Time for men to brave up hit the high streets this Christmas

The words ‘shopping’ and ‘men’ have always been uneasy bedfellows. The idea of buying anything outside of the usual ‘boys toys’ like sports gear or electronics has always been uncharted territory for the average guy.

Time for men to brave up hit the high streets this Christmas

And this collision of rampant retail and the reluctant male is magnified even further at Christmas.

But isn’t the Man of 2015 completely at ease tracking down anything from Peppa Pig to frillies from Victoria’s Secret?

Sadly not — in fact, most males of my acquaintance, be they chefs, centre forwards, or captains of industry, would infinitely prefer to contemplate emergency roadside brain surgery using a rusty garden secateurs, or herding a clutch of kittens along an icy path in a snow storm rather than tackling the high streets in December.

As guy things go, shopping anywhere for anything during the season of goodwill is a deal they just can’t seal.

Though we live in the brave new world of 2015, some traditions simply refuse to die, it seems, including the annual migration of hapless, harried males haunting the well-plucked gift counters at 4.45pm on December 24.

Like the switching on of the lights and the arrival of expats home for the holidays, the sight of confused and bewildered alpha males with a dread of the lingerie department is a reality that continues to thrive.

With just two weeks left until the Big Day, many guys are already squirming at their desks and sprouting grey hairs as the fateful moment when they must man up, for the high street thunders toward them like a runaway locomotive.

The more they postpone it, the worse will be the gift choice left in shops, from the cheap tack in the bargain bin to the outrageously expensive bauble sure to dent the credit card to the point of oblivion.

Men who do hit the stores on gift buying missions spend an average of €150 an hour doing their main Christmas shop — accomplishing it all in under three hours, according to a recent survey by online retailer QVC.

A quarter of men surveyed claimed they got all their gifts in one hour flat, while four per cent admitted to never buying Christmas gifts at all — all guys with no use for mistletoe, obviously.

DESPERATE MEN

There are an infinite variety of male animals visible on the High Streets of the land this month. Some are easily recognisable, as they trudge reluctantly about with Scrooge-like faces, while others are more difficult to categorise. Here are a few of the main species:

The Guy Who Would Rather Not

A reluctant shopper at the best of times, he arrives into the holiday traffic with the attitude of an unexploded bomb, wanting only the slightest wrong word to implode. His first conflict in a day of ratty behaviour will usually occur in the car park, where he’ll be found swearing like a sailor at an elderly couple in their 80s whom he’s convinced stole the last car space by the door. Avoid this dude at all costs.

The Doh! Dad

This guy is so wrapped up in his work, he forgot not only the wife, but also the kids’ gifts as well. Instantly known by the telltale frazzled expression creasing his face, he’s not really that dangerous — he just looks that way.

Forgetful Fred

The man who wants desperately to do the right thing by his nearest and dearest, but is guaranteed to mess up even the simplest shopping list. Having located the perfect pair of earrings for his wife, he forgets Granny; and, having remembered the neighbours, forgets the in-laws. This guy will make seven trips into town to complete the yuletide deal.

The Retailer’s Best Friend

A dude brimming with so much childlike enthusiasm, he hits the stores dazzled by everything and anything, and ends up buying double the amount of pressies needed. In short, he’s a man with a good heart, and a depressing bank balance.

COUCH COMMERCE

According to research by Aviva Home Insurance, gifts will be the single biggest item of expenditure for families this Christmas, with 54% of households estimating their spend will exceed €500.

At an average of €297, children are the biggest beneficiaries, with partners or spouses gifts coming next at an average of €177 spent on each other. .

Three-quarters of consumers will do most of their Christmas shopping in traditional stores, with 23% planning to split their purchases between the high street and online, a Bank of Ireland survey revealed.

Online shopping continues to grow, but remains a more attractive option for the younger generation, with 72% aged between 18 and 34.

For those males with a total aversion to going anywhere near a department store, the idea of joining the ‘Couch Commerce’ generation is an obvious alternative.

With a small degree of pre-planning, you can let others do all that gift buying scramble on your behalf, as you recline in comfort while tracking your purchases’ journey via laptop real-time inventory.

Given that practically all shops, from giants like Amazon, Dunnes and Tesco, right down to smaller outlets and boutiques, likely to have a website, it’s easy as mince pie to simply reach for your smartphone or tablet, scroll through the gift guides, make your choice and avoid the holiday crowds.

