The Manly Gift Guide (For Men)
Updated: Oct 26
If you've ever had a man you've loved and tried to shop for, you know one thing: gift guides for men are bad.
I'm not sure WHY they're so uniquely bad, but I suspect it's because part of our weird binary gender construct in today's modern age where we tax women by creating an endless array of Dumb Shit We Don't Really Need But Somehow Do (I can't tell you why I need this vase that is slightly different from the other three vases I already own but aren't the exactly right vases for every scenario, but please don't question my process), while ritualistically denying men of the ability to experience creature comforts because they're wild beings of the woods and scrublands, or something. (Your soap can NEVER SMELL GOOD or like anything that isn't LEATHER and MUSK and TESTOSTERONE and your skin can NEVER BE MOISTURIZED, men!!! You just have to be itchy and stinky forever because anything else is a WOMAN thing, for WOMEN. Also, NO SUNSCREEN!!! Real men don't get melanoma.)
Anyway, this is a gift guide for men. Every type of man. "But what if the male person I'm shopping for is -" you may start, and I will go:
Really. I've done it. I've made the guide for every man. I'll expect my trophy in the mail come January.
Men - and I don't want to get too controversial here - are people. When thinking about what to get men, it's usually easier if you stop thinking about "what do MEN want/need" and start thinking about "what does this human person with these human hobbies and interests want/need". So like, don't google "what to buy MAN for the holidays/birthday" (it will always be horrible), google "what to buy a guitar player/snowboarder/wine enthusiast/gardener/gamer", which will give you much better answers than the generic "what gift works for all 3.5 billion male humans that exist right now on planet earth question mark question mark question mark???".
In my opinion, as I've stated many times before, the closest thing that exists to a universal gift is novelty socks. You can buy socks with anything on them, but my favorite places to start searching are Blue Q and Socksmith. Socksmith is more where you can find specific objects on socks (like these socks for indoor plant enthusiasts, or these socks for cryptid aficionados, or these socks for dudes who love The Golden Ratio, or these for dudes who believe the world is a dumpster on fire, or these for your significant otter - which also come in a smaller/women's version and kid's versions, if you're so inclined to make a matching family affair of it, or this and this which answer the question "what to get male in-law I drew for secret Santa if all I know about him is that he's a dentist????"). Blue Q is more where you find socks with actual messages on them, like ones for cool Grandpas (I would get these for my dad if he weren't dedicated to his plain white gym socks), cool cat dads, cool outdoorsy dudes, or cool indoorsy gamer dudes.
This, I should be clear, is only in the "men's" sock section, so named the "men's" section because they're designed for bigger feet than women's socks. If you're shopping for a more dainty-footed fellow, no shame in that! That actually leaves you with even more options, because the women's section (which is of course always bigger and more varied than the men's section) will also be your oyster.
Waterproof Boot Seal
"Julia, how is this better than telling me to get my dad a screwdriver kit?" you may be asking, but hear me out: men have boots. Women also have boots. It's not romantic, but once a year, if you live somewhere that gets soggy in the winter, you gotta seal those little leather babies up so they don't fall apart and your socks don't get wet. It's something that if you're lazy or have to go out and get the boot seal, you'll forget about. It's useful. It's helpful. It's especially helpful if the man you're shopping for is an outdoorsy type. I mean, for sure don't make this the only thing you get a dude, but it's a nice thing to add to another small gift to make a larger, more appropriately sized gift.
The brand my family has been using since dinosaurs roamed the earth is this stuff, which is universally considered the gold standard. What I like is that it's the same stuff people have been using for forever to seal boots and therefore is natural and well-proven to be effective - it's mostly beeswax, animal oils, and whatever "mineral spirits" are (I assume the entrapped souls of magnesium summoned by Enochian ritual). This stuff doesn't work on suede, though, so if your dude's got a lot of suede footwear, try something like this instead.
