From top left, clockwise: YSL scarf, "Hermes Boxes" painting by Libby Black, Céline Cabo tote, Chuck Taylors, Scott Schuman for The Sartorialist, Tommy Ton for Jak and Jil, Kenzo, Le Labo

I don't celebrate Christmas, and gifting during this holidays is not really one of my traditions, but when I was in Bangkok last week, I saw some cute, inexpensive stocking fillers that I thought would cheer my friends up, so I got them.

That, plus all the holiday gift guides that keep popping up at this time of the year, got me thinking about what I would give if I were seriously giving out presents this year (or actually, any present). There's supporting a charity or cause, although I wouldn't push this on anyone; it's more something I would ask for myself.

But this is a style blog, so in keeping with the theme, I think I'd ideally give out those sartorial elements that turn your look around. I'm not talking about the amazing indulgent special items (which are really great gifts too), but I think it's fun to think about the simple transformative things that pull your wardrobe together, and something you can wear often.

Buying clothes is tricky because taste is so subjective, but I think for the people you know well and love, it's worth the extra effort.

1) Classic Converse
This would seem like a good gift for only certain people, but it's a fact that everyone - man, woman, boy, girl - can do with a pair of Chucks. It's transformative; it's the perfect sneaker for non-sneaker wearers - it's a universally-flattering object that lets everyone channel their playful, scruffy selves even when they're not. It's also practical for the occasions where you need to gently rough it out, and there's a colour for everyone. Even Missoni ones for The-One-Who-Has-Everything. My older sister, an unlikely sneaker candidate, is a convert. It's also an iconic item, and utterly timeless, a really good piece of design.

2) A really good day bag
Not a very imaginative suggestion, I suppose. But I believe in the transformative power of a really luxurious bag, especially if it's one that can be used every day. The details of a well-made bag (just enough pockets, quality linings, hardware and finishes, excellent materials and workmanship) in the right style can set the tone for a look. And once you use a really awesome handbag, you'll never waste hard-earned money on an inferior item again. In fact, you may never need to shop for a day bag again. I used to dream about having a whole library of bags, but after I bought a couple of my dream day bags I realised I was very content using them.

Every other bag that comes after the first good bag is a luxury - the first good bag is an essential that changes the game.

3) A luxurious scarf (that also works a wrap)
Scarves add instant elegance and grace - the way they drape over your shoulders and frame your face. In a cold place, they're a necessity. In a warm country like mine, they're awesome for the freezing air-conditioning and a more lightweight option to tote around than a jacket or cardigan. They're perfect travel companions, and add instant flair. Get a versatile neutral one in the softest warmest fabric you can find, or make it something dramatic like a leopard print, or something in a unique fabric or print. If you or the recipient isn't against fur, a little fur scarf is wonderful too. Anything in between is too half-assed to be a fabulous gift.

4) Anything from Hermes
One of the few big luxury houses that still has any real prestige for me. I think anything that comes in that distinctive orange box is a pleasure to receive, and beyond the bags, the house is full of those charming items that add a distinct, luxurious touch to an outfit: the enamel cuffs and leather jewellery, the belts, silk twill scarves, the unbelievably exquisitely made wallets you'd be proud to carry as a clutch (especially when they cost as much as a designer bag from somewhere else!).

5) Mindblowing perfume
I don't wear perfume, and I don't own any perfume, but I was moved to change my position after my introduction to the wonderful world of Jo Malone. Since then, I've checked out Creed, Serge Lutens and Annick Goutal, and I was delighted to find a shop here that sold Fragonard. The right perfume is transporting and truly stirring to the senses and although I haven't been pushed to buy one, I imagine a unique scent must be the perfect sensual touch to put that extra spring in one's step. Mass brand perfumes can be wonderful too (I actually rather like L'Occitane's green tea perfume) but for a gift, it's more interesting to give something that it's little less-known and more unexpected. Did I mention Jo Malone's packaging is to die for? Packaging is half the fun in a gift.

6) A book about style
I didn't think much of them but I now know better. The good ones are indeed helpful in addressing the sort of question that crosses every woman's mind. I wouldn't have minded receiving one when I was younger; it would have encouraged me to think about how I dress a little more carefully, although style mistakes are likely to remain inevitable. I like "I Love Your Style" by Amanda Brooks and Nina Garcia's "Nina Garcia's Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion" and "The One Hundred".

