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By Style contributor

Explainer: 16 best shopping sites for unique, affordable gifts

  • Crystal ship necklace/ OfaKind.com

    The weather outside is frightful, so stay inside and let your fingers do the shopping this holiday season. But don't get stuck browsing the same old boring websites with the same merchandise you've already seen everywhere. Think outside of the big-box and check out this eclectic collection of creative websites that are sure to please everyone on your list from your lover to favorite locavore.

  • For mom

    Spoonsisters.com, like its effervescent real-life sister founders, always offers up heaping spoonfuls of creative new ideas your whole family will adore. You could easily buy gifts for everyone on your list this year on this one website. Now that’s a spoonful of sweetness that will certainly help the holidays go down.

    Mother Child Bag, $23, Spoonsisters.com

    Before Etsy rocked our artisan worlds, there was BuyOlympia.com. Founded in 1999 to help friends sell their handmade goods, BuyOlympia is a well-curated selection of items from more than 50 artists that you can tell the site treats and loves like old friends. After your first visit, you will too. Longtime fans can’t get enough of Nikki McClure’s Endeavour Wall Calendar. Mom is sure to love it as much as they do.

    Twelve Unique Papercuts, $12, BuyOlympia.com

  • For dad

    Dad always gets the Clean Plate Award at dinner, so why not fancy him a foodie? Indulge him with a gift card to Foodzie.com. From their Beer & Pretzel Caramels to Hot Pickled Green Beans, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t choose meat and potatoes. 

    Beer & Pretzel Caramels from Liddabit Sweets in Brooklyn, gift cards beginning at $25, Foodzie.com

    For the Don Draper dad who takes his wet bar pretty seriously, JustScandinavian.com offers an impressive selection of manly barware. When you’re finished shopping for dad, check out their absolutely gorgeous selection of textiles for the crafter or decorator in your clan.

    Snaps: Anton, $59, JustScandinavian.com

  • For kids

    “No Batteries. No Blinking Lights. No Cartoon-Themed Toys. Period.” That is Oompa.com’s slogan. For a wholesome yet innovative approach to toys, visit the site that is setting the industry standard for constructive playtime. Insiders rave about the brands Plan Toys and Green Toys featured on the site. (Xbox games and Dora the Explorer need not apply.)

    Green Toys Eco-Friendly Blocks, 18 pieces for $24.99, Oompa.com

    For kids of all ages, PerpetualKid.com is sure to amuse. From giant gummy bears (really giant — think the size of teddy bears) to bacon neckties to knit hats that look like cupcakes, this site has the goofiest collection of gifts out there. So whether you’re sending your “kid” off to elementary school or off to the office park, make sure he’s well equipped with something ridiculous. 

    School Bus Sandwich Lunch Box, $7.99, PerpetualKid.com

  • For locavores

    You might think you know Overstock.com (that lady in “the O” commercials sure seems a little too familiar with it …), but there’s a new side to the large discount retailer that may surprise you. In support of American business, and in the spirit (and, dare I say, trend) of keeping it local, the O has launched a new site called Main Street Revolution that promotes small businesses and provides local businesses and craftsmen with an online venue for reaching buyers. I think that calls for some frankincense and myrrh.

    Karess Krafters Frankincense and Myrrh Handmade Soap, $9.79, Overstock.com/Main-Street-Revolution/39/store.html

  • For fashionistas

    OfAKind.com is the place to shop for the one on your list who only wants it if no one else can have it. Each week, veteran style editors feature one designer who they love, along with a limited-edition piece designed exclusively for Of a Kind. Editions range in size from five to 50 pieces, and each piece comes with a certificate of authenticity that’s signed and numbered by the designer.

    On Dec. 15, they release the ALL Of a Kind hat, hand-knit by Annie Lee Larson, in an edition of 20, for $40. Just in time to make that special someone feel exclusive … and, of course, keep their head warm.

