Just what are the '90s, gift-wise?
Not the '80s, that's for sure. The '80s were glitz and gold cards and careers and debt. Translated into holiday presents, this meant such things as Filofaxes, his-and-her Sharpei puppies and sneakers costing more than the entire monthly food budget for ** an average American family of four.
Some of the '80s gift-style survives into the '90s, but it doesn't have quite the zip it used to. The faltering economy, for one thing, has done its part in sobering up the Zeitgeist, so although the '90s may not be kinder and gentler than the '80s, they are sadder and wiser. They're about recycling bins rather than ball gowns, about 401Ks rather than credit lines, about getting by rather than getting rich.
Translate the new decade into holiday presents and what you get is less showing off by spending a lot of money -- and, in many case, less ability to spend at all. Thus this year's holiday gift-buying guide starts at a place the '80s forgot: with gifts that cost less than $5. It works its way up slowly from there, wishing you very happy (if modest) holidays every step of the way.
GIFTS UNDER $5
Leather leaf bookmarks come in the shape of maple, oak and birch leaves, among others, and cost $2.50 each at the Nature Co. (Annapolis; Harborplace; the Towson Town Center after Dec. 15).
Ebony letter openers are $3 each at ASABI International, 4610 York Road. ("Asabi" is a Swahili word meaning "returning to our heritage.")
Potholders in designer fabrics like Waverly's ivy pattern are $3.75 each at the Annapolis Country Store, 53 Maryland Ave. in Annapolis. Oven mitts are $5 each.
Squeeze bottles with National Basketball Association or National Football League logos on them stand about 12 inches high and cost $3.99 at Rudo Sports' several locations in the Baltimore area.
Little Guatemalan zippered change purses come in bright colors and cost $3.99 at the Bead in the Rotunda, 41st Street and Keswick Road. Slightly larger makeup bags are $4.99 each.
Heady tea rose perfume is as sexy as Giorgio but costs a whole lot less: Half an ounce is $4.35 at the Body Shop in several area malls. Half-ounce jars of lip balms in Ben and Jerry flavors like tutti-frutti and strawberry sundae are also $4.35. For the guys, how about rhassoul mud soap, $3.75 a bar, or seaweed and luffa soap, $4.95 a bar?
Mini picture frames, 2 1/2 inches square, are handmade in a variety of country fabrics and cost $4.49 each at the Chesapeake Country Collection in Harborplace.
Fourteen-inch boomerangs are $4.75 each (shipping is extra) from the Australian Catalogue Co. at (919) 878-8266. They come with instructions.
Single-disc classical CDs are available at prices as low as $4.99 at An Die Musik in the Investment Building in Towson. (Compact discs of jazz and popular music cost more.)
FROM $5 TO $10
Hand-dipped, marbleized candles come in various shapes and colors and cost $5 or $6 at ZYZYX!, 6 Woodholme Village Court in Pikesville.
A half-pound box of sugar-free chocolate candies -- nuts, chewies and sponges -- is $5.50 at the Treat Shop in the Cranberry Mall in Westminster and the Harford Mall in Bel Air.
Note cards showing the Baltimore homes of the famous (like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mother Elizabeth Seton) cost $5.95 for a package of eight at Celebrate Baltimore in Harborplace.
These pencils look like twigs because they are twigs. They cost $5.95 each from Seventh Generation, (800) 456-1197, and the catalog states that no trees were cut to make them. Shipping is extra.
A set of 12 hand-carved elephants, each a non-elephantine 1 1/4 -by-1 1/2 -by-1 1/2 inches and each painted in bright designs by Sri Lankan artisans, costs $5.95 from the Christian Children's Fund Craft Cooperative, (800) 366-5896. Shipping is extra.
Bring old trinkets, charms, sorority pins and the like to Beadworks, 905 S. Ann St. in Fells Point, and they will help you combine these items with some of their beads to make a coiled-wire "treasure bracelet." This costs $7.25 plus 30 to 40 minutes of your time.
To people who worry about their cats eating the plants, give a poinsettia made of red silk. It doesn't have to be watered, either, and it costs $8.95 at Silk Plants & Gifts in the Harford Mall, Bel Air.
If those on your list have champagne tastes but you're on a beer budget, try giving green pepper spread at $9.25 for a 13.38-ounce jar, or green olive spread, $7.25 for a 6.34-ounce jar. They're from La Taste, which specializes in foods and objects from Provence, at the White Flint and Montgomery malls.
FROM $10 TO $25
For those people who don't want yet another electric device cluttering up their kitchen counters yet who also find most mechanical can openers hard to use, here is an easy-to-turn opener featuring a large plastic handle. It costs $9.99 at Brookstone (Montgomery Mall; Columbia Mall; Owings Mills Mall).