A Nice Wireless Speaker (If He Doesn't Already Have One) I don't know, I've always been perfectly fine with my computer and phone speakers or basic headphones, but I'm just not snobby, I guess? I tried a shower speaker but didn't like it (it's really hard to hear stuff over the sound of water without giving it that wah-wah Charlie Brown Adult quality), but my brother (who's impossible to shop for) happily adopted it. My dad just gifted himself this bad boy and absolutely loves it for listening to his sedate old man classical music all the time now while he does his crossword puzzle. My brother in law is always piping NPR through some wireless speaker contraption I can't link because I have no idea what it is. Dudes, or at least the dudes I know, seem to be into projecting their preferred sounds. Maybe not-men are too, but I've never actually talked about it with one because I, personally, don't care. If the dude you're shopping for is the kind of person who cares but hasn't made the plunge, perhaps this is the year to help him do so. A much, much better guide to navigating these troubled waters would be Wirecutter, who are, like, professionals who actually care about this stuff? I'm a big fan of them if you have a specific idea of a thing you need to get but need help deciding which version of the thing is the best version of the thing. Here are their guides to all different types of headphones and audio equipment in general.
A T-Shirt From The Local Shop You Both Like Some men aren't T-Shirt Guys (notably, my brother in law, who finds the crew neck too confining). Some guys are decidedly T-Shirt Guys (notably, my dad, who never met a t-shirt he didn't like and wouldn't wear).
If your guy is a t-shirt guy, chances are the local eatery or store you usually go to is struggling right now, and they often have really nicely designed t-shirts. Check in with your local bookstores, coffee shops, bagel places (I really like this one from our local bagel place), bakeries, take out restaurants, or museum gift shops. Another one I'm very fond of is the t-shirts at Pearl River Mart (which come in black and red, and I would have asked for for myself if only it came in yellow like this unbearably adorable onesie). Pearl River Mart is a small business institution in New York City's Chinatown, and where I'm ordering a bunch of my holiday gifts this year. It's the perfect online retail solution if you, like me, could spend a million hours and dollars in Chinatown at Generically Named Store That Sells Everything, often get your holiday presents there but can't this year, and miss doing that and then getting bubble tea at Generically Named Bubble Tea Place Next Door To Generically Named Everything Store more than you can say.
No matter what businesses the fellow you're shopping for likes to patronize, at least one of those places will have a t-shirt (or long sleeve shirt, or sweatshirt, or tank top, or tote bag, or -) that is the dude in question's personal aesthetic. And that place you used to spend a lot of time and money at in The Before Times would very much appreciate getting the business you'd normally be giving them but, for obvious reasons, can't right now.
A Drink Receptacle
Universal human activities include but are not limited to intake of liquids. The choice of liquid vessel is a thing that's very personal and situational, and I would never presume I knew enough to consider any single one the "best" at whatever job it's designed to do. If it feels ergonomically satisfying and doesn't leak, I consider a drink receptacle a success.
I do know that beer snobs will often like pint glasses from a favorite brewery (I don't drink, but I'm partial to, say, these from Sea Dog Brewing), and when I drink water at home some of my favorites mugs are the Starbucks You Are Here/Been There mugs. (I have other favorites, but they're either not on sale any more or, mostly, I got them at Generically Named And Sells Everything Store in Chinatown.) For a nice basic water bottle, I've never had an issue with my Camelbak, my dad recommends his Contigo travel mug, and I receive more compliments on my little penguin thermos than I receive on anything else I have ever owned. Buy a receptacle for the drinks he drinks, and he'll use it and appreciate it. Fill said receptacle with treats (we're getting there next) and he'll appreciate it even more.
I'm going to issue another Controversial Yet Brave statement: another thing all men have in common is that they eat. So like, if your dude has a sweet tooth, get him some good fancy chocolates. Or that special hot/Tabasco sauce he puts on everything. (One of the few things I, a person whose maximum spice tolerance is "mild salsa/oops, I sprinkled in too much pepper", can't recommend good brands of.) Home chefs love some good spices (and dry rubs and barbecue sauces!). My co-worker's boyfriend apparently lives and dies by this fancy maple syrup he gets every year, which she describes as "really good and often really boozy". Caffeine gives me the shakes so I don't know what good, fancy, small-batch roast coffee is (and suspect it varies depending on taste) but I do know my best friend/platonic wife who is from Maine and her actual-husband are fans of these guys up in Portland. If you're particularly committed this year to shopping black-owned small businesses (and good on you if you are!), I noticed when the lists of black-owned business were going around in June and July that coffee roasters in particular seemed to be a big subgenre of black-owned small business. You can start exploring all the different black-owned coffee brands with this list, if you're so inclined. Again, I'm sure they're all great, but my caffeine shakes and I can't attest to anything personally.