It's also a way of encouraging prudent shopping - a guide on what to spend your money one and what not to waste time with - and that's something everyone could do with more of. A well-written, relevant vintage one is even better.

7) A fashion coffee table book (I really like giving books)
Nothing is more educational than one of these, whether it's Paolo Roversi's "Studio", any one of Irving Penn's, "Take Ivy", or my personal favourite recent release, "Kenzo". They're a pleasure to read and illuminating about the world of design and fashion. I also like The Sartorialist because of its ease for flipping through and it's an affordable option that doesn't intimidate. An issue of a really fancy magazine like Visionaire also works.

Visual inspiration helped to shape my sense of style and aesthetic preferences; I like to think that finding someone the right book will be a source of influence and inspiration too.

8) The stand-up-straight piece
It can be a coat, a dress, a lush silk blouse, the perfect shirt, shoes - basically it's that luxe but super wearable item of clothing that you know will fit into the person's wardrobe and he or she will walk taller in.

This is probably easier if you know the person and her/his closet very well, so you know what's missing and would fit right in. I gave a good friend a vintage denim shirt from Levi's and he's worn it very often since almost like a signature piece, in all kinds of ways that always seems just right. He's the one wearing it well but I shamelessly take credit for picking it out in the first place. Another friend got a pair of Sperry's from his girlfriend and discovered his inner preppie, and his look has changed subtly since. The Sartorialist talks about cardigans for men here, which sounds like a great idea as well.

9) For people who live somewhere colder or travel frequently: a trench coat
I gave my older sister a classic beige trenchcoat for her birthday when she moved to Taiwan (which has mild winters) and she's been raving about it since. She's moved back, but the trench is indispensible for her travels to cooler climates and it's frequently loaned out to friends taking a trip. It's practical and yet glamorous and it's a fantastic piece that just pulls a look together, whatever your personal style might be. Go to Burberry's Art of the Trench site if you need further convincing.

A variation on this for people who live in warmer climates like me but frequently deal with freezing air-conditioning (again me) is a dramatic cardigan - something long, fitted, beltable, perhaps with a distinct draped collar for added flair, in a neutral colour. I prefer them without a gathered hem, they should hang straight down like a jacket or coat.

Silk cashmere is the best for our weather - soft but lightweight and not too stifling; while a hefty cable knit is possible if it's heavy cotton rather than cashmere or wool.

10) A belt
At the very least, a belt is utilitarian, but I really love how it can set the tone for an outfit. Since it's a gift, make it the most luxe material you can buy. My best buy all year was a taupe leather belt that somehow is the perfect accent for every outfit, no matter the colour. A belt worn on the waist can cinch in a dress and make it look instantly smart; around the hips it the dress becomes laidback chic. On a pair of trousers it's a touch of polish and sometimes a great colour accent. A thick or corset-like belt is a statement. I'm in love with Prada's skinny bow belt in black patent - I'm sure there's an affordable version somewhere.

Pictures from net-a-porter, the sartorialist, libby black, jak and jil,, le labo


Aïssa said…
Great list! I'd love a great bag...hint, hint!!
Fashion Tidbits said…
such an awesome list. i love "anything from hermes" lol. it's making me giggle already. i don't think anyone around me (or i for that matter) can afford that
Pret a Porter P said…
I don't celebrate Christmas either, so we don't do that whole gift exchanging thing. But this is a very well written and thought out gift guide.
Unknown said…
Ammu said…
Fabulous list! I totally agree about the handbag. I bought my first lux handbag - a taupe matte leather piece from Belen Echandia - in a sample sale a while back, and it's made a world of difference to my style. I love the way in which a beautiful leather bag combines utility and luxury.
yanqin said…
Aissa: You already have lovely bags! :)

Fashion Tidbits: Thanks...I love the Hermes orange the way some girls love the Tiffany blue I suppose.

Pret a Porter P: Thanks, it did take me a few days to really think through what would go on the list.

If Jane: Thanks!

Ammu: Yep, the first good bag changes it all...though I wouldn't say no to more!
Stacy said…
No Christmas here either. I do prefer Jerry Seinfeld's 'Festivus for the Restivus' analogy.

I love the idea of giving belts. Every time I hit a thrift store I scrounge through the belts looking for snakeskin. My collection is up to about twenty now.
yanqin said…
Stacy: I find myself looking more and more at belts lately myself, although I think of them as basics rather than embellishment.
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