Christmas shopping--the last-minute kind--makes judgment weaken and money fade faster than last year's Hollywood starlet. One Westside man, who bought his wife a mere silk blouse for her birthday, returned to Beverly Hills the Sunday before last Christmas and went a little crazy.
"He spent $23,000 in about an hour," says Tom Bruno of the Torie Steele boutique. The man chose perfumes and designer gear, and when he couldn't decide between two suede coats, he bought them both.
Granted that at the time he was trying to reconcile with his wife, which he did shortly after Christmas, the retailer recalls.
Those who watch the annual yuletide shopping rhythms tend to lump consumers into a couple of groups: the early, organized buyers and the last-minute, extravagant ones. Now that the final crunch is here, the procrastinators will dominate. And don't be surprised if they're mostly men.
"Five days before Christmas, it's almost all men," says Hildegard Coghlan, manager of the women's and fragrance departments at Giorgio, Beverly Hills. "And they do tend to spend more, because they're shopping late.
"You see the guilty-conscience man, and he buys not one dress, but four or five of them in different boxes. Almost too much. Then you have the husband who comes in and buys one magnificent thing, lovingly."
Don Gray of Neiman-Marcus, says the panicked "indiscriminate buying" starts about a week before Christmas.
"I've seen women come in feeling guilty because they haven't bought anything for their boyfriends yet. They say: 'I've got to spend $1,000. Help me.' We'll pick out three cashmere sweaters and a coat."
Whether you plan to invest less than $25 or turn this weekend into a spend-fest, Fashion86 has compiled some gift ideas intended to steer you through these final, precarious days.
Chances are, you're down to the personals. Retailers say gifts for spouses and lovers are often purchased last. Perfume, jewelry, lingerie, sweaters, leathers and furs are popular late-breaking choices.
Scarfs also sell briskly under deadline pressure--from the Gap, where they're priced at $12.99, to Torie Steele, where one woman last Christmas bought 21 cashmere scarfs--priced $175 each--to distribute among her favorite maitre d's.
Herbert Fink, owner of Theodore, Claude Montana and Sonia Rykiel boutiques, mentions "hysteria" and "fear" as common holiday-shopping emotions. He suggests choosing gifts that fall well within a person's life style, "gifts people can use--but something they won't think of for themselves. It's not the cost that makes the difference. You can tell if somebody really has you in mind."
At Bullock's, reptile accessories, costume and 14-karat-gold jewelry are prime gifts this year, says Donald Abrams, vice president of stores. "Normally what sells well early, sells well at the end," he says.
Gene Burton, owner of the Pasadena boutique by that name, says coordinated outfits--skirts, sweaters, blouses--are strong at the moment. At Nordstrom, it's novelty sweat shirts.
And we've found some novelties of our own: hand-woven Himalayan shawls at Bhutan on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Silk robes at Amir in Bel-Air. And status-worthy pillboxes by Judith Leiber, at Amen Wardy, Newport Beach.
For a smaller stash, you'll find crew-neck shirts and long-bill caps at Aca Joe, colorful Angora sweaters and gloves at the Gap--all less than $25. For a shade more money, there are costume pearls from Kenneth Jay Lane boutiques--and watches almost everywhere. Look for the granite RockWatch--about $200 at Saks Fifth Avenue--and for a splurge, the moon-face 18-karat-gold Pasha watch, $18,000 at Cartier.
Despite all these calming suggestions, no one expects to witness anything but madness at the stores until closing time Christmas Eve.
One Beverly Hills retailer recalls the annual Christmas Eve visit of a particular Hollywood performer.
"In a couple of hours, she'd buy out the store," he says. "But it was always for herself.
"People do strange things around this time of year."