Hostess gifts, like fashion, have trends. Who knew?
Well, Steve Appel, co-owner of Nouveau Contemporary Goods, for one.
"People are getting away from wine charms and martini glasses," says Appel, who has two home accessories and gifts stores. "Things are a little lighter. We're selling more (fun items), more coffee table books, more great candles as hostess gifts."
The point is that if you're like a lot of people, you don't think beyond bringing a bottle of wine. Not that there's anything wrong with a bottle of wine (unless your host or hostess is a teetotaler), but there are more creative choices.
But don't get too creative. Host and hostess gifts are bound by certain rules of etiquette, which Lorraine Bodger, author of "1,500 Great Gift Ideas" (Andrews McMeel, 2003) sums up as "no lingerie, no massage oil." Nothing too personal, in other words.
Whether you're showing your appreciation for dinner or for a week's visit, the principle is the same. Gifts for the home or food and drink work best -- preferably something your host and hostess can enjoy.
Bodger likes seasonal gifts. She suggests a bouquet of fall flowers, a jar of gourmet apple butter, or a tree ornament to thank the hostess of a dinner party this time of year; a beautiful grapevine wreath, a welcome mat in fall colors, or a large basket of seasonal treats for a longer stay.
"A really great gift is all about being observant," she says, "figuring out what he or she would love to have."
No matter what you give, it should be wrapped -- even if just with a pretty bow. Wrapping makes the gift festive and a pleasure to receive. You can bring the present with you or send something after your visit.
Having a small gift for your hostess when you're invited to a party is thoughtful, but no longer an obligation, says etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, whose latest book is "New Manners for New Times" (Scribner, 2003). "People are less grateful than they used to be," she mourns. Weekend guests, however, must bring something. Her suggestions include games for the children, a pretty serving bowl, hand towels, books, and difficult-to-find gourmet goodies.
"And you still need to send a beautifully written note after your visit," she warns.
Baldrige likes sending her hostess gifts. If you have flowers delivered before or after a dinner party, you don't have to worry about inconveniencing the hostess, who may have to stop cooking dinner to find a vase. (Bodger likes to get flowers; she hands the guest a vase asks him or her to arrange them. "It keeps them out of the kitchen," she says.)
If you send a gift after a longer visit rather than bringing it with you, you'll also have the opportunity to find out what the house needs -- matching wine glasses, perhaps, or new placemats.
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