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At Christmas, men are hopeless. The clichéd gifts – a pair of socks, some boxer shorts, a nice sweater – were given because men were too hopeless to buy these boring essentials for themselves. These gifts weren’t presents, they were penance.
Now that men are natural born consumers and can buy such basics in our lunchbreaks, Christmas should be jollier. But wait! There’s a new hopelessness in town. Men are now too good at shopping. Every festive season, I am told it’s impossible to buy gifts for me. Apparently, I buy myself too much stuff, and the people who know me best have no idea what to give me at all.
Unfortunately, there’s a large amount of truth in this. I write about an industry that has consumption at its core. The past 10 years have been a golden age for young British menswear designers, whose work I buy beyond any need. And it’s not just new labels. I am such a regular in Prada, I kid myself that shopping there is like a conversation with the brand. It’s a very one-sided dialogue.
It’s not just what I buy, it’s that my taste is honed. For anyone trying to get me a gift, it’s daunting. I’m an extreme case, but my shopping patterns reflect the specific nature of the male consumer, whether his interest is in trainers, denim or tailoring. How to shop for us this Christmas?
Some advice: avoid big fashion buys. Unless you have evidence they want a particular Dries Van Noten sweater or Saint Laurent top, stay away from high-fashion pieces. Men who are oblivious to fashion would find it strange to be bought such highfalutin stuff. The fashion-savvy have no interest in what’s currently on the rails, since by Christmas day the autumn/winter 2014 collections have long been in markdown. Their focus is now on January’s first deliveries of spring/summer 2015 – anything bought now is old news.
If you’re going to buy a cliché, buy a good cliché. With high fashion out of the picture, it’s basics that are left. Buy these with active choices about fit and fabric, so that the garment is a beneficial addition to a wardrobe rather than something that perpetuates its blandness.
I’m a recent convert to John Smedley, and most days I wear a crewneck Merino wool sweater – what hooked me were the sleeves, which I can pull down to cover most of my hands. For the opening of E Tautz’s first store, designer Patrick Grant has produced crewneck Shetland sweaters in vivid yellow and petrol blue as well as some jazzily coloured socks. And for those who dress formally, the ties created by Drake’s are always of a nicely judged hue and cloth. For more affordable basics, the chain Albam is both reliable and excellent.
Status symbols aren’t necessarily expensive. If buying for someone in the creative industries (a blanket term for anyone who can work from his laptop and never needs to wear a suit), streetwear brands are perfect to plunder. A simple logo T-shirt from Palace Skateboards would please many men (and I mean men in their thirties and forties, not just teenagers), as would any garment with the Supreme label. Both are brands that send a certain type of man into a fever, yet which offer much of their stock for less than £100.
Head to trustworthy stores. I hate shopping for a specific item. Much more rewarding is to visit stores with reliable taste and see what unexpected items they’ve got on their shelves. In London, Dover Street Market is the obvious choice, its reputation well-earned, while Liberty is a department store increasingly tuned to the art of the impulse buy. The best men’s stores with an eclectic mix are out in the east: Present on Shoreditch High Street and Goodhood on Curtain Road (both of which also have excellent websites).
Don’t forget grooming. A good grooming product can be as much of an indulgence for men as beauty gifts are for women, especially if it’s from an unknown brand. Dr Jackson is one such label – his excellent skin creams (available at Harvey Nichols and Liberty) are the result of 19 years of research and come in pleasing apothecary-like glass bottles. In fragrance, young perfumer Tom Daxon has created scents such as Salvia Sclarea, using grass and sage, and Sicilian Wood, with, well, it’s obvious.
Enough advice. Except maybe one bit more. Try to enjoy buying presents, rather than seeing it as a chore. The intention of a gift begins with the purchase. If it’s enjoyed when being bought, it’s more likely to be enjoyed when it’s received. And if anyone is scouring this for gift clues for me, don’t – anything I’ve mentioned that I want, I already have.
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