The Fashion Magpie Birthday Gift Bags

What to Put in a Swag Bag + Other Q+As.

First — I saw I, Tanya yesterday and it was EXCELLENT.  Alison Janney is a genius, and the commentary on celebrity, perception, reality, and media was fascinating.  A lot to think about.  Have you seen it?

Second — I’ve received a number of fun email inquiries and direct messages about items seen on Instastory, so I’m answering them below!  If you have similar inquiries, please know I LOVE hearing from my smart and stylish magpies; you can always drop me a line at

Q: I am planning a girls’ trip weekend as a surprise birthday for my mom.  What would you put in a swag bag for the guests?

A: Ooh la la!  What a fun challenge!  Here are a few items I’d consider — basically a roundup of my favorite products that many women in my life have also fallen in love with, and at various price-points depending on your budget.

+Diamond dazzle stick — I keep raving about this to everyone.  The easiest way to keep your ring sparkly!

+Lavender-scented hand sanitizer spray.  (The link is for a pack of 6!)  So much chic-er and better-smelling than your run-of-the-mill Purell.  Or you could buy a bag of these and toss a few in each gift bag.

+Sara Happ lip scrub.

+Fresh’s Sugar Lip treatment.  (You could get a pack of minis and give each lady a different color.)

+Monogrammed tervis tumblers.

+My favorite mini brush and my favorite hair product (comes in a mini size!).

+m61 facial peels — you could buy a pack of 10 and slip one in each gal’s bag!

+Screen-cleansing towelettes.  I also use these on my glasses!

+Micellar water (comes in a mini size!)

Bigger ticket items (not sure about your budget!):

+Monogrammed eye mask.

+Party earrings — love these and these.

In terms of presentation, I’d get something like these cute little burlap bags or you can get these ones customized with the date/name of the event (i.e., “Babs’ Birthday!”)  If you go the latter route and want to make sure your items aren’t just rolling around loosely in a jumble, buy some of this.  I’ve given a few gift bags and some of that stuff really pulls everything together and make things look a little more…pulled-together.  You might also consider wrapping each of your little gifts in cellophane and tying them off with a ribbon.  It’s all about presentation!  My mother-in-law is the queen of presentation/wrapping, and believe me — she makes even just a handful of pretzels look like a million bucks all wrapped up in cellophane with a dramatic grosgrain or satin ribbon.

P.S.  More gift wrap ideas.

Q: My friend just had a baby and I want to give her something — not just something for the baby.  Ideas?

A: So, so thoughtful of you. I feel like I’ve answered this somewhere but can’t find it.  My favorite thing to do is to buy a bunch of high-end sliced cheese and sandwich meat from a good butcher (in Manhattan, a place like Citarella), some good bread from a bakery I love, and then a bunch of condiments that are nicely packaged in glass jars — Dijon mustard, Wickles, Sir Kensington’s Mayonnaise.  Then I also throw in some chips, dried fruit, nuts, trail mixes, etc.  My secret is to buy all of those items and then to put them in cellophane bags (these ones are also good depending on what you have — they’re perfect for nuts/trail mix) tied off with ribbon so that they look fun and pretty.  Then I put everything in a big gift bag filled with this.  Believe me — easy-to-eat sandwiches and snacks will be welcome during those first few weeks.  I remember feeling like I had no time to make anything!

If you don’t live close by, some other lovely and thoughtful gifts I received as a new mom were this extravagant Tata Harper body balm, a gift card for a manicure, flowers, and a pretty water bottle.  One of my mom friends also gave me this Gap nursing tank, and it turned out to be my favorite for lounging around the house in.  Super soft and very long, so it covered EVERYTHING and could be worn with leggings.

Q: My birthday is next week and I’m trying to find something understated but fabulous to wear. For reference, I am hosting my friends for dinner at my home and then we are heading out for drinks afterwards. I also live in Seattle, so being warm is important! I’m at a loss of how to be both relaxed and fabulous at the same time. Any help is appreciated!

