Put This On’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

December 7, 2021

Hunting for the perfect gift can be stressful. Should you get something practical or sentimental? Something they can consume or keep forever? What to do about that Secret Santa gift for someone you know little about? Every year around this time, we come out with our gift guide to help readers find that special item they can set under the tree. For more suggestions, don’t forget to check out our previous guides, where you’ll find dozens of other ideas. And of course don’t forget to take a look in our own shop, where you’ll find beautiful vintage items, handmade pocket squares, and who knows what else.

 

 

A Wiffle Ball Set

It doesn’t get more American than Wiffle Ball, and it’s shockingly inexpensive. Even adults can enjoy throwing curves and whacking homers. It’s a lot of fun for ten bucks or so. –Jesse

 

 

Picture Books

If there’s a kid in your life, picture books are a more parent-friendly gift than toys. They fit on the shelf and don’t get all over the floor. I’ve got three kids and a lot of strong opinions about their reading material. Four books I love: Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe, a sensitive biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat. It takes its illustrations from Basquiat’s Brooklyn environs and focuses on the artist’s relationship with his mentally-ill mother. A Different Pond by Bao Phi. About a boy and his grandfather going fishing, with extraordinary detail, obviously drawn from life, about the domestic world of a Vietnamese-American immigrant family living on the edge of poverty. (But still: a heartwarming story about family love.) Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, a breathtakingly beautiful book about a young kid in Brooklyn who wants to march in the Mermaid Parade, and the abuela who helps the kid (who presents as a boy) achieve her dream. And my wife wrote one, too: It Feels Good To Be Yourself, a helpful, clear, and lovely non-fiction about gender for kids. –Jesse

 

 

A Photo in a Silver Frame

A vintage sterling frame can be found at surprisingly affordable prices on eBay or Etsy — maybe thirty or forty dollars. Get a sentimental photo printed and present it as a genuine keepsake. Not just in some stapled-together Target nonsense. –Jesse

 

 

It’s Its by Mail!

Did you know the REAL San Francisco treat is the It’s-It? These ice cream sandwiches are available in stores up and down the west coast, but they don’t travel much further than Portland and Seattle because they’re frozen and made in the Bay Area. There used to be a San Francisco-themed bar in New York that imported them, but these days if you want them outside of their traditional strongholds, you have to order them by mail. You can get variety packs, although I’m a big booster of the classic vanilla. –Jesse

 

 

The Kirkland Signature Sweatshirt

I mean, it rules, and it’s twenty bucks. Get with the program. We all wear these now.

 

 

Coffee!

A few years ago, I ordered some coffee from a roaster called Ruby in a small town in Wisconsin. My wife is a coffee snob of the highest order, and she loved the beans. We signed up for a subscription, and one came with a note — one of the staff members at Ruby (which is a tiny outfit) — recognized my name from podcasting, and we ended up having them provide all the coffee for our office. Ruby is a cool story, and they make great coffee at reasonable prices, but you can also just grab the fanciest beans from your fanciest local roaster. –Jesse

 

 

Pharoah Sanders’ Karma

Sanders is one of our greatest living jazz performers, and Karma is both esoteric and shockingly accessible. It’s melodic, mesmerizing spiritual jazz, a classic of the genre. There is weird squeaking and squawking, but immense beauty also reveals itself readily. –Jesse

 

 

Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians

Years ago, Nico Muhly, probably classical music’s “hippest” composer, told me about this record on my public-radio show Bullseye. I started listening to it and found that I couldn’t stop. Its proto-loops play out slowly, but you’re inexorably drawn into them. It’s perfect music for zoning out but also rewards active listening. And it’s just gorgeous. –Jesse

 

 

A Bounce House Rental

If you live in a big city, especially one with a big Latino community, you might be shocked at how little it costs to rent a bounce house. Call your local party-and-pinata store and schedule some fun. I rented one for Thanksgiving, and it soaked up more time and energy from my at-loose-ends children than I could have hoped. And I mean, no rule says you have to have children to rent one. –Jesse

 

 

A Mohair Cardigan

Coziness is an excellent theme for winter gifts, and with the return of the “Kurt Cobain”-style mohair cardigan, there are some very cozy options. Beams Plus has quite the selection of fuzzy friends; Monitaly and Anonymous Ism have a few nice ones as well. Some of the bolder options from Needles are very cool, and you can always rely on the quality of Howlin. You can also just run a search for mohair on eBay or Etsy and find dozens and dozens of affordable vintage options. Look for a Scottish-made version for the highest quality. –Jesse

 

 

Lady White Sweat Shorts

Lady White started in the t-shirt game but has expanded to other knits, and I must say that the best sweat shorts I own came from them. They’re pretty expensive, but I’ve rarely been so impressed by a basic. And again: cozy! –Jesse

 

