From Sun Magazine: Cracking the Christmas code with the perfect gifts

Personal shopper Stephanie Bradshaw crafts the perfect holiday gift guide for picky family members.

Purchasing the perfect holiday gift can be tricky. And when you have a picky recipient, gift-giving is downright stressful.

Enter personal shopper Stephanie Bradshaw.

"Gifts are suppose to be something that they wouldn't get for themselves," she says. "Instead of thinking about getting them the utilitarian things, it is nice to think of the indulgence of it. For us the challenge and the thrill of it is to chose something that they wouldn't chose for themselves. It's suppose to be a treat."Bradshaw advises that you study your recipient before making a purchase.

"You have to try to find subjects that resonate with them," Bradshaw says. "You should know what they do for a living and what they do in their free time. Find out where their priorities lie. Once you know their priorities, you'll know their lifestyle. And then you'll know what things would be great gifts."

This holiday gift guide will give you options for each member of the family. Whether it be for the mother with an eye for high-end designer clothing; the father who loves books and politics — but dislikes others choosing gifts for him; the stylish teenage daughter who values her independence; and the fourth-grade son who loves video games, especially Lego Universe, which he already owns.

Whatever gift you choose this holiday season, don't overlook the packaging or the back story, according to Bradshaw.

"Half of the fun is wrapping the gift in an artful way," she says. "For me, the gift doesn't have to be a thousand dollars. I would rather have a $20 gift that is thoughtful and looks like you took some time picking it out."

Maria Harris Tildon, 46, Mount Washington

As Senior VP for public policy and community affairs at CareFirst, Maria Harris Tildon is accustomed to being in the public eye. As a result, she developed a taste for fine clothing. A fan of the arts, Harris Tildon also sits on the board of the Hippodrome. Bradshaw also learned that Harris Tildon loves to entertain.

1. Tory Burch "Eliza Low-Heel Pump in Fig Plum" found at Sassanova Baltimore ($275) — Timeless, elegant pieces never go out of style and are a perfect gift. It's perfect for someone with a high-power job whose sense of style is conservative a little funky.

2. Personalized Lucite tray for entertaining ($69.95) — If you like to entertain, you can never have enough serving trays. When you're unsure of a person's home decor, purchase Lucite, which is chic and modern and goes with everything, according to Bradshaw.

3. Tickets to the Kennedy Center, showing "La Cage aux Folles" (winner of three Tony Awards), playing Jan. 17-Feb 12, 2012 ($65-$130) — You can't go wrong with a proven winner. Bradshaw decided for a change of scenery and chose the Kennedy Center because Harris Tildon is a Hippodrome regular.

4. Gift certificate to custom clothier (and director of the Maryland Academy of Couture Arts) Ella Moda Couture. Custom pieces are perfect for the woman whose closet is filled with designer frocks. If she shops and Neiman and Saks, then she has the money for a custom clothier, Bradshaw said.

5. Chic workout clothes from Under Armour: "Sweater Jacket" ($90) "Women's UA Pants" ($80)

Who doesn't want to look their best, even during a workout? "It's hip. I love the neck line and the fit. And you can never have enough pairs of nice yoga pants," Bradshaw said.

Jon Parks, 43, Reisterstown

The executive vice president at Horich Parks Lebow Advertising loves books — everything from science fiction to political biographies, travel, photography, politics and sports. He dislikes arrogant people and people who choose gifts for him. He said he enjoys the process of selecting an item to purchase.

1. Subscription to the National Review ($29.50 at — When one of your passions involves politics, that can be tricky to capture. Sure, you could purchase the latest political biography, but chances are your political buff has it. A subscription to a respected publication like the National Review would likely please the most discerning political junkie.

2. Wide-angle lens for a Nikon D70 (varies in price) — Most fathers have some gadgets. Find out their favorite, and purchase an accessory that takes it to the next level.

3. Cashmere sweater from J.S. Edwards ($250-$395) — It's a go-to garment. Parks said he's been trying to amass nicer things. You can't go wrong with cashmere.

4. Overnight stay at the new Four Seasons Hotel and dinner at Wit & Wisdom, a tavern by Michael Mina (restaurant at the hotel) (rooms start at about $400 a night) — Who couldn't use a night away from the kids? Parks and his wife religiously have date night every Saturday. Why not spend it in the city's newest hotel and restaurant?

5. Concert tickets to see Brian Adams in January 2012 at the Music Center at Strathmore (available tickets range from $179 to $217 each) — Chances are your father has a favorite performer of type of music. Parks recently saw Bob Segar perform. Bradshaw thought that Adams would be another good music-going experience.

Cinneah El-Amin, 17, Baltimore

A self admitted fashionista, Cinneah El-Amin values her individuality. The high school senior is intent on college. Like most teens, Cinneah is focused on her independence and her identity. Bradshaw decided to focus in on the 17-year-old's sense of style to create the perfect gift list.

1. Leather jacket from Zara ($249) — A sleek statement piece is perfect for a teen. "She described her style as edgy, urban, glam," Bradshaw said. "She said she liked leather. The price point was also good."

2. Nora calf hair ballet flats from J.Crew ($250) — A practical, stylish piece is perfect for an on-the-go teen. When Cinneah told Bradshaw about her love of leopard print, Bradshaw knew this would be a winner. "These shoes would make sense when she's running to class next year at college," she said. "They are very cute."

3. "Chic Prints" for nails found at Sephora ($15) — Teenage girls love to decorate their nails. From the holiday-friendly glitter to the leopard print, the nails are perfect for Cinneah, according to Bradshaw.

4. Monogrammed luggage ($149.50) — Perfect for the college-bound senior. The bag's color scheme includes Cinneah's favorite color and has a chic design, according to Bradshaw.

5. SONY digital camera ($102) — Teens love technology and social media. The college-bound senior is a Facebook and Twitter addict. "She is going to want to capture those college moments," Bradshaw said. "And her favorite color is pink. It was the perfect choice."

David Kim, 9, Ellicott City

Like most 9-year-old boys, David Kim loves video games and playing outside with his friends. The problem is that he already owns his favorite video game, Lego Universe. Bradshaw decided to dig a little deeper and home in on the youngster's specific likes.

1. Snowboarding lessons at Ski Liberty (lessons range from $39 to $87 per day) — Perfect for kids who love the outdoors. Bradshaw wanted to give David a gift that was more about the experience. She also wanted a gift that would be season-appropriate.

2. Lego Kit Subscription ($69.99) — Legos are a timeless toy that throngs of kids love. Bradshaw chose this kit for David because it offers four sets for him to use. "I think he would go crazy for that," Bradshaw said.

3. Nintendo 3Ds, Aqua Blue ($169.99 for the system; $30.16 for the video game)

— The perfect gift for a gamer. Bradshaw said that this is one of the best-rated gifts of the season.

4. Monopoly Mega ($39.99) — The timeless game never goes out of style. Monopoly is David's favorite game. It was a natural choice for Bradshaw.

5. Collection of cool "books for boys," including "The Boy's Book of Spycraft," "For Boys Only" and "Big Boys Don't Spy." ($3 to $6 each) — Zero in on your subject's favorite genre. David told Bradshaw that he loved secret-agent books.