A Coffee Table Book About The Thing He Likes (It Exists)
There are few things every person likes more than flipping through the kind of book you can read while sitting on the toilet or killing time in a doctor's office or living room. Regardless of if we actually like reading or not, something in our lizard brains likes looking at information next to pretty, glossy pictures of the thing we are most interested in. And I can assure you that no matter what the dude you're shopping for is interested in, there's a beautiful, hardcover book designed to be idly thumbed through at one's own passing convenience. Don't believe me? Moi? A lady who works at a library? Oh, you sweet summer child.
There are books on video game art (or maybe he prefers this video game? Or this other one?), books on that cartoon he loves (or the other one, or the other one... you get the idea) or his favorite live action TV show. There are books on his favorite comic strips and Marvel comics and DC Comics (not to mention, like, the actual comics). If he's into music there are books on guitars (and more books on guitars), books on drums (and more books on drums) books on rap and hip-hop, books on reggae, books on country music, books on jazz, books on favorite artists like The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, and Prince. There are books on men's fashion from books for sneakerheads (seriously, there are so many books for sneakerheads) to the tailoring of Italian suits. There are books on LGBTQ history and the art of drag and the history of drag too. I have no idea what artists or art styles the dude you're shopping for is into, but art books are kind of the original coffee table book, and by far the biggest subgenre, so search by specifics. You can find art books on anything, from famous artists Normal Rockwell to Vigée Le Brun to Hokusai to Jean-Michel Basquiat, on any art style you could name from Medieval illuminated manuscripts to French impressionism, and art from every culture, from the midcentury Chinese propaganda poster to the art of ancient Mesoamerica.
There are books for outdoorsy guys who like trees (comes highly recommended by my dad) and outdoorsy guys who like America's National Parks, for birders (and more for birders), for sailors, for fly fishers, for surfers, for skateboarders (this book rules for men too, and if he doesn't think so, disown him), for cyclists, motorcyclists, for classic car guys, and for stargazers. There are books for guys who like documentaries on the way things work, or documentaries on the human body, documentaries on gross medical history, or documentaries like Planet Earth, or documentaries like Blue Planet, or like to pretend to live on a farm without having to do all the work involved in being a farmer. There are books for baseball fans (and more books for baseball fans), books for football fans (American) and football fans (not American), basketball fans, skiers, and golfers. There are books for guys who like beer, guys who like wine, and guys who like their drinks mixed. There are books for guys who prefer to be in a treehouse and guys who prefer to be in a library. There are books for guys who like dogs (and more dogs), guys who like cats (category: in a bodega) and cats (category: in a bookstore), guys who prefer plants to animals, and, uh, fun guys (sorry). There are cookbooks (I recommend Smitten Kitchen, the other Smitten Kitchen, Healthyish, and the original Moosewood for anyone getting into the basics of cooking, Flour, Pastry Love, and Martha Stewart's original cookie cookbook for getting into desserts, and Mark Bittman or The Joy of Cooking for a good generalized guide) or, if he just wants to look at and think about food without being compelled to make it, there's this guidebook to spices which I lost an entire lunch hour to at work one day.
You fool. You rube. You utter buffoon.
(As always, order these at your local bookstore or at the provided IndieBound link to support local/small vendors.)
Snuggly Shit For Surviving This Hell Winter
We are about to enter The Winter Of Our Discontent, mostly because apparently no one besides me could handle The Fall And Holiday Season Of Our Collectively Being Mildly Inconvenienced. It's almost a certainty at this point we're all going to return to sheltering in place. It'll be bad. We can at least be comfortable while being miserable. L. L. Bean is the best place to start for high-quality snuggle paraphernalia, from knitwear to slippers to fleecy fleecy fleecy throw blankets to honestly the best flannel sheets I have ever slept on in my life (which I'm wrapped in right this second as I write this). Uniqlo continues to rule the game when it comes to cheap, luxurious pile-lined anything, but particularly sweatpants that make you feel like your legs are swathed in the pelt of a Muppet. (NOTE: these are super warm and not for anyone who runs sweaty or cranks the heat up to 70-something.) Get your UV lamps, make sure you're prepared to brew yourself some tea, stock up on puzzles (or Very Fancy Puzzles) and settle in. It's gonna be a long fucking winter.