A: Happy birthday!  I understand your conundrum — you want to step things up but not look overly fancy in a casual setting, or like you’re trying too hard.  My strategy here is to pick one statement piece and then leave the rest fairly straight-forward.  So I might do a statement shoe (still love these — get the look for less with these or any of these; I love these ones!) and then wear my favorite jeans and a blouse.  Or, I might reach for a statement earring — these are amazing and on super sale!, and these are sitting in my shopping cart (also in a cool navy/gold combo) — but wear a dress in a solid color (I’m currently dying over this!).   Finally — a statement blouse paired with simple studs and jeans is another festive option.  I’m obsessing over all of the stunning Caroline Constas pieces that are on sale right now; she’s THE QUEEN of the statement blouse.  I like this and this, both under $100!

ALL THAT SAID.  Sometimes you just gotta pull out all the stops.  Who cares if you’re overdressed?  A fun dress like this or this (both on ridic sale) or a statement piece like this (great buy!) might be just what the doctor ordered…

Q: My fiancé and I are getting married in October and we’re in the process of creating our wedding registry before sending out save the dates. What items do you recommend for the registry? Are there items you regret putting on yours or that we should skip? 

A: What a great provocation!  I had to think on this for awhile.  Some scattershot thoughts:

+In a sense, you need to tailor your registry to the size of your wedding and the types of guests you have.  I have a girlfriend who invited all of her parents’ (very wealthy) friends and therefore felt comfortable putting a bunch of bigger ticket items on the registry.  I have another girlfriend who got married right out of college, so she principally selected items within the $50-$100 range, knowing that adding anything higher would never be purchased.  Then there’s the issue of headcount — you want to make sure you have enough stuff on there that people can find items they want to give, but not so much stuff that it’s overwhelming.  So, that’s the first filter I would think through.
+In terms of specific items, the things I’m SO happy we registered for are:
1) Our nice china (ours is dishwasher-friendly — it’s Kate Spade’s June Lane, which I still adore).  We use these dishes frequently when entertaining or just when serving up a particularly fancy meal.  A $40 ribeye deserves a good dish!
2)  Lots of serving dishes — both ones that coordinated with our china and big platters/bowls that did not (most of them white).  My mother-in-law insisted on this, and I’m so glad she did — we got multiples of the larger serving bowls and platters and they really come in handy when you’re serving Thanksgiving dinner or even just having guests over.  They really tie everything together.
3) Steak knives.  We registered for Laguiole steak knives and I’m obsessed with them.  Totally something you don’t want to spend money on, but they come in handy!  They’re the right implement when serving pork, steak, even chicken.
4) Towels.  We asked for ones monogrammed with our new initials, which was great, but if I were to do it again, I’d ask for a bunch of Yves Delorme’s Etoile towels in white.  They are LE BEST.  Towels are something I hate spending money on, and people love giving a nice set of towels as a gift!  They’re so big and voluminous and you can wrap them up in a  huge and dramatic box!
5)  High-quality bakeware.  I registered for all of Williams-Sonoma’s goldtouch pans — loaf pans, muffin tins, etc — and they are 100% the best.  They never warp, are dishwasher-friendly, and conduct heat very well.  I bake a lot (a lot!) so having this set has paid off manifold.  I also asked for nice measuring cups, measuring spoons, coordinating spatulas, etc.
6)  Nice frames for our wedding photos.  Again, something you’d hate to drop $100 on, but truly come in handy for showcasing you and your hubby in your finest.
7)  A good knife set — we have Shuns, but Globals are also very nice and lighter-weight.  We already own our sets, but I would absolutely add a set to the list if I didn’t have them — these, a stand mixer, and a cuisinart.  Things you should 100% have in your kitchen if you don’t have them already.
8) Everyday cutlery.
Of course, the above reflects my preferences and lifestyle.  I love entertaining and cooking.  I would spend time thinking about what you love — wine?  Maybe a bunch of very nice wine glasses for different wine types.  Tea?  A great electric tea kettle and tea cup set.
+Things I would not register for: martini glasses (they take up so much damn space and we never use them; on the rare occasion we mix up a martini, we prefer to drink them out of drinking glasses anyway!) and a vacuum (in my opinion, it’s weird when people register for housekeeping stuff — I once saw someone put a TOILET PLUNGER (!?!?!?!?) on the registry!; who wants to buy these things?)
+FINALLY.  Big finally.  I really, really wish I had registered for everyday china.  I can’t remember why we didn’t — I think we said, “you know, between the two of us, we already have some everyday dishes; we’d rather get other stuff.”  But I majorly regret it.  I would register for classic white everyday china.  I love my ones from Aerin, but they’re down to the last few now.  I know it sounds boring but colored/patterned ones get old super fast; white ones show food well and never go out of style.  I’d register for 8 or 10 of each: dinner plates, salad plates, coffee mugs (!!!! we have such a horrid miscellany!), and butter plates.