Studs Terkel’s Working

This is a legendary collection of first-person “as told to” essays about work. Terkel interviewed dozens of regular people about their jobs and masterfully collated them into pieces that preserve their incredible voices and tell the story of their work. It’s a classic for a reason: fascinating, funny, and illuminating. –Jesse

 

 

Ukulele Lessons

I know, I know: waxed mustaches, rose-pink commercial soundtracks, etc. But the ukulele is shockingly easy to learn and incredibly rewarding to play. I picked one up a couple of years ago (a gift of lessons from my wife helped overcome my embarrassment), and I’ve found immense reward in strumming chords and singing songs, even just by myself when I’m stressed in my office. My Little League teammate Lonnie Ohta-Mayer can teach you online, or you can find a local guitar teacher to show you a few chords. The Oscar Schmidt OU2 is a good starter. If your recipient is particularly big like me, a concert uke, which is tuned the same way but bigger, might be a good option. Mine is a Schmidt OU5-R. –Jesse

 

 

Swan Songs by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans

Few books about men’s style have impressed me as much as Réginald-Jérôme de Mans’ Swan Songs. It is intelligently written without being academic, sentimental without falling for PR puffery. RJ de Mans is a longtime menswear writer with deep experience in high-end men’s clothing. In his book, he writes about Parisian makers and sellers of beautiful things who, over time, have disappeared either through closure or cosmically expanding prices. The book covers French bespoke tailors, shoemakers, and old-world shops now shuttered. Many of the stories can be seen repeated in today’s best companies. Swan Songs reignites the wonder you may have felt when you first discovered classic men’s style, perhaps a love that has been dulled through cynicism. For me, it stands up there with Bruce Boyer’s books and David Marx’s Amatora (also must-reads). –Derek

 

 

An Ember Mug

A couple of years ago, a friend who’s a coffee snob gave me grief for purchasing one of Ember’s smart mugs, a battery-powered cup that’s designed to hold your drinks at a constant temperature. I bought it after watching James Hoffman’s review. Hoffmann and my friend are correct: these are ridiculous, expensive, and overengineered (some also see lukewarm drinks as a form of righteous punishment). However, my Ember mug has improved my mornings immeasurably. These mugs recharge on a base that hooks up to an electrical outlet. That tethers them to an area (the only downside). On the upside, these mugs keep your drink at the perfect soul-soothing temperature, which you set through your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. This is something you don’t fully appreciate until it becomes part of your morning routine. You can walk away, get distracted for a while, come back, and still enjoy the perfect elixir. Get one for anyone who enjoys coffee or tea. –Derek

 

 

A Birdfeeder

For the animal lover in your life, consider the simple birdfeeder. I bought a Droll Yankees CJM15G birdfeeder last year, and it has been my small oasis of happiness. Birdfeeders bring birdsong and fluttering birds just outside your window (in my case, chickadees and mourning doves). For people who work from home, birds chirping outside make life a bit more enjoyable. Make sure you set these feeders a certain distance from a window — either within 3 feet or farther than 30 feet. Otherwise, fast-flying birds can kill themselves by flying into windowpanes (not so relaxing for you and even less so for the bird). Additionally, I’ve found some accessories useful: perch guards for smaller birds to stand on, a plastic dome to keep birdseed dry in the rain, and a small tray to catch seeds picky birds throw out. This is a refreshingly affordable pleasure. –Derek

 

 

A Shawl Collar Cardigan

A chunky shawl collar cardigan is one of winter’s most sumptuous and indulgent garments. It’s coziness manifested and something you can throw over anything: pajamas, jeans with flannels, or even sweatpants and t-shirts. As such, it makes for a wonderful Christmas gift because everyone loves to feel cozy, but may not want to spend the money on a plush cardigan. The good news is that you can find them nowadays across a range of price points (expect to spend at least $200). Check out the ones from Drake’s, The Armoury, Scott & Charters, Colhay’s, Spier & Mackay, Kent Wang, Cordings, Campbell’s of BeaulyWinston & Company, O’Connell’s, and Dehen 1920. –Derek

 

 

Diptyque’s Candles

A Diptyque candle is your holiday gift-giving problem solver because it satisfies important criteria. It’s something that nearly everyone will enjoy but will probably not buy for themselves (too expensive), it’s not so expensive that you can’t purchase it for someone else (about $65), and it’s a consumable (always good). These hand-poured, French-made candles last for about sixty hours, look handsome on a shelf, and throw uniquely composed scents. Feu de Bois is arguably THE scent of winter. It smells like a crackling campfire without being overly camphorous. There are birch, cedar, and juniper notes, and then just a touch of smoke in the background. Other favorites include Vétyver (cedarwood with white florals), Figuier (fig tree, green leaves, milky sap on wood bark), Cyprés (dry pine needles, warm honey, salty ocean breeze blowing off a cliff), Vanille (creamy vanilla, nutmeg, clove, and a touch of smoke), and Narguilé (honey, tobacco, and spices; the smell of a hookah lounge). If you need to give a gift and have no idea about the person’s preferences, know that you can’t go wrong with a Diptyque candle. –Derek

 

 

Amazon’s Kindle

I feel slightly guilty about recommending Amazon’s Kindle. Recently, a friend sent me a copy of Imagining Consumers with a printed note and it felt like a lovely throwback to a pre-Internet era (also, I love Rachel Syme’s Penpalooza, a penpal exchange). Printed words are wonderful and books are the last holdout in a world that’s being rapidly digitized.

