Making a list, checking it twice and still have no idea what to give?

"Apparel always makes a thoughtful gift because it is so personal, and the good news is that there are so many fantastic options this year that would delight any woman," says Linda DeFranco, a senior product trend analyst at Cotton Incorporated. "From luxurious, enveloping sweaters to warm gloves and hats; from fitted denim shirts to comfortable pajamas, there are so many terrific ideas and items that define style. It's really hard to choose just one."

But if it came down to choosing just one gift, fashion and style insiders were able to identify some singular sensations sure to please any woman on anyone's holiday shopping list. Instead of thinking of a garment as a must-have, the experts preferred to think of the right holiday present as a "must-give."

"In the season of giving, the must-give shopping list is key," enthuses Majda Coza, sweater designer for New York and Company. "I think giving and sharing is a trend to connect with."

On Coza's list? "A tunic sweater in new proportions in a burst of colors that can be cinched with a wide belt," she suggests.

Sweaters are a popular choice for many. Susie Cho, creative director of Inhabit, a chic clothing collection, says, "I definitely think the long, oversized belted sweater is a must-have this season; it's something so luxurious you just want to live in it. You can dress it up for night and throw it over a pair of jeans for day." Philip Crangi, a jewelry designer, adds, "A beautiful drape-front cardigan. It is really luxrious and comfortable, and great for sitting around with the family or dinner out; it is chic comfort clothing."

Item Of Choice To Shop For
  Total Females
Clothes46%
Groceries23%
Shoes13%
Home Electronics7%
Home Fabricsl7%

A good rule of thumb in shopping for someone else is to buy what you would buy for yourself, and for many women, clothing tops the list of things they like to buy. According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™, nearly one in two female respondents named clothing as their item of choice to shop for, easily edging out groceries, shoes, home electronics and home fabrics. One in two female respondents also told the Monitor that she believed it important to keep her wardrobe updated, likely explaining why apparel was the average woman's favorite category in shopping.Jackets are also a popular gift choice, mainly for their flexibility in dressing up or dressing down an ensemble. Says Emilia Fabricant, owner and designer of Cadeau Maternity, "I think it is all about the cropped jacket with three-quarterlength sleeves. It is the perfect must-have for the holiday season. It can carry from day to all of those holiday parties at night. It dresses up great!"

"I'll be giving a soft, shrunken jacket, which is perfect over a puff sleeved silk top and party skirt," shares Jodi Arnold, designer of Mint, an apparel collection.

Irene Neuwirth, a jewelry designer, considers something more romantic and intimate a good bet for gifts. "I am completely obsessed with the nightgowns Kirsten Dunst wore in the movie, "Marie Antoinette." They were so beautiful and feminine, but in a totally sexy way. I think everyone needs to own one."

Cynthia M. Kelly, president of Hanro USA, the luxury intimate apparel brand, suggests a garment from the company's Victorian Scent collection, like a camisole, chemise, long gown or pajama. "They combine exquisite French Leavers lace, inspired by the wallpaper design in Queen Victoria's summer home, with the sumptuous, mercerized 100 percent cotton Hanro is known for," she tells.

A cotton garment certainly makes a smart choice, considering that two out of three female respondents cited cotton and cotton blends as their favorite fiber or fabric to wear, according to the Monitor.

"I think you certainly want to pay attention to the fabric in the garment you are buying as it can make all the difference," directs DeFranco, the trend forecaster. As for DeFranco's choice of the ultimate holiday gift? "I think I would give something in outerwear in corduroy or velvet; either fabric is plush and rich and feels great to the touch. A coat or jacket is fashion-oriented and festive, and says that you really thought about the recipient when you were shopping for her. It's also somewhat practical as she is likely to wear it often."

It appears that gift-givers may be a touch more generous this season; according to the Monitor, nearly seven out of ten female respondents indicated that they were somewhat to very optimistic about their personal financial situations. "When people feel good, they tend to spend more and the holidays certainly provide a good excuse for doing so," DeFranco surmises.Feeling good was also the cornerstone for buying apparel, agreed the experts, noting that slipping on something new tends to be an uplifting feeling. After all, as the song says, once we deck the halls, it's time to spruce up ourselves and don our gayest of apparel to celebrate.

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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