Kaweco Sport, an inexpensive German fountain pen. The base models are plastic, but the one I bought is made from brass. It’s a compact pen, but the hefty metal and large cap make it feel substantial. It’s comfortably less than a hundred bucks, writes beautifully, and is handsome as hell. A real “pen guy” probably has ultra-particular tastes you’ll never be able to accommodate, but the Kaweco is a great option for someone who’ll enjoy an upgrade from the world of rollerballs. -Jesse
My wife walked around the house barefoot for decades, unbothered by cold or dirt. My toesies are always frozies, so I never took off my shoes. (I know, I know, but I have wood floors and live in California, where the elements don’t follow you indoors). Then my wife’s feet started to hurt and her doctor laid it out for her: you need to wear some support anytime you’re walking on hard surfaces. The answer was boiled-wool slippers like these, from Glerups. They keep your feet cozy without overheating, and they have a bizarrely compelling style. Glerups are the option recommended by the product review site The Sweethome, and I trust their judgement. -Jesse
[Pete’s note: I also dig these Tyrolean wool slippers, which have thin leather soles. They’re like sweaters for your feet.]
Hodgman took a hard turn in his new book, Vacationland. His first three books were compendia of imagined facts. They were deeply personal, but they weren’t real. Vacationland is a genuine memoir, a story that follows Hodgman through three parts of life: growing up as a prematurely middle-aged child in a ramshackle house in Brookline, Mass; inheriting his family’s summer home in Western Mass; and buying a home in his wife’s family seat of Maine. It’s very funny, but it’s also beautifully written, and ultimately becomes a consideration of the pleasures and responsibilities of adulthood. A perfect gift for the dad who has everything. -Jesse
The map case has always struck me as the perfect man’s purse. Unlike a big shoulder bag, it’s modest in size, but it still has enough distinctiveness from a lady’s bag and enough military heritage to feel like a man could wear it. In other words: it’s useful enough for a woman, but PH-balanced for a man. The problem with map cases is that the real deal – often made for European armies in the 1950s and ‘60s – are made of vinyl and ultra-low-quality leather. Their form is appealing, but the reality is not. The other day, I got a doorstop of a catalog from the German retailer Manufactum, and I was thrilled to find that they have remade the German map case with real grown-up leather. -Jesse
Years ago, when we were shooting Put This On in London, I met Guy Hills, the proprietor of Dashing Tweeds. Guy is a crackling ball of joyful, boyish energy. He rode around on one of those giant-wheel bicycles, showed us the riverboat behind his house, and told about his tweeds. He also showed us a hat his family had bought him for Christmas. It was a breathtaking concoction from felted wool, a ragged animal crown that reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are. “My friend Barbara made it for me, don’t you love it?” And frankly, I did. I’m no furry, no costume-wearer, but it was genuine art. It was breathtaking. So I asked for one for Christmas from my family. It’s one of my most treasured possessions. She takes commissions, although they can take a while to make. -Jesse
Ray Barretto was one of the great bandleaders of Latin music. He was an accomplished jazz player, accompanying acts such as Art Blakey and Lou Donaldson as a conguero. When boogaloo hit in the early ‘60s, he had one of its signature hits, “El Watusi.” By 1968, Barreto was making salsa with the legendary Fania Records. He was music director of the Fania All-Stars, perhaps the greatest salsa band of all time, and making records under his own name. Acid is more than just a bit of trendy psychedelia. It’s a genuinely thrilling record, with salsa, boogaloo, Latin rock, and jazz all in a blender. You don’t need to know those genres to appreciate them either because, ultimately, it’s dance music. It jams. If this one doesn’t thrill you, you’re dead inside. -Jesse
I was flipping through a Japanese fashion magazine the other day, and was stopped short by these handmade shoes from Aurora Shoe Company. They were in a section featuring the editors’ personal favorites and I could see why. They’re profoundly dowdy, but immensely charming. The Middle English has full size runs for me (including narrow) and is pretty great, but the one I saw was the West Indian. Sadly, they only carry that one in sizes up to 11 womens, which is a 9 mens. Great if you’re a Japanese fashion editor, but less great if you’re a giant American oaf. -Jesse
Is there a picture-book-aged kid on your list? I’ve got three kids myself, and am a real snob. These are two books that meet my standards. Who Needs Donuts is a strange and hilarious story about a boy obsessed with collecting donuts. He learns the true meaning of love. It has the anarchic, deviant quality that animates Maurice Sendak and insane, riotous pictures that you can look at for hours. One of those stories that gets its hooks in deeply and you’re not sure how. Radiant Child is a new picture biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe. Steptoe is a gifted artist himself, and his pictures were built from fragments of Basquiat’s past, like literal window frames from the places he lived. He also isn’t afraid of the deepest emotional resonances of Basquiat’s life and work. The book is largely driven by Basquiat’s relationship with his mentally ill mother, and the subject is presented beautifully and movingly. Steptoe’s own mother struggled with mental illness, and in reading, an adult can see the ways Basquiat’s story is animated by Steptoe’s. -Jesse
A Small Vintage Steiff Animal
The world is full of Steiff collectors, the world’s greatest manufacturer of stuffed animals. There’s a reason, too. Steiffs have immense charm, they’re distinctive, and more than a little bit beautiful. They also make great gifts. The older, smaller ones are generally well under a hundred bucks on eBay or from a local antique shop, and you have your choice of a century of creatures. You can go with a classic bear, but I love the more unusual beasts, such as lobsters or ride-on turtles or this tremendous fox, which may be begging for a treat? -Jesse
(Derek’s note: for the menswear enthusiasts among you, A Kind of Guise routinely makes parkas with Steiff’s signature wools).
