Some best bets for last-minute holiday shopping


Say what you will about chain stores. They're boxy, impersonal. And each one is the same as the next one.

But it has come down to the final shopping day before Christmas, and now, sorry to tell you, it's over for originality. Your procrastination has put the kibosh on kitsch.

Today is Saturday, Dec. 24. Christmas Eve, folks. And for all those hard-to-please holdouts on your list, well-known stores may be the best way to go.

The good news is, you don't have to settle for a boring sweater or the same ole tie. In most malls, there's something up-to-date and within your budget for everyone you know.

For the sophisticate

This season, cashmere came back in a big way. Every major designer showed at least one piece in cashmere on the fall/winter runways, and even bargain basement stores carried cashmere-for-beginners.

The woman who has it all may indeed have it all, but there's no such thing as too much cashmere, and one can never have too many hat and scarf sets.

Ann Taylor, known for sophisticated looks at moderate prices, has a beautiful aspen blue accessories set with a hat, scarf and gloves. The color is feminine, but not girly, and looks wonderful with chocolate brown, the season's most fashionable color.

Hat --$38

Scarf --$78

Gloves --$38

For the quirky

This was the year of the "ethnic" look. From boho to Asian-inspired, you just weren't with it if something in your closet or home didn't say, "I've got a style of my own."

The most ubiquitous of all the worldly styles came from the country of czars and czarinas: Russia.

Head to TJ Maxx for intricately decorated home-accent pieces reminiscent of the love story in Anna Karenina, the richness of The Nutcracker and the magic of The Frog Princess.

The receiver of these gifts, at once dainty and luxe, can add a touch of the old world to their new home.

Music box egg --$16.99

Picture frames --$5.99 and $7.99

Jewelry box --$16.99

For a special touch

When you're giving a gift, what you're really saying to someone is "I thought about you. I care about you. I appreciate you."

So it's not really a gift that you're giving; it's a thought with meaning.

At least, that's what The Gap -- known for decidedly non-thought-provoking sweats, tees and jeans -- decided this year when it came up with its selection of holiday gift ideas.

By adding special touches to ordinary gifts, The Gap has done a good job helping you make that last-minute gift seem more personal, memorable, and most importantly, like you spent weeks thinking about what to get.

One of the store's best ideas: photo gift cards. The gift cards can be totally personalized by slipping your favorite picture into a clear photo sleeve. You can even frame it, if you want to evoke a tearful, "Awwww!"

For the socialite

Everyone's got a friend who's always throwing a soiree. No matter the occasion -- Flag Day, her birthday, you-finally-dumped-your-loser-boyfriend day -- it's always a great time for a party. And she knows that when it comes to friends and fun, it doesn't matter what you serve, it's more about what you serve it in.

For her, pick up a stylish, modern bar set at Marshalls. With a sleek stainless-steel shaker/stirrer, tray and stemware, this hostess set is as much fun as she is.

Shaker/stirrer --$14.99

Tray --$19.99

Ice bucket/tools --$39.99

Glass set --$14.99

For the athlete

Casio's G-Shock watches are made for the technologically attuned. The built-in solar technology eliminates the worries of replacing batteries, and the atomic function means minimizing the worry of having to reset the time during daylight saving.

This year, for the first time, Casio made its popular ladies model, Baby-G, available with atomic technology.

These oversized, sporty watches are ideal for the woman who revels in full-body activities (kickboxing, tennis, swimming) and are shock-resistant and water-resistant up to 100 meters, have a stopwatch and alarm, and keep world time.

In non-girly colors such as black and white, these watches are the ultimate in functional fashion.

Retail price --$99 (Available at Watch Station, Macy's, WatchWorld and Bloomingdale's)

For the best man

When you think of Eddie Bauer, you think of warm winter coats, filled with down. After all, that's the company's heritage.

This winter, the company turned to its roots for inspiration and decided to stuff down into just about everything you can think of: gloves, scarves, handbags, even down dog parkas.

For that guy in your life who can't survive without the latest gadget, the store's even got a way to help you keep his electronics elegant. Our suggestion: Pick up a leather case for his iPod. It does double duty -- it protects his MP3 player from scratches and spills, and also helps him look decidedly more grown-up while he's rockin' out on the commuter train.

Personal electronics case --$29.50

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