Let it be said that not all men are thoughtless and bungling. Some men take Christmas shopping quite seriously and indeed do have a strategy. At least they think they have the situation under control.
Perhaps you'll recognize yourself or a loved one among these popular styles:
* THE TASTEFUL SOPHISTICATE: Downtown executive Michael Murphy, an impeccable dresser, goes about his shopping gradually. "If I'm browsing, I'll see something and say, 'That's for her.'"
But, Murphy, who likes to pick out clothes for his wife -- "I find that to be challenging and fun," he says-- is not so understanding when the tables are turned. "I guess I'm pretty picky," he admits. "She's learned never to buy me a tie" and he limits his wife's shirt purchases to white and oxford blue "standards."
* MR. NICE GUY: These men generally shop with a list and are extremely conscientious. They're the ones who "know exactly what they want," says Holly Lichty, manager of Carroll Reed, a women's clothing shop in the Gallery.
"They're sent with specific instructions. They say, 'I want a red sweater with blue trim and gold buttons'," and they won't leave the mall until they find one.
* THE INVESTIGATOR: Many of these men are sneaky by nature. Others, like Bill Elliott of Edgemere, just "never had any luck with lists." They shop on "hints" dropped over the course of weeks or months.
This strategy requires watching carefully as a spouse browses through the newspaper ads and catalogs and taking note of when she says "that's pretty" or "I like that." Or, as Elliott does, you could "look at the perfume on her dresser to see what she's low on." You know, like checking the oil level in the car.
* THE NEGOTIATOR. These very sensible men go out window-shopping with their wives on a sort of "trial run." They point out things that strike their fancy and note their spouses' requests. Then, the next day, they go back to the store and buy the gift that got the best response. Surprise!
This technique is particularly popular among yuppie couples who believe in sharing all family shopping duties 50-50 and thus are frequently out and about together.
* THE CHARMER: These men, more than any other type, do their best work on Christmas Eve. They basically rely on the generosity and vulnerability to compliments of salespeople. They ask clerks to try on clothes -- "my wife's about your size"; to recommend a perfume-- "which one do you like, dear?; even to gift-wrap their purchases.
Some clerks are flattered. Faith Churn at Carroll Reed says, "Men are a lot of fun to help, because they're so grateful, especially the closer you get to Christmas." Perfume salesperson Wilgis calls these men the "I dunno" crowd.
"We ask them 'What kind of perfume do you want.' They say, 'I dunno.' So we ask, 'Would you like something floral, something fruity, something sweet?' And they still say, 'I dunno.'"
One customer didn't even pretend to care, she said. "He just said, 'Give me the most expensive thing you have. And then he bought six bottles of it."
A real charmer, no?