    Ernie bunny bag, $295; Crystal ship necklace, $270; OfAKind.com

  • For the person who 'doesn’t need anything'

    Rent Mother Nature’s site encourages you to, well … do just that. Much like a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture — but you already knew that), you "lease" a share in a farm for a friend.  There are different kinds of farm leases you can purchase, from cheese to honey to honeybells.  The good people at Rent Mother Nature update your gift recipient as the season progresses, and then deliver the "harvest" to their door when it’s ready. 

    “Leases” starting at $39.95, rentmothernature.com/leases.shtml

  • For your best friend

    Did your best friend just happen to mention what she wanted this holiday season, with no hint as to where to find it? Challenge accepted. ShopStyle.com, the serious online shopper’s go-to search engine, allows you to shop online like you’re conducting legal research on Lexis. Green velvet, she said? Searched. A jacket, perhaps? Narrowed. And it needs to be a bargain, naturally. Sorted by Sale Items Only. Case closed. 

    Velvet Ruby Jacket, $99 (down from $168), JCrew.com  via Shopstyle.com

    Built on a love for all things retro and vintage, ModCloth.com offers offbeat clothing, accessories and household items at reasonable prices. Despite its throwback inventory, ModCloth employs some very new-wave thinking, allowing customers to “Be the Buyer” and vote on designs to be produced. Check out their nifty to-go containers, the grooviest way to bring lunch to work.

    Tasty Trio Tiffin Box in Circle, $36.99, ModCloth.com

  • For the hostess

    One of the world's largest fair-trade organizations, TenThousandVillages.com strives to improve the livelihood of tens of thousands of disadvantaged artisans in 38 countries. Negotiate a fair trade of your own with your host or hostess — beautiful blue cloth napkins in exchange for a seat at their next fete. 

    Fresh Air Napkin, $6, block printed by women artisans of Dastkar Ranthambore workshop in rural Rajasthan, TenThousandVillages.com

  • For apartment-dwellers

    ILoveUMA.com’s sharp selection of neat, masculine items makes you imagine that the curator must live in one wonderfully outfitted apartment. These space-conserving stacking mugs are just one example of why this site’s editor has won so many customers’ trust and affection. 

    Alice Mirror Stacking Mugs, $22.80 (reduced from $38), ILoveUMA.com

  • For pet lovers

    AllModern.com has an extensive collection of pet items that are as sleek as they are functional.  Pet owners love this dog bowl that closes when Fido’s not feeding to keep food fresh and unwanted critters away.

    Alessi F.F.F. Lulà Dog Bowl by Miriam Mirri, $79 (free shipping!), AllModern.com

  • For art lovers

    Twenty by Two-Hundred’s slogan is “art for everyone.” and at $20 a print, they’re talking about “everyone” on your gift list. Their striking selection of pieces obliterates the bare-wall problem and the “what to get that person” problem in one click. For the fashionista in your life, consider Lauren DiCioccio’s colorful take on Vogue’s List of Contributors. 

    Vogue March 2010:pg 230 (List of Contributors), $20, 20x200.com

  • For college students

    Curiosity Shoppe Online streamlines your gift choices into neat, easily navigated sections that will have you clicking on each delightful item to find out more. They cut out the junk and just leave the cream of the crop, or shall we say, cream of the shop.

    Cloisonne Pendants, $44, curiosityshoppeonline.com

Video: Bobbie Thomas' sweet, soft, smart and stylish gifts

Photos: Neiman Marcus fantasy gifts

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  1. World’s wildest Christmas gifts

    Tough times? Tight holiday budgets? Maybe for many, but Neiman Marcus continues to offer the height of extravagance in its 2010 Christmas Book, which lists gifts costing as much as $1.5 million. Yet even though the catalog has been around for 84 years, it's keeping up with the times: This year customers can access and order gifts using a new iPad application.

