We’re back for another year of expert gifting advice! Whether you’ve put off holiday shopping until it actually feels appropriate to think about Christmas and Hanukkah or you’re just looking for an excuse to keep entertaining yourself with online shopping, we’ve got a round-up of tested and reviewed products for every person in your life.
We all have faults — my chief one being my inability to use my left hand for anything that requires fine motor skills. Sadly, that means at-home manicures are always an uphill battle. That’s why I was particularly excited to try out Olive & June’s holiday manicure set, which comes with a bounty of tools to create the ideal mani.
I was initially drawn into Olive & June by their cuticle serum, which comes in a nifty pen with a fuzzy tip for easy application. Upon opening my holiday kit, I was thrilled to discover that pretty much all of the tools in there were as brilliantly designed. It’s the kind of present that makes you say, “Ooh, this is so smart!” as you look at it. The nail clippers, file and buffer are pretty standard, but the beauty of the brand really comes through in the “poppy” tool and the nail polish remover. The poppy is a rubbery handle that attaches to the top of any of the Olive & June polishes, which makes it SO much easier to paint with your non-dominant hand.
As a long-time fan of the cuticle serum stick, I thought it would remain my favorite part of the kit, but I was actually the most impressed by the nail polish remover and brush. As it turns out, it is (by my best estimation) about 13 times easier to remove nail polish around the edge of your nails with a tiny paintbrush than it is to apply polish in the first place. The best part is that the bottle of remover has a little foam thing in it to dose out just the right amount onto your brush. I can’t imagine doing my nails without this kit again.
Sadly, I have yet to put one of these beautiful Toast puffers on my body, but I knew from the moment I saw them that I needed one. From a British brand started by two sisters who focus on faux-fur and general sustainability initiatives, there’s nothing not to love about these poofy guys. Imagine the warm hugs you could give!
Perhaps you’re the kind of gifter that doesn’t like to take risks — you want to be sure that when the recipient unwraps the box, they are smiling and thanking you with genuine delight. If that’s your speed, you’re probably looking for something classic: jewelry.
The sparkly stuff can be tricky, especially if you’re buying for someone with particular tastes. I once had a dance teacher who told me that she only asks her husband to wrap up money on holidays so that she can pick out her own clothes and jewelry. As a woman, I get it — there are too many options, and it can be hard for a gift giver to strike the right balance of expensive and appropriate (not to mention tasteful).
So here’s a lead: Curio. Pros: Stylish. Trendy and adorable. Modern. Youthful. And — I’m not kidding — affordable. The company uses real diamonds, but the smaller and unique cuts bring prices down to under $60. The pieces combine the best of fashion jewelry (simple, geometric designs and flirty vibes) and high-end jewelry (real stones and lasting quality).
My personal favorite is the Shine On You star earrings, which are paved with teeny diamonds for extra sparkle. Besides earning me tons of compliments so far, they add a little bit of glamorous witchy energy to my overall look (like I might cast a spell on you at any second). They’ve already become part of my daily routine, and I love that they are casual enough to wear any (read: every) day yet elevated enough to don on a night out.
The last time I saw my hairstylist, he said something that I think many of us would agree with: clean hair is the worst. It took me much too long to discover this for myself, maybe because it’s unintuitive — especially for someone who tends to get greasy hair after skipping one wash. But in case you haven’t found this out for yourself, think about it from the perspective of styling potential. Dirty hair holds shape and volume much better, and who doesn’t love designer bedhead?
But since my hair really needs to be washed to avoid getting stringy, I have to give it some attention. Enter: Bathpack. I’ve always been a fan of dry shampoo, but Bathpack was my first introduction to dry conditioner. As I’d hoped, they are a magical duo. I tend to be a hair treatment minimalist, so having a quick spray, brush and/or blow dry feels like an easy way to get gorgeous hair (and without actually washing it!). The best part: my hair feels clean, even if I haven’t washed it.
