Should You Give Clothes As A Gift?

giving a beautiful sweater to a friend

Is there any other gift that says, “I get you” quite like a gorgeous outfit, dress, sweater, or other item of clothing? Finding exactly the right look that captures the recipient’s personal style shows that you understand exactly what it is that makes her beautiful and unique. Even better: whenever she wears her gift, she’ll remember that it was you who gave it to her! 

But here’s the tricky part: Choosing clothes that don’t reflect someone’s taste can result in some cringeworthy moments by the birthday cake, tree, or menorah. Indeed, clothing is perhaps the most personal gift you can give, and particularly when it comes to size and style, there’s plenty you can get wrong.  

Does that mean you need to resign yourself to another year of giving coffee mugs or wine bottles, even to your most fashion-forward friends and loved ones? Not at all. We’ll start with the obvious: a White House Black Market gift card is a brilliant choice!  

And, if you do want to get more personal, you can also delight her with clothes …if you follow these do’s and don’ts for giving clothing as a gift. 


a striped dress is a gorgeous option for a sophisticated woman

Before you go shopping, consider how the person you’re shopping for typically dresses. Does she live in a uniform of jeans and tees, or does she have on a different dress every day of the week? While conventional wisdom might suggest that a woman with lots of tees won’t need another one, in fact, you are more likely to win her over by giving her a more elevated version of what she already loves—for example, an embroidered poplin shirt. And as anyone who has a closet full of dresses can attest, you can never have too many dresses…so choosing a versatile, classic dress is a sure-fire way to earn yourself a heartfelt “thank you.” 

Not sure what your friend or loved one’s personal style might be? Here are some clues to her style and what she might like to receive: 

  • Romantic: Flowy dresses, lace and jewel details, embroidery; a preference for pinks, purples, and blues, and a love of floral patterns and embellishments. 
  • Classic: Simple, clean lines, solid colors or timeless patterns like stripes or checks. and a preference for denim, work pants, tees, and blazers. 
  • Sophisticated: Luxe fabrics like cashmere, silk or leather (authentic or faux), dark-wash denim, body-conscious silhouettes. 
  • Versatile: These may be the easiest friends to shop for—they change things up every day, sporting a romantic dress on Monday, a classic blazer on Tuesday, and sophisticated couture denim on Wednesday! 

If you try to stay true to the recipient’s personal style, you’re most likely to get a gift that delights and is worn again and again, season after season. Of course, provide a gift receipt just to be on the safe side—in case indeed, your friend actually does believe she has way too many dresses! 


woman looking critically at clothes

What if you’re not actually a fan of your friend’s personal style? Some well-intentioned shoppers may use a gift-giving occasion to help “guide” the recipient towards a more flattering wardrobe. Perhaps you think that gifting a lovely red sweater might help your niece understand that yes, there are colors other than black—or that giving your modest friend a sleeveless blouse will help her realize that she should show more skin. 

We strongly recommend that you not use any gift-giving occasion as an opportunity to do a fashion makeover—doing so could result in some hard feelings. As a general principle, people appreciate gifts that show you understand them, so no matter how much you’re itching to change things up, giving someone something that they would never consider buying can be seen as, at best, thoughtless, and at worse, manipulative.   


woman opening a gift

Sizes can make giving clothing as a gift complicated, because if you choose incorrectly, the recipient will also have to go out of their way to return or exchange the gift. Plus, some people might be offended if you buy them a size that’s larger than what they wear (or smaller). What about if the recipient already has mentioned to you what size she wears?  Tread cautiously here, because women’s sizes can dramatically vary—between brands. Considering how big the margin for error is, it’s really no surprise that clothing makes up 75 percent of all returns.  

That being said, a newer trend in clothing has been to use fabrics that have a bit more give to them and may even span several conventional clothing sizes. For example, White House Black Market’s Everyday Soft Denim is made with maximum stretch. Ponte WHBM Runway leggings paired with a soft sweater may be a safe choice if you have an approximate idea of size. 

And there are some cases where you’ll know exactly what size someone is—because the two of you occasionally share clothes. If you’ve got a friend who is a member of your own Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, enjoy a one-for-me-one-for-you shopping trip and stock up on clothes you’ll both love. Twinning is winning! 


handbag from White House Black Market

Not sure if you should give clothing because you’re unsure of sizing? There are plenty of fashionable gifts you can give to the most stylish people in your life. Consider one of the following alternatives: 

  • Cozy accessories like a hat or scarf 
  • Glamorous earrings, or a necklace
  • An invitation to a shopping spree, where you can treat her to something she picks out 
  • A coffee table book by a fashion icon 
  • A—WHBM gift card—which can also be used at Soma and Chico’s! 

Because these gifts don’t have a size attached to them, they come with lower stakes than clothes as a gift…but they’re still personal enough to show that you understand the recipient’s style—and think it’s fabulous!