Prev Next

The Etiquette of Gift-Getting

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

Thank God for your column! I need a fashion critic and a Dear Abby all rolled into one, and at least in the corner of the Internet that I frequent, you’re it! Recently, I had a birthday, and two of my good friends bought me a purse and a pair of earrings. The purse is cute, and so are the earrings, but the thing is? I’m not really an accessories kind of girl. Some of your readers may not believe this, but I even wear the same pair of shoes every day! Shocking, I know! And, until my birthday, I had one pair of earrings that I’d wear occasionally (probably less than once a month), and I had one purse that I used about 364 of the last 365 days. The purse I love. It’s just the right size for all my stuff, and it’s easy to find things in. I bought it a year ago at Banana Republic, and it looks like this:

A small brown handbag
In my non-accessorizer opinion, it’s casual enough not to look ridiculous when I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt (which is most of the time), and it’s nice enough to use when I go out to a nice dinner with my boyfriend (nice for us being somewhere between the Olive Garden and a place where people know the name of the chef.) Of course, I could be completely wrong, and I think that’s part of the problem, because I’m thinking, why would you give a purse to a girl who’s not that into accessories? Oh! Maybe because her purse is ugly and/or out of style! So I guess that’s part one of my question – is it really that bad? Or maybe it’s a number-of-purses problem – Is it just as awkward for people to see me with the same purse every day as it would be if they repeatedly saw me with spinach between my teeth? Give it to me straight, I can handle it!
Part two of my dilemma is that the friends I mentioned are actually my roommates. So they KNOW if I am using the new purse or wearing the new earrings. When I am, they get super excited (literally, “You’re wearing the earrings!!! Yay!!!”) So, am I obliged to keep using the gifts? Because I don’t want them to think that I don’t like the presents – I do like them, they’re very cute! They’re just not really my thing.

Thanks so much,
Pursed Lips

Wow, so much drama involved in a simple purse question! Let me see if I can avoid tangents long enough to cover everything here.

1) There is nothing wrong with your bag. It’s very cute and stylish and casual, but since it doesn’t sound like you’re pairing it with cocktail dresses on a regular basis…no problem there. It’s hard to tell for sure from the photo, but I guess my only thing would be that it is a very…brown brown. Great for wearing with earth tones and other brown-friendly shades, but NOT the sort of brown that looks equally appropriate with black. But again, if you don’t wear much black and your go-to shoes are brown…no problem there either. Unless there are visible threads coming loose or deep cracks in the strap or other signs of wear and tear, you can go ahead and use it another 364 days.

2) I think you’re misinterpreting your roommate’s intentions here. You have one purse and don’t wear earrings — you see it as just not your thing. They probably see it as you just don’t like to spend your own money on that sort of thing, so they would treat you to something nice and new that you wouldn’t otherwise buy for yourself. Is the new purse black, or dressier than the one you carry now? If so, I’d bet they were just trying to help you have more options, not knowing that having options would throw you into this tailspin of handbag angst. I don’t know your friends, obviously, but I really doubt this is the passive aggressive style critique that you’re concerned about.

Politeness is the way to go

So. Now what? Since I believe their gift-giving intentions were good, I also believe you owe them some gift-recipient politeness. If you don’t like swapping out handbags to match outfits, that’s fine. (I don’t mind it, mostly because it’s the only way I can avoid the Black Hole effect, where one bag gets full of unnecessary junk and old receipts and mint wrappers and you pull your keys out and three crushed tampons fall out. Swapping colors and styles occasionally forces me to streamline — keys, cellphone, wallet, comb, mirror, lipstick — and toss all the extra stuff I end up stuffing in there. And….end tangent.) But if the new bag isn’t significantly different than your current one, you can explain that you’d rather save it for when your current bag wears out. (Just promise to not let Purse Love blind you to wear and tear. I do that with favorite pairs of shoes.) (What? You mean these seven-year-old macrame platforms from Old Navy don’t still look amazing? WHAT?)

