They're well qualified for advice-dispensing: Lindsi Shine runs InsiderNYC, a concierge service for the gifting-challenged, and spends all day devising inventive alternative presents. And for a glimpse into the angst-ridden mind of guys across America, we grilled style maven Tyler Thoreson who's survived more than one or two V-Days himself.
The best thing to do with this story is read it, then subtly pass along to any gift-challenged loved one – husband, boyfriend, fiancé – to help them steer clear of drugstore chocolates and gas stations flowers.
BETTER! YOUR FAVORITE FLOWERS: "I've never really liked red roses, or baby's breath, the whole thing is so dowdy – and they put a big mark-up on red roses this time of year anyway. What you want is something really elegant," Thoreson confides. Men should instead gently Braille their loved ones to find out their favorite flower and buy two dozen of those instead. A simple, yet personal, gesture like that will eclipse any past rose-related snafus. Or if those flowers aren't easily available, a fragrance – whether perfume, candle or room – of that same scent instead.
BANNED! DRUGSTORE CHOCOLATES: Admit it: last year's box is still secretly stashed under the sofa, cellophane intact.
BETTER! CHOCOLATE BODY PAINT: Take inspiration from chocolates in a quirkier way: a jar of edible, chocolate body paint is both more fun and lower calorie than those inedible coffee creams. For a less raunchy riff on the tradition, bring home a bar of Swiss chocolate and a punnet of strawberries for a dessert that can be made together. And a box of chocolate cupcakes delivered to the office is a can't-miss twist.
BETTER! A PERSONALIZED BOBBLE HEAD: It's far better to decorate a dressing table than a no-name bottle of scent – and funnier, too. Order a personalized bobblehead of a loved one, or even a pet like a much-loved dog. "One of my girlfriends did it for her boyfriend – he's a big golfer, so his says 'World's Sexiest Golfer'. It's adorable," raves Shine.
BANNED! CHEAP CHAMPAGNE: Nothing takes the fizz out of a relationship than a last-minute bottle of bubbly.
BETTER! D.I.Y. WINE: One of Shine's favorite NYC treats is the Chelsea Wine Vault, a store that allows couples to custom-blend their own wine which she does with her husband each year. "I'm more a White Burgundy, he's a Riesling. We combine that and make a wine that would be us together and save it for next Valentine's Day when we can enjoy it together." There are similar firms across the country, or couples could even sign up for a wine-appreciation class together then select a bottle based on what they've learned to lay aside for next year. "Make a tradition out of something you guys like to do together," Shine suggests.
BETTER! A PRELOADED DIGITAL PHOTO FRAME: Nix cards completely. Buy a digital picture frame and then pre-load it with a few personal snaps – trips or days or moments that are meaningful. It's not the frame that counts, but the time taken to select the photos.
BANNED! OVERPRICED PRIX FIXE MEALS ON VALENTINE'S NIGHT: "Most restaurants treat Valentine's Day the same way florists do: they churn out product, and mark up the price," says Thoreson. "The prix fixe meal was probably cooked hours before."
BETTER! PRIVATE COUPLES TIME: This year, Valentine's Day is a Sunday, so it's even easier to set aside some personal time. Thoreson, himself a keen cook, suggests subbing eating out for dining in. "You're not going to save money if you do it right and buy the right ingredients," he warns. Shine suggests spending the afternoon on a romantic walk. "Take an afternoon to go look at an art exhibit and read up on it before," she recommends. "Another one of my favorite things is to do a walking tour – all cities have them. I'm from Indianapolis, and they have them there. In New York, the story behind the Brooklyn Bridge is such a great love story: the wife finished it because the husband had gone blind."
BETTER! AN OFFICE PAMPERING: "Someone as a thank you to my team gave everyone in the office 15-minute back massages," Shine recalls. She suggests sending a manicurist to the work place for a throwaway indulgence that's more personal yet less intrusive than that helium bouquet.
BANNED! FRILLY LINGERIE: That lace-trimmed thong is an oddly automated gift on V-Day. "It means you're just doing what you're supposed to be doing, and no-one likes to be loved that way," Shine agrees.
BETTER! INTIMATE ART: Take the intimate sentiment behind the idea and instead order a custom canvas from one of the many online art-sellers. "My husband had them draw a picture of [NYC restaurant] Bar Pitti, where our first date was," Shine says. She also likes the LA-based movie art mecca, Every Picture Tells a Story, where you can order animation cells, book art or cartoons: buy one from a loved one's favorite film or childhood story.
BANNED! BORING MEN'S GIFTS: Admit it – it isn't just men who suffer from V-Day blah-itis. Women fall back on the same generic catch-alls – sports jerseys, ties – year after year, or sometimes don't even reciprocate.
BETTER! THINK 'MAD MEN': Thoreson puts it simply. "Think: what would Betty Draper five her husband Don, at least when she's not pissed off at him – whatever that is, is a pretty good Valentine's Day gift."
Shine remembers that the way to a man's heart has always been through another body part. "Get steak lunches delivered to a guy's office – pick up a meal to go, and deliver it," she recommends. Red meat on Friday lunchtime should leave him raring to go when Valentine's weekend begins.