But just as not every music album deserves space on your shelf, not every book has to be in your home. This past summer, I bought a Kindle and have been surprised by how much I like it. It would be an excellent gift for an avid reader with piles of books stacked into mini-towers or awkwardly shoved sideways into bookshelves because they’ve run out of room. This tiny device, no larger than a thin paperback, can store thousands of books, making your library more portable and saving precious space. Amazon’s Paperwhite technology makes reading on-screen as comfortable as reading printed pages, and they released a new version of their e-reader this year. For people who wear tailored clothing, the smaller 6.9″ x 4.9″ size fits comfortably into the in-breast pocket of most suits and sport coats. –Derek

 

 

Anything from Herrie

My friends Herrie and Kyle used to run a bespoke tailoring shop in Nashville, Tennesse, one of the few remaining in the United States. Recently, they moved to Montpelier, Vermont, where they secured a grant to work with local farmers and weavers to produce entirely locally-made cloth. Kyle tells me that he’s currently trying to find someone who can grow a substantial amount of madder so that they can make traditional New England hunting jackets in three years when the roots mature.

They also recently started a line of small-batch ready-made clothing. The designs are charming: indigo chore coats made from Japanese waffle fabrics, heavy-duty cotton thermals dyed in vats of black bean, kasuri tote bags that would be perfect for going to the market, and my favorite, springy seersucker shirts that are ideal for summer. The prices are shockingly affordable for garments made in the United States by a Savile-Row-trained bespoke tailor (although in ready-made form) and cut and sewn from quality fabrics (often sourced from Japan). If you know someone who enjoys rustic brands such as Tender or Sassafras, this is very much their jam. –Derek

 

 

Iron Heart’s Ultra-Heavy Flannel Shirts

I hate that these are so expensive — truly. But I’ve yet to find a more remarkable flannel. Iron Heart’s Ultra-Heavy Flannel shirts are the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a Tractor Supply catalog, but they have no equal. They’re made from woven cotton that’s so heavy and dense, they effectively function as windproof shirt jackets. They are also triple brushed inside for a kitten-soft finish. These are not the kind of flannels you’d want to wear with tailored clothing. They’re a workwear garment, both in style and functionality. They go with things such as raw denim jeans and heavy-duty boots (staples in many men’s wardrobes) and will likely outlast anything in a wardrobe. Splurge on this if your friend or family member likes fancy workwear, and be sure to size up, as these run very trim. –Derek

 

 

Anything from The Superior Labor

Superior Labor is a Japanese company inspired by mid-century American designs. Much of what they make is produced for people who enjoy journaling (or even just the act of writing). They have beautifully crafted leather pouches, pen cases, and notebook covers, along with lots of cool wallets and bags. People in the fountain pen community fawn over Superior Labor’s pen rolls. Nearly everything they sell will make for a lovely gift if you know someone who enjoys writing. However, they also have camera bags for Rolleiflex using friends and a small line of camping equipment (handsomely designed). You can check them out at Nomado Store and Baum-Kuchen, two of my favorite stationery stores. Oh, and if you want to give someone an exquisite fountain pen, I can’t imagine anyone would be unhappy with a Pilot Custom 823. –Derek

 

 

Begg’s Wispy Scarves

The Scottish producer Begg makes my favorite scarves, but as they’ve moved up the market in recent years, polishing their image and designs, they’ve also become stratospherically expensive. For me, their best quality is called “Wispy.” Made from superfine, gossamer yarn, these cashmere scarves are almost translucent. However, they’re so long and wide (27.5″ x 79″), the fabric ends up folding over itself, creating a beautifully draped quality and not actually being see-through. They look tremendous with overcoats and oversized casual outerwear. Some also like it under tailored sport coats. The company has raised its prices in recent years, and the Wispy now costs upwards of $580 on their website. However, you can find a small selection of solid-colored Wispy scarves at Edward Green at the previous (still expensive) price of $315. Pricey? Yes, but a good gift for moms and coat-wearing dads. –Derek

 

 

