ONE GIFT FITS ALL It's time to forget about the perfect gift and cut to the chase


It's almost too late for Christmas shopping. Too late, that is, to find that personal something that shows you put lots of thought and mileage into finding that one-of-a-kind gift. The organized types, who have it all wrapped up, are looking forward to a relaxed Christmas Eve with dear ones. Then there are the others.

Shops will be crowded today through tomorrow eve when most close around 6 p.m. to start the holiday. The last-ditch shopping crowd breaks down to two types, according to Tom Saquella, spokesman of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association. There are Cruisers, he says, who are looking to pick up the odd small bits and stocking stuffers. And there are Frantics, who are only now realizing their gift bags are empty even though their hearts are full of generosity. The Frantics are the ones most susceptible to overspending brought on by excess guilt.

With that type of shopper in mind, here are some strategies to keep gift panic at bay.

* Make a list. That's especially important for people with the shortest lists who are sure they will remember all and inevitably leave someone out.

* Forget size, gender and age for a moment and concentrate on items. What does everybody always need? What needs to be replaced? Once you focus on an item, matching it to the list becomes more manageable. How about umbrellas, which are forever getting lost? Something elegant with a vintage-look handle for her, a bright golf model for him, a goofy plastic number for the kids. While you're feeling thoughtful but guilty, pair a nice fashionable umbrella with a really cheap one as rainy day insurance.

Think gloves, another frequently misplaced clothing item. Something dressy for her, a durable stretch model for him, snow mittens for youngsters.

Think scarves, which slip out and away all too often. Something fuzzy and warm will be remembered in the months ahead. They can be of the luxury cashmere variety for adults, machine-washable mufflers for the young folks.

How about hats? A beret looks --ing on everyone. An interesting brooch (if there's time) could be pinned on as an added attraction. While you're in the hat mode, consider boxing them in the good-looking round hatboxes which are available in accessories stores and closet shops. All it needs is a bow, although it would take some maneuvering to cart them home.

Think small and portable. A key-ring-size Swiss army knife with ,, scissors, knife, file, tweezers and toothpick suits all. They come in classic red, always-fashionable black and pastels. Hit the stationery counter for daily calendar planners, which can be inserted into pretty print covers or tailored leather.

* Map your route and narrow it down. Too late to cover the mall miles. Pick a store and do it all there. The truly late and lazy would do well to have the shop wrap it, too. Specialty stores and boutiques offer this free service, as do some department stores. Some of the malls have set up free gift wrap, others have volunteers who wrap for a donation and a good cause.

So gather the gifts, get yourself some self-indulgent chocolate and get in the gift-wrap line. Having the shopping out of the way will finally release all that pent-up cheer so you can chatter with the rest of the standees.

You can also learn from the retail pros. Nancy Chistolini, of Hecht's regional fashion office, suggests stripping down for action when you shop. "When you go into the stores, leave your sunglasses, gloves and heavy coat in the car," she says. "Don't carry a big bag, just a fanny pack or small shoulder wallet to leave hands free." Along those lines, she suggests a wallet on a string as a good gift item. These are compact bags to hold cash and credit cards and can be carried under a jacket or coat.

Joyce Baker, the personal service shopper at Owings Mills Mall, suggests targeting specialty stores. "Sport shops can handle all ages and sizes, as can outdoor-oriented shops which stock socks, sweaters, underwear and gear," she says. She also recommends gift certificates wrapped along with a small treat.

Chi Chi Labarraque, regional fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, suggests giving something that gives back, such as the pink brilliant Breast Cancer Awareness pin, which helps support cancer research.

Diane Lewis, marketing director at Towson Town Center, suggests a walk through the specialty shopping carts, which are seen only seasonally. They offer interesting accessories, T-shirts and custom items.

Ellen Horton, of the JCPenney stores, repeats the one-gift-fits-all approach. She suggests choosing a "signature" gift that reflects your own style and buying in multiples. It could be something as compact as an interesting pen, as long as it is accompanied with a warm note in your own hand.

% Cheers and good luck!


Photo by Michael Lutzky/Staff

Styling by Suzin Boddiford

Santa photographed at Towson Town Center. Gifts from Nordstrom

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