    50th anniversary His & Hers charm bracelet
    This year marks the 50th anniversary of His & Hers gifts in the Christmas Book, and Neiman Marcus is marking the occasion with this one-of-a-kind bracelet whose diamond and gold charms have been crafted into the shape of 11 His & Hers gifts from past years, including a windmill, an airplane, a hot-air balloon and a Chinese junk. Price: $248,000 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Customized Marfa, Texas, experience

    The little West Texas town of Marfa -- population 2,121 -- has become a mecca for art, architecture and nature. This gift offers three days and four nights of immersion in Marfa, crafted for two by a personal concierge. Event alternatives include private art tours, a glider trip above the desert, an observatory visit, a park excursion, and a private party to meet local artists, along with gourmet meals, luxury accommodations and a set of prints from a Marfa artist-in-residence. Price starts at $9,500 per couple (not including transportation). (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Dale Chihuly pool installation

    This gift offers a privately commissioned art installation by renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly measuring up to 22 by 12 feet -- at the bottom of your swimming pool. The recipient will also be able to work with the artist’s studio to get a rare inside look at Chihuly’s creative process. Price: $1.5 million (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Handmade gourd ukulele

    For this gift, guitar maker Danny Ferrington -- who has been hand-making instruments for the likes of George Harrison, Keith Richards, and Chrissie Hynde since 1975 -- will create classic four-string concert ukuleles, using split gourds as the bodies. Ferrington will build each ukulele from scratch, with hand-selected woods for acoustics and balance and rich mother-of-pearl inlays. Price $6,000 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Edible gingerbread playhouse

    This edible playhouse is handcrafted from 381 lbs. of gourmet gingerbread and 517 lbs. of royal icing by the confectioners at Dylan’s Candy Bar. Standing 6.6 feet high by 5.25 feet wide by 4.1 feet deep, it includes giant cookies, lollipops, gummies, mints, gumdrops and a candy-encrusted roof, plus a lollipop tree inside. Price: $15,000 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Leica M9-NM camera

    Limited to a worldwide edition of 50, the Leica M9 Neiman Marcus edition is the world's only digital rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses and a full-frame 18-megapixel sensor. The body is covered in ostrich leather trim, with matching strap; the LCD screen is covered by sapphire glass. Price: $17,5000 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Private party by Colin Cowie

    A-list event planner Colin Cowie will craft a party in your home for up to 75 guests, featuring Tequila Avion cocktails from mixologist Yusef Austin, gourmet food prepared by chef Todd English, and music mixed by celebrity DJ Donna d'Cruz. As a keepsake, they will all sign a bottle of Tequila Avion. Price: $125,000 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 2011 Neiman Marcus edition Camaro

    Limited to an edition of 100, this 2SS model Camaro convertible has a 6.2-liter V8 engine and the purchaser’s choice of a 426-horsepower six-speed manual or 400-horsepower six-speed automatic transmission. Other features include tri-coat exterior paint, convertible top highlighted with a silver painted windshield, and leather interior with red accent. Price: $75,000 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Tory Burch trike

    This family chariot for three is hand-built by Worksman Cycles and designed by fashion creator Tory Burch. In the back, two passengers can ride on plush bucket seats with swivel armrests, seat belts, a footboard, and a retractable canopy top. And if the driver tires of pedaling, a flip of a switch activates a clean-energy electric drive system. Price: $4,500 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. MetroShip houseboat

    With a 48-by-12-foot open floor plan and 7-foot-high interior ceiling, the MetroShip houseboat is open and airy during the day, with waterproof hardwood floors and double-glazed windows, while it glows at night thanks to maintenance-free translucent thermal aluminum walls. Features include a Bang & Olufsen stereo, high-definition projector, handmade kitchen cabinets, Viking refrigerator/freezer and dishwasher, Gaggenau in-cabinet oven and cooktop, spa bathroom and twin 60-horsepower Honda outboard engines. Price: $250,000 (Neiman Marcus) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A holiday tradition

    The Christmas Book has been a holiday tradition with Dallas-based luxury retailer Neiman Marcus for 84 years, offering whimsical, one-of-a-kind gifts at often eye-popping prices. This year's edition marks the 50th anniversary of the catalog's famed His & Hers fantasy gifts. () Back to slideshow navigation
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