Jenni Avins

A Guide to the Best Baby Gifts, for the Wall Street Journal

Winning the baby-gifting game is never as easy as ABC. A guide to breaking free of the registry and making the most discriminating of parents beam with joy.

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Paula Knight, Set by DSM, Model: Jack Sanocki

WHEN IT COMES to occasions that call for gift giving, the arrival of a new baby comes with an anxiety all its own. Unlike birthdays, anniversaries or the holidays, a baby shower or a first visit rolls around just once. The pressure can be intense—often exacerbated by the ritual public gift unwrapping. High-strung parents with high-end tastes can make matters even worse.

“It’s like the birthday gift of all birthday gifts,” said Joanna Della Valle, a former fashion editor and mother of two. Ms. Della Valle inspired her entrepreneur husband, Emanuele, to establish Elizabeth Street, an online network and iPad app with information for stylish moms on everything from where to buy birthday cakes to kid-friendly restaurants in Paris. “It’s challenging because it’s time-consuming,” she said. “I’m always looking for new ideas.”

Rattle-Shakingly Good Baby Gifts

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas (6)Click to view interactive.

“It’s about getting something that will really make an impact,” said Cindy Teasdale McGowan, founder of the St. Louis baby store and website Makaboo. “Not just the bottle cage that you put in the dishwasher. Nobody wants to give that.” Ms. Teasdale McGowan has baby-gifting cred in spades. When she established Makaboo in 2010, she was already an aunt to 23 nieces and nephews.

Unfortunately the ideal present is rarely on a registry. Expectant parents are usually too busy learning about the basics of swaddling and diaper rash prevention to work on their wishlists. Finding a gift for a newborn that is thoughtful, stylish and practical—but not too practical—requires creativity and some legwork. Here’s how to snag that special something, from the fashionably functional to the generously over-the-top.


“Parents probably spend nine months agonizing over the name, so they want to see it everywhere,” said Ms. Della Valle, who likes to give monogrammed washcloth sets from Ralph Lauren and J.Crew’s customizable cashmere blankets, which come in a rainbow of colors.

When Ferebee Taube, co-founder of the women’s shopping website Feyt, gave birth to twins four years ago, she received story books personalized with her children’s names by the company I See Me. Ms. Taube now regularly orders them for friends with new babies. “Just plug in the baby’s name and birthday and it ships,” she said.

As easy as placing an order may be, selecting a personalized gift still shows foresight and thought. “It means you didn’t just pull something out of your gift drawer,” said Ms. Teasdale McGowan. On the Makaboo website, she offers custom embroidery for items like onesies, blankets and even collapsible toy hampers. (Ms. Teasdale McGowan’s own hamper for her 14-month-old, named Walter, features a cartoon raccoon with the label: “Walt’s Toys.”)

When gifts are personalized, their lives often extend beyond a child’s infancy. Lela Rose, a fashion designer and mother of two, purchases antique silver baby cups on Etsy and eBayEBAY +0.20% and asks a local jeweler to engrave them with her friends’ babies’ names and birth dates. “They have an old-world feel to them, and are something you will have forever,” said Ms. Rose.


Other parents of young children can be the best resource for gift ideas. They know firsthand what comes in handy and what soon gets classified as clutter headed for the Salvation Army. Only another parent could have given David Maupin, co-owner of the art gallery Lehmann Maupin, one of the most thoughtful gifts he received when his twins were born: an iPod preloaded with baby Mozart, lullabies and the gift-er’s own children’s favorite nursery rhymes. “I plugged it in immediately,” said Mr. Maupin. “I don’t think I’ve unplugged it since.”

Similarly, Nadine Ferber, co-founder of the Manhattan nail salon Tenoverten, said other parents have helped build her children’s library. “People will give me books and say, ‘These are the three books that my son loves,’ ” said Ms. Ferber, who has a penchant for Miroslav Sasek’s city-centric picture books, like “This is New York.”

Now that she has a 21-month-old daughter and a 2-month-old son, Ms. Ferber shares her own discoveries with other new moms when baby showers roll around. At the top of her list: Coyuchi organic burp cloths, knit sweater suits from Japanese label Makié and Kissy Kissy Pima cotton onesies for bedtime. “You can never get enough sleepwear,” said Ms. Ferber.

Or sleep. Eleanor Ylvisaker, Ms. Taube’s co-founder at Feyt and a mother of two toddlers, was thrilled to receive a gift certificate for a consultation with a child-development specialist at the Seedlings Group, which advises parents on how to establish a baby’s healthy sleep habits, among other issues. “Everybody wants to give you advice when you have a baby,” said Ms. Ylvisaker. “[The consultation] is like an instruction manual for having a kid.”


Buying something outrageously expensive, such as a cashmere suit from Bonpoint or a floral Baby Dior dress, might seem like a waste of money since it will be outgrown within a few months. But this strategy is guaranteed to elicit a gasp from the most cosmopolitan of parents. And, after all, birthdays at any age merit a touch of extravagance.

“That’s the idea of a gift,” said Tracy Edwards, who oversees buying for the Barneys children’s department. “A little element of surprise, perhaps, and indulgence that wouldn’t necessarily be part of your own purchasing pattern.”

Ms. Edwards is currently taken with Dolce & Gabbana’s ultra-colorful scarf prints (seen on the label’s spring runway) which appear in miniature form on items like a ruched silk romper and a little cardigan with a lemon motif.

Christine Innamorato, artistic director of the notably stylish but very pricey French children’s line Bonpoint, says cashmere is her favorite material for babies. She uses it in matching sweater-and-leggings sets in less conventional baby colors like lime green.

“It’s like having your fairy godmother buy you something really extravagant,” said Mr. Maupin, the gallerist, of receiving such gifts. “You honestly don’t end up buying that for your own children.” And the gesture doesn’t need to be wasteful. Two artists who work with Mr. Maupin also have young daughters, so when his twins outgrow their special dresses he will pass the frocks on.

Other clothes are made to grow into. Art director Julia Restoin Roitfeld said her mother, fashion editor Carine Roitfeld, gave granddaughter Romy a tie-front sleep-sack from Makié. When the weather cools and Romy outgrows it as a sleep-sack, the bottom can be opened, transforming it into a kimono-style coat. “It’s a gift that can really last and evolve as the baby grows,” said Ms. Restoin Roitfeld, whose website, Romy and the Bunnies, features interviews with other chic mothers as well as tips on how to avoid stretch marks and tame post-pregnancy hair.

Adorable as teeny-tiny luxury goods are, most moms advise sizing up at least three to six months for gifts. “You receive so many baby gifts for newborns,” said Elizabeth Street’s Ms. Della Valle. “And that’s such a chaotic period.” For those forward-looking splurges, just remember to anticipate what season the item will be worn. Jewelry designer Jennifer Fisher, a Southern California transplant to New York, said that a sleek down parka from the brand Finger in the Nose has become a classic in her two kids’ closets, and in her gift-giving repertoire. A quilted coat may look almost comically enormous to the parents of a summer newborn, but before they know it, they’ll be digging for the coat in the closet. “Buy ahead,” sighed Ms. Restoin Roitfeld. “They grow so quickly.”