Replace The Thing He Says Is Just Fine (And Isn't Just Fine)
Everyone has the thing that they defensively go "IT'S FINE, IT WORKS JUST FINE" when that thing is not fine and does not work just fine. If you know what that thing is, stop putting into google "WHAT GET GENERIC MAN PERSON????" and instead research what the best handheld vacuum is (this, according to me, a person who spends her entire life vacuuming up gerbil shavings) or wallet (back when I worked at Starbucks, I got this Herschel as a thank you for the lovely homeless guy who would keep dudes from harassing me while I closed in exchange for whatever sandwiches were expiring that night, and since he still waves it at me whenever we pass each other I can tell you it's held up amazingly well) or replacing whatever possessions are currently being held together by duct tape and stubbornness.
Frame Something It is an inalienable law of adulthood that you will always have in your house at least one (1) thing that needs custom framing and you're definitely and totally going to get around to it and it'll make your home more homey, except you never do get around to it because every time you look at framing it's so unbelievably expensive. This means, of course, that having something framed for someone fits very well into the definition of "what makes a good gift" which is "anything a person would enjoy having but wouldn't bother buying for themselves".
Now, while you could go somewhere generic like Framebridge, I suggest Googling for local framing stores. They're often a bit more expensive, but tend to do a much better, more personalized job, and you can actually talk to the human being in charge of handling your precious piece of artwork. If the budget's tight and the person you're framing for isn't super aesthetically fussy, a way to still give a small framing shop business is to just have the piece of work professionally matted (that's when you put the artwork on a fancy piece of backing paper and actually center it in the way it should be centered and glued down flatly and professionally), but have the mat be cut into a standard size, like 11"x14", so you can just pop that matted art in any old generic frame. This is also a good idea if you can't, for whatever reason, consult the person you're having the piece framed for on what kind of framing they'd like, because it allows them to chose the frame itself while you still do the necessary difficult legwork.
If you can spirit away the thing that needs framing, go for it, but more likely, you should print them out a little certificate telling them that you'll pay to frame [object] for them and then - and here's where the actual gift comes in - you need to SIT ON THEM and FOLLOW UP and MAKE THEM GET THAT THING FRAMED. Then, inevitably, the framed artwork will sit in their house and never get actually hung up, but at a certain point there is only so much you can do for people.
Tools - But Only Specific Ones I'm not talking like a chainsaw (unless what he's been talking excitedly about doing is being a lumberjack, I don't know your dude's life), I'm talking like... if he's into the Great British Bake Off? Get him his own tart pan or stand mixer (the KitchenAid is classic because the KitchenAid is worth every penny and its quality is unimpeachable). Is he considering mixology? Get him a bar kit. Into whittling? Whittling starter set! (Maybe also a first aid kit). Wants to get his Bob Ross on? You can encourage that. Get him plants and plant dad paraphernalia if he wants to raise some plant babies. (These can be gotten just fine at Home Depot or Trader Joe's, but I suggest looking up how to buy curbside from your local plant nursery.) You can help him learn to juggle. Or try yoga. It's going to be a long, long, long fucking winter. Get him the tools to do something new and interesting, for the sake of everyone who has to live with him, or you.
Pay For A Yearly Subscription Service
This is especially valuable to The Person Who Doesn't Like "Things". You know, the person who gets stressed by the idea of material possessions? That person. They're going to be subscribed to something - Netflix? Spotify? HBO? Hulu? A local newspaper? A national newspaper? The New Yorker? Consumer Reports? National Geographic? Some other magazine dads like reading? Anyway, stop shopping for a "thing" they like, because it doesn't exist and they won't like whatever you were thinking of anyway, and just pay for that subscription thing you already know they like instead.
A Charitable Donation
Sometimes, unfortunately for you, a person socially obliged to buy something for someone, they really mean it when they say they don't want you to buy anything for them, which creates a pickle. You need to get them something! You picked them for Secret Santa or you'd be the only person not getting them something or it's the first holiday season with your new boyfriend or you want to make your child's significant other feel welcome and not left out when you get everyone else in your family a thing. You gotta get that person a thing.
Here's the way around that: find what charitable cause means a lot to them, and then give the money you would put towards a gift towards that charitable organization in their name. Adopt an animal from a zoo or wildlife sanctuary, donate to a food bank or a youth arts program or whatever it is that gets them impassioned and excited. They won't have to deal with a thing, you will have gotten them something thoughtful, someone else will have benefitted from enforced capitalism in this garbage capitalist hellscape of a world, everyone wins.