With online shopping skyrocketing all across Europe and the US, retailers have poured huge levels of creativity into their websites offering discount deals, loyalty points, free delivery and no-hassle returns to growing numbers of us who like to browse-and-buy while toasting our toes by a home side hearth.

If you still want to experience the atmosphere of Santas and choirs on city streets without the hassle attached, many stores have created apps allowing you buy online and collect in person — all wrapped, bagged and ready to go. If you want the ultimate in ease by having your gifts delivered, though, do note the Christmas delivery deadlines.

STILL CAVEMEN AT CHRISTMAS?

Some shops have learned to link the start of the male Christmas shopping season directly to sales of Chanel No 5 perfume. “It’s like a starting pistol going off,” says Ruth Attridge of Debenhams. “As soon as we see sales of Chanel No 5 rising, we know that men have begun the race to get their Christmas shopping done.”

The experience has such a negative effect on some men, it can raise their stress levels to those found in fighter pilots and riot police, according to psychologist Dr David Lewis, Chairman of Mindlab International.

Commissioned by a London shopping centre to monitor heart rates and blood pressure in male shoppers, Dr Lewis, author of Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It, found that men’s stress levels went sky high at the prospect of buying presents. “Men were heavily stressed by the shopping experience, except when they are buying toys for boys like electrics and computers.”

Much of it is down to lack of experience, he believes: “Men do not shop very often. Women are still the major shoppers.”

Mind you, while most of us modern guys have transformed ourselves into helpful partners when it comes housework and homecare, we still seem to retain a peculiar reluctance to grapple with a shopping trolley or message list.

Admitting right off that he doesn’t like shopping, especially at Christmas, psychologist and author Owen Fitzpatrick has found a found a method that he believes takes much of the pain away. “I create lists of everyone I am buying for.

I decide what I will get them. I decide how much it will cost, and I decide where I can get it. Then I organise my two days by location.

“It’s embarrassing to admit as it’s extremely nerdish. I don’t do this because I like it. I do it because I hate having Christmas shopping still to do. I don’t want to think about it. And it works!”

But even though the internet has provided us with a method of buying things more easily than ever, men still have the tough task of deciding what to buy.

“For children it’s easy because they tell us,” says Owen. “For partners and the women of our life, often we are forced to do what we have been helpless at since the days we lived in caves... reading their minds.”

Here are some of the best buys for girls

Joe Malone Gift Cracker

Tart-juicy Blackberry and Bay Cologne. Reviving Lime Basil and Mandarin Body and Hand Wash. Opulent Peony and Blush Suede Body Creme. Tied with mistletoe green ribbon to set it off with style.

Brown Thomas €38

Sage Nutri-Juicer

The Sage by Heston Blumenthal Nutri Juicer is all about speed as it extracts 70% of nutrients from fruit thanks to a centred feed chute and titanium-reinforced cutting blades.

Harvey Norman €199

Faith Boot

Leather knee-high boots in black, these mid-heeled boots feature elasticated panels on the back of the leg for a comfortable fit and feel, with a buckled strap on the ankle and a full zip through the side.

Debenhams €96.50

Surprise her with a travel voucher for a weekend trip to a European city of her choice in 2016. Add a touch of mystery by placing it inside a posh holdall, like a Tripp Glide Lite II in mulberry.

Debenhams €19.99

DKNY Stainless Steel Earrings. Crisp stainless steel has a polished finish, lending itself perfectly to the glittering crystal detail.

Littlewoods €70

Trinity Wooden Cuff

Striking cuff bracelet is made from thin, woven bands of contrasting cherry, walnut and rosewood.

uncommongoods.com/ €45

Avoca Softshell Raincoat

Breathable softshell material allows you to move freely in the rain with no sweat. It can withstand even the hardest torrential downpour.

Avoca €195

Owen Fitzpatrick's top tips for gift shopping

1. Make a list of everyone you are buying presents for.

2. Be aware of your budget for each person.

3. Write what you are going to buy people beside their names.

4. If you don’t know, ask yourself what do they like.

5. If you don’t know, ask yourself what is a generic and acceptable present for their gender and age range.

6. List beside each present description the name of the shop or website that you will find it in.

7. Create a schedule, a map of the route and organise the locations in the most efficient way possible.

8. When out shopping, get an assistant to help you find everything you are looking for.

9. When you get home, label and organise what you have gotten so you know what is for who.

10. Buy some extra toys and bottles of wine in case you forget someone.

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