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‘Queer Eye’ for the gift-giving guy

Does television influence our shopping habits? By Teri Goldberg

The hit show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" may have influenced how Americans shopped this season in ways that are hard to imagine, according to a survey published by Jericho Communications, a Manhattan-based public relations firm. And results from another survey -- conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for online jeweler bluenile.com -- showed straight guys still don’t know how to please their women, at least when it comes to gift giving.

Both companies have a vested interest in the results. The public relations company wants to draw attention to itself. Bluenile.com wants to reinforce the idea that diamonds are a symbol of everlasting love.

If you buy into the stereotypes or not, there may be something going on here beyond the human eye — queer or straight. “I never would have guessed the results of this survey,” says Eric Yaverbaum, president of Jericho Communications. “People did respond seriously to the survey,” says Yaverbaum about the respondents who were asked to select trend setters from a six-page list of 280 celebrities. The survey was completed by 2,654 shoppers at seven malls in New York, Pennsylvania, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

What would Carson buy?The most shocking stat showed Carson Kressley, fashion maven of the Fab Five, ranked number one when shoppers were asked which celebrity they would most likely buy a product endorsed by them. Kressley led with 15 percent. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came in second at 13 percent. J. Lo fell at the bottom of the heap at one percent. Oprah didn’t even make the grade, at less than 1 percent. Other trend setters on the list included Kobe Bryant -- ranked third -- and Paris Hilton and Ben Affleck, who tied for fifth.

The funniest finding revealed underwear sales by men nearly tripled on the Wednesday after an episode of Queer Eye aired. We always knew there was a connection between what sales and television, says Yaverbaum. But the results raise new questions: What are we overlooking? How much does pop culture influence our shopping habits? Should retailers run sales for men on Wednesday?

In the spirit of good old-fashioned journalism, I posed a similar question to some holiday shoppers. Instead of presenting a long list of celebrities — which in itself influences the process -- I asked “Which, if any, television show or celebrity has had an impact on your holiday shopping this season?”

Here’s what a few New Yorkers had to say. There was no mention of Queer Eye. Responses ranged from “I don’t watch T.V.” to the “Simpsons,” which the respondent added, it’s “one of the best things on TV.”

The media and politics entered the picture for one New York resident, who moved here from Iowa. “The nightly news” had the most impact on my holiday shopping, says Lee Graham, president of a small public relations firm. “Considering what the Republicans have done to Democracy over the past couple of years, I’m purchasing a lot of Bush-and GOP-bashing books as gifts this year,” says Graham.

Bad gift bluesBooks make great gifts, but not if they are only of interest to the giver. “A couple of years ago for my birthday, my boyfriend of two years took me out to dinner and handed me a wrapped package. Inside was a book about a World War II brigade. I thought at first that it was some kind of joke. But that was it -- that was my entire birthday present,” says Ann Jenkins who did most of her holiday shopping online this year.

Jenkins is not alone when it comes to bad gifts. The poll conducted for bluenile.com showed one-third of the women surveyed said their husbands or boyfriends have given them a gift that was “far off the mark,” such as a block of wood, a cauliflower or a dryer vent. Thirty-two percent of these women reported the gift was “more appropriate for him,” than for her, which included items such as a workbench and a pistol. Other bad gifts mentioned were a size-16 dress for a size-8 woman, McDonald’s gift certificates for a vegetarian and fertilizer spreader. More than 1,000 men and women, 18 years of age and older, were interviewed by telephone.

Excellent gift giversOnce again, a handful of New Yorkers I interviewed about the best/worst gifts bucked the trends. Franklin Roth, director of institutional giving at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, describes his significant other as an “excellent” gift-giver. She “buys me things that I wouldn't even think of for myself,” says Roth. “My watch, for instance, is a $300 Swiss Army officer's watch, which I'm very happy with. I would have bought a Casio for $80, tops,” he explains. “The clothing she picks out for me are my only pieces with any style, so they're a bit of a stretch for me. But they suggest new possibilities of a vision of self,” he adds.

Carol Milano, a freelance writer in Brooklyn, also said her husband’s taste was “excellent.” He “really tries hard to think of things I'll like, such as unusual butterfly items,” says Milano, who collects costume jewelry with butterfly themes.

Pamela Title, a commercial real estate agent, says it took about a year to teach her husband what makes her happy. The Christmas after their first anniversary, he gave her faux Mabe pearl Chanel earrings, which he had found on the Web after scouring several shops in Paris on their honeymoon.

“The clip-on earrings kill my ears, and they look cheap in comparison with the real thing,” says Title, who has a pair of real Mabe pearl Chanel pierced earrings she prefers to wear. Now that she has set him straight, this year he gave her one of the best gifts -- a subscription to Shape magazine. “It's what I wanted. It doesn't take up any space. It keeps me up to date on what I like — fitness. And I might not have purchased it for myself.”

Teri Goldberg is MSNBC.com’s shopping writer. Write to her at personalshopper@msnbc.com