A Plant (and an Accompanying Planter)
I like giving art or decorative objects as gifts (although they can be risky if you don’t know someone’s taste pretty well). Another good gift in this category is a simple houseplant—an easy and almost universal present. Houseplants have been undergoing a bit of a renaissance recently, so the availability and variety are broader than they were a few years ago. The snake plant is easy to care for and doesn’t need much light or attention. One of my favorites (still reasonably small—fit for a desk or countertop) is a staghorn fern. Air plants and small succulents can also fit almost anywhere and will require minimal care. If you know someone likes plants and has some space, step up to the monstera, whose distinctly shaped leaves you’ll recognize from Aloha shirts. You can find decent selections online from stores like The Sill, which also offers a 30-day guarantee, your local garden store, or even Ikea. -Pete
If the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and LCD Soundsystem were in regular rotation on your first generation iPod, you’ll appreciate Goodman’s oral history of the New York scene in the ‘00s. Goodman interviewed dozens (hundreds?) of musicians, managers, DJs, and journalists and chronicles how rock ‘n’ roll re-took over the world from limp late-era alternative rock and Limp Bizkit. The stories they tell are enjoyably revealing, overblown, and gossip-y. Sample quote from James Murphy: “This is me dancing. This isn’t the drugs dancing. This is the drugs stopping myself from stopping myself from dancing.” -Pete
If your friend owns mechanical wristwatches, a watch winder could be the perfect gift. There’s a lot of debate on whether they’re necessary – a winder may or may not extend the life of a watch – but they do eliminate the need to wind automatics. That can be nice if your friend owns watches with certain complications (e.g. setting the date, which can be annoying if you haven’t worn a watch in a while). WOLF makes some wonderful winders. Handsomely designed and constructed from reliable parts, these are fully programmable so you can set the number and direction of rotations (a good way to customize the winder to best suit your watches). They’re also a beautiful way to display special timepieces – something to decorate on your friend’s dresser or bookshelf. -Derek
Gillette’s Mach 3 has spread into almost every medicine cabinet since it was first introduced in the late ‘90s. It’s the safety razor most men, including me, have stuck with since learning how to shave in high school. Stock Gillette handles, however, are pretty ugly – cheap, plastic, and dinky looking, they’re an eyesore on countertops. You probably can’t get your friend to switch shaving habits, but you can give them a better Mach 3 handle. British brands such as Edwin Jagger sell some handsome ones, although I prefer the more distinctive hand-turned designs found on sites such as eBay and Etsy. They’re typically hand carved from a block of wood, then lacquered with an epoxy to give the surface a shine and water-resistant finish. I like them in buckeye burl woods. Mine, pictured above, was purchased at this shop. They no longer have the handles in burl wood, although you can find them elsewhere. -Derek
Everyone hates cold feet, which is why warm socks make for an easy, even if pedestrian, gift (get it? Pede? Feet? Ok). I like these Donegal-style wool socks at American Trench. They’re cozy, designed to be worn with boots, and made at a Pennsylvanian factory from hardy Italian yarns. The flecks of color give some nice visual interest without being overdone. Kinda pricey at $30, but a two pack runs for $45 and you can keep a pair for yourself. Hard to go wrong with any of the colors, although I dig the yellow ones most. -Derek
Everyone has that one friend that loves to host parties. And thank God, because without them we’d never leave our homes. To show your appreciation for their efforts, give them a fancy cheese knife. It’ll allow them to serve up some delicious appetizers, add something to their party decor, and give you an excuse to duck out of awkward conversations at said gatherings (“Is that, is that cheese? Excuse me”). Chelsea Miller sells some lovely looking knives. She makes them completely herself, from start to finish, at her workshop in Brooklyn. The metals are sourced from recycled farrier rasps; the wood harvested from her family farm in Vermont. They have a wonderfully elegant and rustic style about them, and would be something your friend and others can use for years. -Derek
It never fails to impress me how many people are interested in photography nowadays. Unfortunately, most camera bags aren’t terribly great looking – black ballistic nylon designs with cheap plastic details, they look like the sort of things carried around convention halls. If you have a friend who’s a budding photographer, give him or her a Billingham instead. They’re made in England and look like repurposed traditional fishing bags (Billingham actually started as a fishing bag manufacturer). The interior is padded to protect camera equipment, but the exterior is made from a handsome mix of cotton canvas and leather. You can find Billingham bags new at their webshop or second-hand on sites such as eBay and Etsy. They also used to make camera bags for Banana Republic – pre-Gap, back when the brand was still a solid safari-themed outfitter. Extra points if you can find one with that heritage. -Derek