Although the Bathpack dry shampoo/conditioner isn’t as perfumey as some other brands, it does seem a bit hardier. It made my hair soft and bouncy rather than crunchy, and it did make a noticeable difference in making it feel cleaner. And although my hair can get by with relatively little maintenance, Bathpack has a whole line of goods (including beard oil!) that cover a range of hair types and needs.
Ok, setting aside for a moment that this is a sustainable, natural and vegan brand, Sea Witch Botanicals had me at its name. Absolutely I want to be a Sea Witch! Who doesn’t? But it gets even better (and witchier) for the holidays with Krampus incense and solid perfume. Please show me a better name. I’ll wait.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let me tell you about some real reasons to try this brand. Besides being B Corporation certified, vegan and Toward Zero Waste certified, Sea Witch donates at least 1% of its annual revenue to environmental nonprofits through 1% for the Planet. According to the brand, the duty of Sea Witches is to protect and preserve clean waterways.
But even if you’re not moved by the “good for the planet” argument, if you like natural beauty products and/or incense, Sea Witch has your number. In the past, I’ve been disappointed by naturally-focused brands that can’t seem to capture strong scents or flavors — this is not a problem for Sea Witch. Just the act of opening the box refreshed my entire living room. As a chapstick addict, I was immediately drawn to the vegan lip balms, which are everything I hoped. The Mint to Be balm is especially relaxing and pleasantly long-lasting. In the incense department, I am (obviously) partial to Krampus, which I have been burning pretty much non-stop for two days now, but my non-holiday favorite is the literary Quoth the Raven, which is more of a general fall (orange, cloves, cinnamon) smell.
You’re probably thinking: doesn’t everyone already have Adidas shoes? Maybe, but they probably don’t have Adidas sunglasses! The brand dropped its eyewear line earlier this season at Nordstrom with a variety of styles for all sporty wearers.
I suppose it would hard to make an uncool pair of sunnies, but the pair I have feel exceptionally stylish. They have a classic, rounded-square shape that looks nice on my face (if I do say so myself), and the material feels durable. I also like that most of the available pairs feel gender-neutral or gender-fluid and could look good on just about anybody. The whole line is balanced on the edge of sporty and luxury (as Adidas usually is).
It’s a good thing that it’s winter, because I would hate to lose these in a big wave at the beach. These will probably be my out-on-the-town glasses.
Mankind Unlimited by Kenneth Cole
Maybe it’s just me, but the holidays seem to be largely about smells. I mean, chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Gingerbread. Peppermint. Candles. I could go on. But with all the smells of the holiday season are also the smells of the people you are with and — sometimes, and especially this year — the people you are missing.
With scents on the brain, I’ll introduce you to Mankind Unlimited, an earthy, masculine scent from Kenneth Cole. This cologne blends juniper and amber to create a fresh, inviting aroma. I would recommend it for a young man looking for a signature scent that conveys smooth charm and ambition. And on that note, let me also bring up —
Terra Extreme by Vince Camuto
—the second half of this fragrance push, Vince Camuto’s Terra Extreme. Think: Danny Zuko in the opening beach scene of “Grease.” It’s a vanilla and aged brown rum-based scent that somehow makes you think of both wood-panelled smoking rooms and tropical getaways. I would recommend it for a slightly more mature man who has established himself but is still keeping things fresh.
Either way, cologne is the kind of present that conveys both a sense of longing and the joy of being together, so it’s the perfect romantic gift for a deserving man.
Keep ‘Em High
I have to admit that I’m sort of a novice when it comes to CBD products, but given their rising popularity, I thought it was about time to give them a try. With my limited knowledge, it seemed like The Gold Spectrum was a good place to start.
The first thing that made me smile about this brand is its packaging — the athlete cream that I tried comes in a little black box, which opens to reveal the sexy, nude torso of a man on the inside (presumably, the athlete). It took me back to my teenage years of swooning over Abercrombie bags, and it certainly worked as an effective marketing strategy, as I immediately wanted to show everyone I knew.