A Custom Shirt 

Every year, I get Jesse the same gift: a custom shirt from his shirtmaker, CEGO. A custom shirt will never WOW somebody, but it’s a near-failproof gift because, well, everyone wears shirts, and a custom one will fit. Our sponsor Proper Cloth is an online made-to-measure shirtmaker you can use if you don’t have a local option. I’ve bought nearly a dozen shirts from Proper Cloth at this point (always paying full price), and they’re the best online option of the eight or nine I’ve used over the years. The upside is that they have more casual fabrics than what you’ll find from a bespoke shirtmaker, who typically produces for guys just looking for work clothes. In contrast, Proper Cloth has everything from Japanese indigos to vacation prints to soft Italian flannels. I love their Tencel-cotton pique knits for long-sleeved polos, a valuable item for dressing down sport coats. If your giftee is a first-time customer, get them a gift card so they can choose their own fabrics and figure out their custom sizing. They can also order fabric swatches before committing to a shirt. –Derek

 

 

Le Cruset’s Dutch Ovens

Le Cruset’s colorfully enameled cast-iron cookware is the Gold Standard for Dutch ovens. To be sure, there are more affordable options out there, such as Lodge, which seemingly cook just as well. However, Le Cruset has an aspirational quality that makes it a good gift — the sort of thing someone would appreciate but may not purchase for themselves. They also have a sterling reputation and a record to back it. Each Le Cruset’s cast iron comes with a lifetime guarantee, although I’ve never heard of anyone breaking or chipping these indestructible pots. Best of all, cooks of all skill levels will find them useful. I’m a terrible cook, and even I can use them to make savory soups and stews. Others will find them helpful in braising tender meats and baking crusty bread. –Derek 

 

 

A Fancy Cocktail Shaker

Although you don’t need a fancy setup to make a tasty cocktail at home, quality bar tools add pleasure to the process. If you’re going to splurge on one item, make it the cocktail shaker, arguably the centerpiece of any home bar. Most people making cocktails at home will want to use the three-piece cobbler shaker, which consists of the tumbler, a lid that serves as a built-in strainer, and a cap that can sometimes double as a one-ounce jigger. These are easier to use than the two-piece Boston shaker, which you may have seen professional bartenders use. Those are better but require more finesse and a separate strainer. Quality cobbler shakers can be had for as little as $60 from brands such as WMF, Usagi, and Elevated Craft. If you’re feeling spendy, try Georg Jensen ($140) or Birdy ($250). –Derek

 

A Swizzle Stick

Around the turn of the 20th century, women in polite society used swizzle sticks to twirl the bubbles out of their champagne, so that they wouldn’t burp in public. During the Roaring 20s, nearly every Flapper in a skirt carried one in her purse. Nowadays, they’re somewhat of a novelty, but if you have a champagne-loving friend, an antique swizzle stick can make for a fun, slightly ridiculous gift. Get the ones made from metal — thin, retractable, and if you can afford one, made by the British silversmith company Deakin & Francis. The quality of those antique ones makes them covetable. For those who want bubbles in their champagne, you can also use these to stir non-carbonated cocktails and a night’s conversation. –Derek

 

 

Skater Socks

Socks are a bad gift cliche – there’s even a song about it. But I would feel comfort and joy if I got a couple of pairs of Skater Socks’ old school tube socks this year. They’re beefy and un-technical, U.S.-made cotton blend socks modeled broadly after the kind you’d see on skateboarders and roller skaters in the 1970s. They’re a deal, too. Plenty of stripe options at mostly <$10 a pair. I prefer the mid-calf, 19-inch length. You don’t even have to know what I’m talking about when I say “Tony-Alva-at-Wallows style” to enjoy them. –Pete

 

 

A Music-Related Book

Last year, a few friends and I revived a music-related book club over Zoom, and we’ve had a lot of candidates to pick from for discussion — from biographies to analysis to emotion-first books. Music and style go hand in hand, and one of my favorite leisure time activities is to put on a record or playlist and read about the music I’m hearing. A few of my recent favorites below. –Pete

 

 

A Stylish Experience, Outside

Like many people, I expect, I’ve pivoted to more outdoor hobbies in the last couple of years, which mirrors the growing popularity of outdoor activity influence on style, from gorpcore to Monty-Don-wear to David Coggins’ trad fly fishing style (aka fly-vy style). I was never a trout guy, but I gave it a shot this year. And although I’ve yet to catch a fish, I see the appeal – fly fishing is a niche within a niche and a very specific culture. It has its own ceremony, rules, and traditions, plus there’s cool gear and an opportunity to spend time with friends in nature honing a skill. Gear can be a barrier to entry – it’s expensive and specific – but booking time with a fly fishing guide can be a solution, as guides often provide rods, tackle, and wading gear, not to mention expertise. Orvis (the go-to source for fly fishing in the U.S., not to mention the #1 Barbour retailer, according to Coggins) maintains a list of guides that they endorse. –Pete


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