Customs: But Once a Year

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To make things easier for male shoppers, some stores have set up Christmastime "For Men Only" departments that are staffed with knowledgeable (and pretty) salesgirls. There, the shopper can relax in an armchair, sip a free drink and make his selections from items that are displayed for him. Unless he has a specific gift in mind, a husband is apt to buy his wife a slinky black negligee, which she almost invariably exchanges for bath towels or sensible underwear. Says a Cleveland merchandise manager, "Practically all the lingerie this time of year is sold to men. It's the kind of thing we can't ever sell to women. But the guy buys it because he pictures how his wife, maybe, is going to look in it. Christmas is a time for dreaming."

Slips & Buttons. But the stores are consoled by the realization that these male romantics spend more money for Christmas than their wives. And together, the men and the women this year are spending money on anything that has a price tag.

For men, women buy shirts, gloves and salmagundi for the hobby chests. About 95% of all men's dressing gowns and slippers, which men rarely buy for themselves, are sold at Christmastime. Cowed by decades of jokes, few women buy ties any more.

For their wives, men buy perfume (60% of all perfume is sold in December), costume jewelry and fancy lingerie—in general, things that women would not think of buying for themselves but are delighted to get. Though men generally stay with the standard white or blue (pink has long been out), the trend in slips and nightgowns is to printed designs and new colors—fuchsia, green, coral.

Unlike men—who have everything because they are content to keep what they have for years—women never have enough. "You can always hang another piece of jewelry on a woman," says one man. She needs more than one pocketbook, for example, while a man seldom changes his wallet; the only thing she doesn't need more than one of is her wedding ring.

The market this year is also loaded with gifts for those who are on the make for the unusual. Neiman's, whose glamour item last year was His and Her airplanes, this year is featuring an ermine bathrobe ($6,975), and Manhattan Jeweler Harry Winston has a nice diamond and emerald necklace for $275,000. An Albuquerque blood bank is selling a $5 gift certificate that is good for all the emergency transfusions a family might need in a year. Abercrombie & Fitch has a beer-can launcher ($24.95) for men who like to combine their shooting with their drinking and do not want to bother with clay pigeons; A. Sulka & Co. is selling men's handmade leopardskin gloves lined with beaver ($125). His and Her vicuna lounging robes ($1,100 a set), and an ebony walking stick topped with a solid gold handle ($550). Rocking chairs, popularized by the President, are moving well. For the bewildered male, Cleveland's Halle Bros. provides a Pandora's Box of women's things for any amount the buyer wishes to spend.

A gallery of other good sellers (many of them imports) for this Christmas:

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