How to Regift and Get Away with It

A guide to the perks and pitfalls of giving used gear for the holidays. By Christy Harrison

Whatever object you choose, make sure it’s not too rough around the edges. “Generally, you don’t want to give something that looks like it’s been used a little too much,” says McElhattan. “Giving a first-edition antique book is okay, but giving the dog-eared paperback you took to the beach is not.” While this distinction may seem obvious, judgment can go out the window during the holidays under the stress of last-minute shopping.

Even with used gifts in excellent condition, givers may worry that they will be viewed as cheap; some people say they feel compelled to alert their recipient that their present has a past. But the jury is split on whether it’s absolutely necessary to confess. “You can include an explanation with the gift, but in most cases you’ll look really thoughtful for having gone onto eBay and getting the thing that [the person] had mentioned two months ago,” says McElhattan. But Lash Fary, author of Fabulous Gifts: Hollywood’s Gift Guru Reveals the Secret to Giving the Perfect Present (New American Library, 2005), is a big proponent of explanations. “Always come clean,” he says. “That way, you rob people of the power of finding out that your gift is used.” Of course, you don’t have to wax philosophical about why you buy used gifts—explaining a pre-owned present can be as simple as telling a funny story about it. “In your card, you can say something like, ‘Dad, you’ve always reminded me of Cary Grant, so I thought you should have something from the same era,’” says Fary.

What if you want to give something used that’s not from another time—that is, the notorious re-gift? If you’re short on cash for the holidays but have some really cool little thing lying around that someone gave you and you’ve barely even used, is it okay to give it to someone else, just this once? The only other option is throwing it away, right? Controversial questions, all. “Re-gifting is just fraught with peril,” says McElhattan. “It’s so hard to do it and get away with it; for me it’s not worth the anxiety. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting a gift and having another person’s card tucked inside the box.” Yikes. Fary has a solution, though: just re-pack and rewrap the gift, making sure there are no personal notes slid in between the cracks. And of course, he adds, always re-gift outside your close circle of friends. But with these caveats in mind, you can make a re-gift “something that really reminds you of the recipient—something you’re sure they’d love,” he says. “I’m a huge fan of re-gifting; the faux-pas only happen when people aren’t thoughtful about it.” When you re-gift, though, you’d often do better not to explain the present’s origins. “If a re-gift looks vintage or used you should acknowledge it; otherwise, a gift is a gift,” says Fary.

Even this rule has an exception, though: call it the re-gifting prank party. “One time, years ago, some friends and I got into another friend’s apartment and stole back all the stuff we’d ever given her, wrapped it up, and gave it to her again,” says Katie, a graphic designer in New York City. “It was the most fun birthday party ever—and the best part was that she didn’t even remember that she had some of the gifts in the first place.” With some creativity and thought, even the most obviously recycled presents can become a totally new source of joy

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