Hostess Gifts to Avoid

giving a gift
giving a gift. Creativeeye99 / E+ / Getty Images

Holiday parties are one of the best parts of the season; however, scrambling for hostess gifts at the last minute can take the joy out of giving and lead to thoughtless or--even worse--offensive gifts.  I asked Donna Garlough, Style Director at Joss & Main and the blogger behind Self Styled, for her advice on how to avoid gift-giving gaffes. Here's what she had to say: 

The key is to focus on items that make life easier or more enjoyable for your hostess: Something he or she can share with the party guests, or a little something they’ll be sure to enjoy after everyone leaves. A gift should never put unnecessary stress or extra work on the hostess, such as a dessert that needs to be assembled or flowers that need to be arranged—they already have enough to do on the day of the party. 

With this advice in mind, here is a list of what not to bring to a gathering:

  • Food gifts.  Food gifts--unless you know the hosts really well--aren't the best idea, especially if they contain common allergens such as nuts, or if there's a diabetic in the family.  In addition, don't show up with something you intend the hosts to serve that evening.  Your hummus plate might not go very well, for instance, with a carefully-planned Italian meal.
  • Flowers.  Unless they're already in a vase, fresh stems inconvenience your host to stop what he or she is doing to trim the ends and put them in water. 
  • Houseplants.  Unless you happen to know that your host has a green thumb, giving a live plant is probably not a great idea, either.
  • Strongly-scented candles or soaps. Some people are highly-sensitive to certain scents; however, if you really want to give a candle, stick to an unscented one that comes in a pretty, decorative holder instead.
  • Religious gifts.  If you happen to know your hosts' religious affiliations, then you can ignore this rule of thumb; but, otherwise, giving a religious gift is risky.
  • Gift cards.  They might be OK for tweens or your hard-to-buy-for brother-in-law, but gift cards are a pretty impersonal choice for your host.
  • Re-gifted items.  Garlough says, "An item that’s clearly been re-gifted is worse than no gift at all."  A bottle of wine--although unoriginal--is a better option than something you grabbed from your own closet on the way out the door.
  • Nothing.  Something is almost always better than nothing.  Arriving empty-handed is just plain tacky.

On the flip side, here are some great gift ideas for your hosts, and some rules of thumb to follow when shopping for hostess gifts to give this holiday season.  Give:

  • Something useful. Garlough says, "I love coasters—a home can never have too many! It’s great to keep a set in the living room, the office, and even the bedroom—you can set a water carafe on the nightstand without leaving a ring on the furniture." Trays, hand towels, or a set of placecard holders are other practical but pretty gift ideas.
  • Something monogrammed. Soaps, cocktail napkins, or hand towels that have been personalized will show your hosts you had them in mind when selecting the gift.
  • Something handmade or thoughtfully-wrapped.  Gifts that clearly took time and effort will make your hosts feel special.
  • Something turn-key. "Think of things that go together and make it easy for your host to enjoy what you’ve given," says Garlough.  Fill a decorative bowl with clementines, for example, or wrap a set of pretty dish towels with some fancy dish soap.