The well-dressed present When it comes to holiday gifts, what's on the outside can be just as much fun as what's on the inside.

December 14, 1997|By Maria Hiaasen | Maria Hiaasen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Gift wrapping used to be so simple. Either you picked up a few rolls of paper, foil and some stick-on bows at the discount store, or you paid someone at the mall to wrap for you. A primary print for the kids and a conservative stripe for the grown-ups, and you were set.

Now, you can be stymied by the multitude of gift-wrap choices. Paper? Choose plain brown paper, a splashy print or a textured handmade style. Select a shade in neon, metallic or earth tones. Or, opt for sheets of Mylar or cellophane. Need a box? Would you prefer cardboard, papier-mache or wood? And bag those self-adhesive bows. Instead, accessorize packages with sprigs of greenery, tinsel or strands of fake pearls.

Gift-wrapping has become serious business.

"This time of year, our whole store transforms into a wrap wonderland," says Joanie Parker, a sales associate presiding over some 14,000 rolls of wrapping paper in 250 different patterns, 12,000 spools of ribbon and untold thousands of bows and totes at the Container Store in Tyson's Corner, Va. (The Dallas-based chain also operates a store in Rockville, or you can order from the catalog at 800-733-3532.)

Excessive? Parker thinks not.

"The presentation is just as important as the gift," she says, describing a half-dozen gift-wrapping containers debuting this year.

Tips from the pros

If you've finished your shopping already, congratulations. Now you're ready for the next holiday hurdle: wrapping those gifts with flair. Here are some ideas from the pros.

As an interior designer, Janice Olsen has spent a lot of time wrapping presents creatively. Each year she tries a new tactic when wrapping holiday gifts. She confesses she misses the days when her tree glowed with soft, white lights above a swath of elegantly wrapped packages, but she's happy to share her kid-friendly strategies.

With children, Christmas can be tacky, says Olsen, who owns Patina, a Hampden shop (824 W. 36th St.) specializing in home accessories culled from old pieces of local architecture. Her advice? Go with it.

"Sometimes you can just take the ugliest paper from a discontinued bin and really turn it into something with a pretty bow," Olsen says.

Too risky for you? A couple of years ago, Olsen got her two elementary school-age daughters involved in gift-wrapping, having them sponge-paint simple Christmas symbols on blank Kraft paper. The experiment produced personalized wrap speckled with triangular Christmas trees and scarlet Santas, which the Olsens used on gifts for their extended family. The sentiment was sweet, but be forewarned about the mess all over the kitchen floor.

Another year, Olsen says, Santa wrapped her girls' Christmas presents in plain Kraft paper and assigned each girl's loot a separate, vivid color of ribbon, eliminating the need for gift tags. The elves even sprinkled Mylar confetti on top of the gifts, which brightened the display. Caution: Don't try this if you're averse to dragging out the vacuum Christmas morning.

Small gifts can be wrapped in balloons, Olsen says. To accommodate an object the size of a small jewelry box, she cuts the top off of a brightly colored rubber balloon, then squeezes the gift inside. The rubber adheres to all sides of the gift -- in effect, shrink-wrapping it. It's a terrific technique for stocking stuffers, she says.

Customized wraps

The truly trendy will choose a wrap that suits each gift recipient's personality (a map for the traveler, old sheet music for the piano teacher, a blueprint for an architect). Another fashionable option is the layered look. Martha Stewart's "Christmas with Martha Stewart Living" (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1997) recommends a layer of sheer glassine (sold by the roll) or tulle over a package first wrapped in colored tissue paper.

Of course, Stewart considers store-bought gift tags anathema. Stewart prefers gingerbread cookies cut into monograms and tied onto packages, or faux engraved gift cards made with rubber stamps and an embossing kit.

If that sounds too involved, the December Martha Stewart Living magazine offers a simpler wrap style, and no ribbons are required. Fritz Karch, the magazine's antiques and collecting editor demonstrates his technique for curling and folding paper to produce package-topping adornments. Use the same paper that's on your gift, he advises, or choose a coordinating print or color.

Some of us strive to be green at Christmas. Try paper-saving ideas such as these: Wrap gifts in pieces cut from a tattered satin robe or drape them with squares cut from Grandma's old lace curtains. New fabric also makes a fine reusable and opulent gift-wrap. Olsen once used a red and gold damask, securing it with a glue gun instead of tape. She fashioned a bow from gold drapery cording and tassels.

The wrapping-impaired can buy rich-looking gift containers. Art Elements, the Security Boulevard-based mail-order catalog, offers an organdy wine sack in red, purple and turquoise. Fax your order to 410-265-1162.

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