'Tis the season for shopping overload.
Holiday buying can send even the most seasoned pro fleeing to her happy place, let alone someone with just a vague notion of what makes a good gift.
Fear not. Gift guides are everywhere. We've asked some of the people who put them together to share a few of their It Gifts for travel and the home, kids and favored fashionistas.
Think well-packaged beauty treats, versatile apparel and sporty accessories, said Avril Graham, the magazine's executive fashion and beauty editor.
That means a Rouge d'Armani lip set of two neutrals and a seasonal red packaged in a soft case the color of gunmetal.
Or Dior's ode to an evening clutch, the Miniaudiere. It's a small houndstooth leather hard shell with gold accents and a little secret inside: a large mirror, three shades for the eyes and two for the lips. "It's very chic, very 'Mad Men,'" Graham said.
Scents are difficult to gift because they're truly in the nose of the beholder and smell different on different people. Unless you already know of a favorite, try Eau des Merveilles by Hermes for a spritz with notes of oak and amber in a wobbly, rotund bottle. "It has a wonderful lightness," she said. "It's not in your face."
In women's apparel, go for versatility with a less bulky update of the puffer coat from Preta LoBue. It's car coat length, has gold colored zips on slit pockets and a high wind collar. "We don't need to add bulk around the body and it comes for three weather zones. Anybody can wear it," Graham said.
For a little funk, she picked a fluffy shag lamb's hair scarf that's lined and can be worn with everything from jeans to a dinner-out dress. It's from the Trilogy collection by Michael McCollom. Graham likes the cream.
Michael Kors' chunky rose golden chronograph watches tickled Graham as good for men and women, especially women who don't wear a lot of jewelry but might like an all-the-time statement piece. "It has a real sporty feel. The trend is big watches."
Miriam Arond, director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, doesn't just pick toys to recommend.
This year, her engineers reviewed hundreds, and made sure they're safe by dropping them from high places, among other things. Then they hauled in dozens of kids from tots to teens for a massive, four-day play session. They have them fill out questionnaires and ask their parents, too.
"We got to see which ones they went back to," Arond said.
Among the institute's best toys of 2010, in the 2 to 5 age category, is Fisher-Price's Dance Star Mickey. He plays freeze dance and "Mickey Says," and he's got a variety of moves. This rodent's got some buzz for the holidays.
"Active toys are a very big trend," Arond said. "Parents are very concerned about their kids not getting off the couch. This isn't just Mickey. This is Mickey leading them in dances and games. The parents got moving along with the children when we tested it."
Another top pick from the institute's little experts is a new twist on Crayola Model Magic, a dough-like substance in a variety of colors that doesn't stick to hands, clothing or upholstery, she said. This year's popular set is Presto Dots. Good for kids 5 and up, the set includes dough, monster-making molds ready for decorating and small tools to dig out tiny pieces to create bumpy creatures.
"Another trend we're seeing is very inexpensive toys," Arond said. "Toy manufacturers are realizing that this is a very difficult time economically and they are catering to that. The Model Magic is artistic. It dries in an hour so children have these great little creatures to display."
Espionage is hot, Arond said. For the spy in need: Spy Gear Lie Detector Kit. Two fingers are placed in a sensor and a series of tiny red lights indicate truth or dishonesty through a read of skin-surface moisture. "Spy toys are very, very big," she said, "and part of the appeal is the technology now that allows that to happen."
How accurate is the lie detector? "It's not always accurate but it's still fun. Children's don't seem terribly concerned if it isn't."
EVERY DAY WITH RACHAEL RAY
The choices of Liz Vaccariello, the magazine's new editor in chief, are whimsical, practical and nicely designed.
Nutcrackers make great winter gifts but admirers likely have a battalion of soldiers at the ready. Give a bushy tailed squirrel of a cracker instead from West Elm. It's cast aluminum and has lots of playful detail. Lift the tail to close the mouth around a nut. It doesn't take up much space.
"This baby you can keep out all year round," she said. "The squirrel is a nice modern touch."
Pancakes are yum, but pancake making with kids can be nerveracking. They're close to the heat. They're pouring freehand. Oh, the drips.
Vaccariello suggests the Pancake Pen from Tovolo. It's a contoured squeeze bottle with a nice grip and a colored silicone nozzle that can take some heat if it touches the griddle. Mix the batter in the three-cup bottle to draw shapes and letters easily.
"There is no better gift for somebody who loves flapjacks," Vaccariello said. "You can make any decoration that you want. Cleanup is super, super easy. It's one-stop shopping for pancake lovers."
For cookie bakers who think they have every cutter imaginable — and might also be trying to draw their sons into the kitchen: Ninjabread Men from Fred & Friends. Three kicking warriors ready for swords, nunchakus and throwing stars made of icing.
"These are super fun as a way to liven up the cookie-making experience," she said.
Eugenia Santiesteban Soto, the luxury home and travel magazine's senior style editor, said timeless beauty and luxury touches like monogramming and hand stitching can turn an otherwise average gift into something lasting and special.
On Soto's list for travel gifts are Loro Piana's golden garza cashmere shawls in heathered grays and royal blue. They're light as feathers and soft, soft, soft.
"People want a return to the jet set age, the time when travel was glamorous," she said. "This can last a lifetime. It can be an heirloom."
Shoes off in airport security lines is our new reality. Clip Tory Burch's wool travel socks in a pouch to a bag and whip them on when the time is right. In navy with the Burch T in orange on a no-skid sole.
For a frequent traveler, go high end in a small package from Smythson.com with personalized leather luggage tags that have two slots: for home and destination. Soto picked a textured brown and a bright pink in calfskin from the company's Magenta collection. The tags have gold accents and come in a tissue-lined Nile blue gift box with grosgrain ribbon.
"Smythson is a really high-end company and this is one of their smaller pieces," Soto said. "They're a little luxury."
For home gifts, Soto suggests a set of eight hand-embroidered cocktail napkins in linen from Julia B. Buy an assortment or all one color. Monogramming is available.
"Customization is big right now. It really says a lot when you go through the trouble of having something personalized," she said.
From Santa Maria Novella, Armenia Fragrance Papers are another small luxury on Soto's list. Popular in Europe, they're exactly as they have been since the 16th century. They quickly remove odors from a room and come in a gifty little red box the size of a pack of stick gum. Fold them accordion style on a glass or ceramic surface and light one end. Blow out the flame like incense. About 20 to a pack.
"It's something that people wouldn't normally buy for themselves but they're so happy to receive," Soto said.
A thought-out arrangement of flowers in a reusable vase makes a great hostess gift, Soto said. She picked an understated Victorian theme in burgundy roses, dusty lavender anemones, wildflowers and dried blackberries in a black ceramic vessel.
"It's a mix of the formal and the informal," she said. Go for elegant. Most florists can arrange with style to your price range.