Remember that episode of Seinfeld, in which Tim Whatley (Bryan Cranston) came under fire for re-gifting a label maker from Elaine to Jerry? “He’s a re-gifter!” Elaine shouted indignantly, upon realizing that her gift wasn’t as well received as she’d originally been led to believe.
What Elaine should have realized, though, is that everyone has re-gifted. Hell, even we have. Whether it’s because we thought a present was just perfect for someone else, or because we were in a pinch to find a last-minute item, we’ve done it. And, frankly, re-gifting has become much more socially acceptable than it used to be.
If you follow some specific rules, that is.
To find out what’s acceptable and what’s not, we chatted up Lisa Gaché, an L.A.-based etiquette expert who knows a thing or two about manners. The rules aren’t difficult to master, so pretty soon you’ll be on your way to getting rid of the things you don’t want, all the while giving them to someone who could actually use ’em. And they’ll never ever know.
This may seem a little obvious, but it’s one of Gaché’s rules for a reason: sometimes there are hidden reminders that the gift was already gifted, and forgetting to remove them could be as easy as forgetting to remove the price tag before wrapping.
“Inspect your item carefully; give it a serious scrub down and know that there’s no hidden writing or a personalized message or a monogram or a name of any kind,” she says. “You never want to be able to trace it back to its original owner.”
When it comes to re-gifting, you really want to make sure that your present looks brand-spanking new, says the expert. That means you should be absolutely certain there are no signs of wear-and-tear – and it should definitely not be something that’s been used before. And yes, that totally includes the scented body wash you tried once but couldn’t stand to keep for yourself.
When Jerry receives the re-gifted label-maker, it makes sense because he is an orderly person. But it might not have gone over so well with a less organized person. By pairing any present – new or old – with the perfect recipient, you’re still putting care and thought into the gift. And after all, isn’t that what really counts?
Whatley got caught because he was re-gifting within the same group of friends. According to Gaché that’s a big no-no.
“Take a lot of care in keeping a list of who you’ve received gifts from over the years so that you don’t accidentally re-gift something to the same person, or a friend of that person,” she explains. “You also want to be careful not to give that big tin or popcorn to somebody who also is maybe watching their weight, or a bottle of wine to someone who has stopped drinking. There’s lots of gifts that are sort of borderline, you just want to make sure [you know] who the recipient is and that [your gift] is appropriate for them. No re-gifting of lingerie to your boss!”
Most of the holiday gifts we receive will be given to us around the actual holidays. Naturally, that doesn’t leave a lot of prime re-gifting time, now does it? Thankfully, unless it’s a food item, most things can keep on a shelf for months at a time.
So how do you make sure it stays in tiptop shape? According to Gaché, that means placing it on a shelf somewhere rather than tossing it into a gift closet, and making sure to take care of the packaging and maybe even dusting it off every once in a while.
Look, you’re already saving money by not having to actually buy a gift, so you might as well invest in some really nice wrapping paper, a bow and a pretty card. It just makes the gift look that much nicer.
“A lot of people tend to re-gift a bottle of wine or a candle,” Gaché says. “If you’re re-gifting a bottle of wine, purchase a wine cozy for it that just makes it look a little more presentable. If you’re giving a candle, a lot of them come in a box, so I would rewrap those with beautiful paper and top it off with a card.”
So you’ve decided you’re going to give that gift away, have you? That’s totally fine, but here’s the catch: never, ever tell the person who gave you the gift in the first place. It will be Angry Elaine all over again.
“You do not have to tell them; this is where white lies come in very handy,” Gaché maintains. “If someone has given you a gift and you re-gifted it but they do not know that, you absolutely lie. Just put a positive spin on it, you thank them graciously. Smile, laugh and move on. And hopefully you escape unscathed and they’re none the wiser!”