Just wear the earrings. Seriously.

You know it makes them happy so…just wear them.

My mother-in-law gives me amazing jewelry every year for my birthday — it’s all gorgeous stuff, handmade and funky and unique. But I have terrible luck with losing or breaking jewelry so I don’t wear much unless it’s a special occasion (i.e. no grabby toddlers in the vicinity). My diamond studs, wedding rings and…that’s it, 99% of the time. But whenever she comes to visit, I am sure to put on one of the things she’s given me. Because even though it might not be the sort of thing I wear every day, I really appreciate the time and care she puts into picking it out for me.

I love seeing friends and family wearing or using the gifts I’ve gotten them, so I tend to believe that being a polite gift recipient doesn’t always begin and end with the thank-you note. It’s one thing to receive something you absolutely hate but are too timid to say something (Dear World, Please Include Gift Receipts For Every Single Gift All The Time, Sincerely Yours, Amy), but for something you like but just aren’t that into, I would opt for Sucking It Up and wearing the earrings occasionally. It’s not an obligation, it’s just a nice thing to do. Then drop hints before your next birthday about the sort of gift that really would be “your thing.” Mwa ha ha.

More Etiquette Advice from Alpha Mom:

  1. Is the Thank You Note Dead?
  2. Would It Kill You to Just Say Thank You?
  3. Thank You Note Nightmares


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Amy… I have to respectfully disagree with you on the point about the roommates’ intentions. To me, it’s not unlike all those people who nominate friends/family members to go on What Not To Wear — except those people actually come right out and say, “We hate how you dress!!” I doubt the roommates HATE PL’s purse or current earrings… but I have no doubt this was their attempt to try and get her to move a bit more towards what’s in style right now, as opposed to classic/comfortable. To me, they know it’s not her style… but they’re hoping maybe… Read more »


I don’t know what the roommates are, but I agree with Amy. As long as the earrings and purse aren’t a completely different style than what you like wear/use them occasionaly. Although, it could be they are accessories girls and they think it’s weird to have only one purse and one pair of earrings. I am guilty of this with one of my friends. She has one purse that she’s used for, oh about 7 years or so. And it is a fugly concoction purched at a renaissance fair complete with FRINGE! Your purse is nice, though. So I think… Read more »


I have to agree with the ‘sucking it up’ approach. You don’t have to use it all the time, but occasionally would be nice. My late mother-in-law bought me what could only be described as a ‘romper’ for my firstborn’s first birthday portrait. A white, blue embroidered SMOCKED romper. I timidly inquired, “Isn’t this a GIRL’S dress?” while I thought, ‘he is not the Crown Prince of England.’ And then when I brought him into the studio, the receptionist said, “OH, what a BEAUTIFUL little girl!” But I did it to please her, and it turned out to be a… Read more »


I bet they gave you the purse and earrings not because they think you need to change your style, but because those two items caught their eye. I agree with Amy’s thinking… maybe they figured you just don’t spend your own money on that stuff because you see it as a luxury, and what better than to treat your friend to something you think she’d like that she wouldn’t otherwise buy for herself, right? Also, accessories are a pretty easy go-to gift for a lot of women, so it’s possible that they were kinda stumped as to what to get… Read more »


I agree with Amy. Most people don’t give gifts with ulterior purposes in mind. Most gift buyers follow the path of buying something THEY would like to receive as a gift, thinking that means the recipient will surely like it too. That may mean they didn’t come up with something to suit your own likes and dislikes perfectly, but doesn’t mean it is some sort of hint about anything. I’d worry if they gave you dandruff shampoo or Spanx undergarments, but earrings and a handbag are innocuous.


Yeah, I agree with Amy.
I mean, if I’m going to tell someone their bag/earrings/whatever is ugly, I can think of a lot cheaper and more fun ways to do it than buying you presents.
Just try to use them sometimes.