Finally I’ve received a bunch of direct messages about items seen in my home on Instastory — answering them here:

+On my couch, I have a mix of green velvet pillows from here, printed pillows from here and here (they are super similar and I need to pick one pattern and store the rest but haven’t gotten around to it yet, so you’ll see an awkward blend of both prints right now), and this monogram pillow.  Pro-tip: when you buy the pillow insert, order a size up.  So if you ordered 20″ pillowcases, buy 22″ pillow inserts.  Otherwise, the pillow will look sad and loose in there.

+On my gallery wall, most of the pieces are vintage scores, things I’ve inherited, or one-of-a-kind Etsy discoveries, but the print that says “Old Dominion” with the state of Virginia beneath it is from The Old Try.  Also, and I selfishly hesitated to share this information, but one of my favorite Etsy boutiques for amazing vintage scores is FloridaFound.  Sometimes there’s not much, but — on occasion — there are absolutely insane finds at wonderful prices.  I’ve purchased several items from her, including a stunning original oil on canvas of a snauzer dog that probably should have gone for a few thousand, but that I scored for $175.  This is pretty epic!!!

+The green area rug in my living room is very old (maybe over a decade?) from Ballard Designs.  They no longer have the exact style, but this is similar.  It’s an indoor/outdoor rug, so it’s not as soft and plush, but it’s currently highly practical with a baby who throws everything on the floor — it’s easier to sweep/vacuum food up.  I also really like this one.

+I absolutely love mini’s highchair, which is by Phil + Ted — full review here.


  1. Swag bag ideas? Our book, “ Sophistication Is Overrated “ was in the swag bag at the 2018 Golden Globes! It’s a tongue in cheek book on entertaining! Love your blog.

    1. Great recommendation! I love the simple design — it would show food nicely! xoxo

  2. I get monogrammed Tervis cups for all occasions (bachelorette parties, a weekend away with some good friends…). It’s become a running joke, but really, they come in so handy.

    The wedding registry! The source of so many silly disagreements around what we needed/didn’t need. But it was so nice to get matching plates/glasses/towels/etc, instead of having all the mismatched sets (dating back to college, in some instances) from combining households. I’d also add some enameled cookware (Le Creuset, Staub) to your list if the couple doesn’t already have some – I use both the larger 5qt Dutch oven and 2.75 qt all the time,

    1. They are such a good gift! Love that they never sweat 🙂

      Great point on the Staub. We use ours probably once a week! xoxo

  3. Great tip on the pillow inserts! I keep buying the same size inserts for my pillow covers and wonder why they look sad…

  4. I agree with everything but I would register for a Dyson vacuum if i were getting married today! A good vacuum can last over a decade and you won’t have to replace it. I have thrown out several cheaper vacuum s amd have been so happy when I fianally sprung for the Dyson!


    Steve: “why do we need to register, we have everything.” Me: Glares at the literally 8,000 mismatching plates, mugs, glasses, and bowls from 2001 haphazardly tossed in our cabinets.

    I am going to make him read this post! xo

    1. HAHA! OMG. This, hanging pictures, and putting up Christmas trees — you two have gotten into the same marital disputes as we have! xo

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