A Foolproof Formula for the Holiday Gifts You Should Be Giving

2020 has ruined a lot of things; don’t let it ruin gift-giving too. Here are some standout gifts for your college student and some gifts for college students to give loved ones. Because gifting cuts both ways.

A woman hands a gift wrapped gift to a man for the holidays.

I say it all the time, newspapers and columnists repeat it endlessly, and, in some form or fashion, it recurs on social media daily, but 2020 has been the gift that keeps on giving, in the worst possible way. But there’s still something that can be saved, and that is gift-giving itself.

It can be hard to know what to get the college student in your life; on the whole, college students are an (obviously) diverse crowd with interests both divergent and changeable, all of which makes it hard for gift-givers.

At the same time, college students, in my experience, often drop the ball, very hard, when it comes to giving gifts themselves. I know a few folks from college who take gift-giving extremely seriously, and they always have, but they number in the minority, as compared to the amateurish efforts of most of the college students I’ve met and spoken with (including, shamefully, myself at times).

But all that changes today. It changes now, as you read this. Because here, for you, I have assembled what I believe to be a foolproof formula for affordable gift-giving for both the college student in your life and the parents, family members, etc. that require gifts from said college students.

This research has been methodical and deliberate and is brought to you by the Coastline Gift-Giving Association, a sub-division of our Romance Research Lab. So, enjoy, read, remember; I cannot guarantee anything you order will arrive before the holidays, seeing as delivery services are swamped nationwide. But at least, when the gift does arrive, you’ll have gotten the exact right item for those special people in your life.

A pile of fun and funky sweaters next to a steaming mug of cocoa


Need I say more? Okay, why not. It’s not often I get the chance to wax poetic about the wonder of woolen knits, or silken knits, or any knits for that matter. There’s so much variety; it’s clear we truly live in a knitwear paradise, a fantasia of sweaters, cardigans, scarves, beanies, and more. I could drown in merino and be happy, but I digress.

Knitwear truly is a perfect can’t-go-wrong gift for anyone, from college student to grandparent, simply because of that variety, and the softness and enveloping, comforting feeling the fabric provides. Prices range from the obscenely inexpensive to the exorbitantly high-priced. For something inexpensive with a luxe feel, I’d recommend perennial favorite Uniqlo; for something slightly more expensive, but with a sustainability focus, Everlane turns out solid knits (both in sweater and scarf form) as well. I can’t recommend buying secondhand enough, at a local thrift store or through a popular app. The world has a lot of sweaters already, and almost all of them are both perfectly cozy and delightfully retro.

For college students, who adore Wes Anderson, give the gift of a knit beanie (this handy list from GQ will help you parse through specifics). And if you’re struggling to find gifts for significant others and mothers alike, try a luxurious scarf or knitted gloves; they don’t have to know you didn’t break the bank to make them feel like a million bucks.

A pair of scented candles in a dimly lit room.


We’ve all been spending a lot of time at home, obviously. And there are some simple, easy peasy, ways to make that home homier if you will. But, I’ve noticed, it can be hard to convince the college students in your life to take that kind of self-care in hand.

Scented candles solve the immediate problem. They are classic, and I do mean absolutely classic, as a gift. But for good reason: the classics become that way because they are foolproof and never go unappreciated or out of style. If you want to up the ante, try a diffuser and some soothing essential oils, courtesy of a New York TimesWirecutter approved list.

Throw pillows, throw blankets, pretty much anything in that category will also work in a pinch; the idea is to make your loved one’s living space that much more cozy, that much more inviting. Take a loot at Goodee for upscale, artisanal items in this vein. As well, check out other items as well, like glassware, tableware, and decorative flourishes, like paintings or prints, per Town & Country. This cuts both ways as a gift (to college students and from college students) because it’s practical and pleasing to the eye. And again, you can always go used or second hand in this department as well; antique knickknacks make a great gift because of their unique vibe and can be found online or in-stores everywhere.

College students have a bit of a reputation for forgoing their grooming standards; it’s probably not as deserved as people think it is, but, still, there’s never a better time to unlock your beauty or grooming routine than while you’re at university. Try these GQ approved stocking stuffers for men, and these Vogue approved beauty products for women.

A bunch of travel gear, compass, backpack, sweatshirt, notebook, wallet, gloves, are laid out on a wooden table.


On the other hand, your giftee may be so tired of looking at their walls, no matter how well-appointed they are, that giving more home goods just feels like a sad reminder of all the traveling and journeying we missed this year.

Give the folks in your life with wanderlust (which is probably everyone right now) a gift they can use once traveling becomes truly possible (and not just an irresponsible choice was taken by a surprising number of people). New shoes are perfect; your feet take you places after all and they should be adorned accordingly. Be it sneakers or boots, give footwear that signals adventure and possibilities; check out articles from New York Magazine and Esquire for more.

If you don’t know your giftee’s shoe size, go a bit bigger and give luggage. You can find stylish duffels, rolling bags, handbags, and more. Beyond gifts that can help folks travel in style, you can give a gift of mental transport, and no I don’t mean teleportation. If you’re buying for an avid reader, get them a year’s subscription to a travel or expedition magazine, like NatGeo, Monocle, Condé Nast Traveller.

A cute black and white puppy with a bow on its head pops out of a wrapping papered box.

Wrappin’ It Up

(At last, this pun for Final Thoughts makes sense! I didn’t even realize that until I started writing this! This is the best self-gift ever. Okay, moving on.)

That above three-part formula, brought to you by our experts in the Coastline Gift-Giving Association (CGGA), is a legitimately foolproof way to gift in 2020; the ideas behind it work as gifts for college students, and as gifts from college students to everyone else.

More importantly, however, I’d like to emphasize giving personal gifts to those you love. A sweater is lovely, but it can never replace an inside joke, conveyed via a special mug or t-shirt; glassware will up your cocktail hour game, but it can’t replace a framed photo of the whole crew (or family) hanging out pre-pandemic. Take a look at Red Bubble for interesting, unique, pop-culture-y art pieces, t-shirts, mugs, and more.

You can still give any of the gifts on this list, but I urge you to also give something personal, even if that’s just in the card you send along with the gift. Now, more than ever, what we want and need is a mix of hope and community, and this is one way to deliver it. Happy holidays, & happy gift-hunting.

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