The athlete cream itself has 1,500 mg of CBD isolate, which the brand claims is one of the highest available on the market. It turned out to be pretty calming, and when I lent a bit to my boyfriend to use on a knee sprain, he said it felt quite nice. All in all, this brand has lodged itself favorably in my friend group for its personality and soothing effects, and I would definitely go back for a bath bomb or two.
For the farm-to-table bunch, your CBD mate might be Kannaco, an organic and vegan brand produced by a self-proclaimed “farm kid.” What I first liked about the brand was the option to get a bundle box so that I could try an assortment of products (since, as you may remember, I’m a bit of a novice).
My bundle came with the Aches & Pain cream (2,000 mg), Chillato oil (2,000 mg) and the Snooze sleep aid soft gels (33 mg per gel). I was most excited to try Snooze, and it did not disappoint. With the disclaimer that I have generally reliable sleeping patterns, I was zonked during the night I tried it. I think they would be ideal for someone who might have trouble falling asleep due to anxiety, because they are extremely relaxing. The Chillato oil is also soothing, and while I have not had an ache to try the cream on, I suspect that it would be a big hit with my dad, who often gets aches after running.
The last perk worth noting about this brand is its customer service, which is especially important during the holiday season. My box came with a thoughtful hand-written note, and Kannaco’s general reviews confirm that most customers have had excellent experiences. Plus, who would say no to free shipping?
Let me start with the fact that I liked this coffee from the instant I opened the box and smelled it — oh. my.
I’m usually attracted to brands that make an effort to have environmentally sustainable practices, so I’m happy to say that this eco-conscious brand is also delicious. Holistic Roasters, which produces the coffee, promises not to spray its plants with any pesticides or chemical fertilizers (a.k.a., it’s truly organic). The company also sources from family-run farms and cooperatives to ensure ethical labor practices.
What about the packaging, you might ask? It’s 100% compostable. Demeter USA, a biodynamic certification organization, has recognized the entire sourcing, shipping, warehousing and roasting process as truly biodynamic, meaning that the process is as natural as possible: self-sustaining and cyclical.
The company says that all of these considerations — soil microbiology, regenerative practices — are what makes the coffee so delicious. I don’t know about you, but it certainly makes me feel better about enjoying each sip.
I don’t think I’m abnormal in saying that breakfast is sometimes a trial of a meal; it’s hard to make something that sounds good and keeps you full until your next meal. For that reason, I’ve always been an advocate of a smoothie snack with breakfast, especially if it’s summer and you can sip it along your commute (you know, way back in summer 2019).
But now that many of us don’t have a commute, it’s time to get with the instant smoothie program (so that you can keep waking up at 8:50 a.m. for your 9:00 a.m. meeting). Evive anticipated this need exactly; all you have to do it put the little triangles in a shakeable bottle with milk (or whatever liquid you want, I guess) and let them melt and mix together.
My box came with that handy shakeable bottle (which my boyfriend loves, as a person who frequently takes smoothies on the go) and a little booklet with milk recommendations for each flavor. My personal favorites are the Asana (a berry blend) and the Touk-Touk (pineapple coconut), though I was surprised to discover how many healthy hidden ingredients each one has (kale, spirulina, cauliflower, beets). My only note to gifters would be to time it right, as the smoothie triangles need to be refrigerated to keep.
Alright, alright, I’m getting to the alcohol part now. I know that many people are gifting subscription box sets this year, but many of those are targeted at women. And while there are some good men’s boxes out there, some people just want to work within one category — namely, spirits.
So here it is: Spirits Network. The holiday gift box comes with four 750 ml bottles (curated for the recipient) and access to the streaming platform, where members can shop for their favorite drinks while they watch. Like many subscription communities, Spirits Network has … well, a network of spirits, as the name would imply. Customers can engage with its online programming and check out what’s in stock.