12 Gifts for the Brother-in-Law You Haven’t the Slightest Clue About

Because what’s he into besides bitcoin, really?

December 2, 2020 11:11 am
robes, swim trunks, a fancy book

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Visit InsideHook’s Holiday 2020 gifting hub to find gift ideas for every person on your list this year. Also, who are we kidding? Find lots of ideas for yourself there, too.

There are a number of stories, essays and picture books I have stumbled upon over the years that I consider required holiday reading.

One of them is a Loetscher family staple called Wake Up Bear, It’s Christmas, which my father used to read to my sister and me on Christmas Eve, and I now in turn read to my nephews. Another is Jordan Hall’s brilliant fan-fic “The Home,” in which he channels Cormac McCarthy for a dramatic retelling of Home Alone. The most recent entry into my Christmas canon is “No More Whiskey Stones: A Holiday Plea From Your Boyfriend,” a piece of yuletide satire penned by Monica Heisey for The New Yorker in 2018.

In the piece, Heisey invokes a narrator who is a “thirty-two-year-old man who has been dating [someone’s] adult daughter for six years” to articulate a plight that is relatable to male partners the world over: namely, that our S.O.’s families have nary a clue what we are interested in, and thus tend to gift us based on the assumption that we fit some bland profile of a thirty-something man, which leads them to things like “a leather-scented candle,” “manly plaid slippers,” “monogrammed robes” and, of course, whiskey stones.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with any of these gifts in a vacuum (except whiskey stones, which are dumb and useless); rather, it’s that receiving them makes one feel like he is an unremarkable stereotype of a man whose entire personality is contained within the “man cave” section of a Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue.

So this year, given my position as a thirty-something brother-in-law, long-term boyfriend and uncle, I’m here to help you right the ship. Below, you’ll find 12 gift recommendations for brothers-, sons- and boyfriends-in-law that feel slightly more left of center, and thus will not make us feel like, as Heisey so eloquently puts is, “a rye-soaked husk of a man who simply must keep his whiskey strong and cold while he watches V.R. footage in his bacon novelty socks.”

custom neon sign
Neon MFG

Custom Neon Signs by Neon MFG.

Nothing says “you’re the only brother-in-law who’s getting this gift this year” like a neon sign that is custom made for him and him alone. Neon MFG. is the best in the biz, and their team will work with you to come up with a design that caters precisely to your recipient’s interests, whether it’s a sports team or his alma mater or the bitcoin symbol (please tell us it’s not the bitcoin symbol). Be sure to tell them you want yours made by their manufacturing partner in L.A., which will ensure it arrives in time for the holidays.

yukata robe
California Cowboy

Yukata Robe by California Cowboy

Ninety percent of bathrobes are exactly the type of gift we’re trying to exclude from this list: humdrum dude fare that more or less says, “I don’t know a whole lot about you beyond the fact that you are a human man.” This is no mere robe, though: this is a yukata, aka an unlined summer kimono that only the dapperest gents — like, duh, your brother-in-law — can pull off.

acua star swim trunks

Acqua Star Swim Trunks by Marwida

If you’ve spent much time on this website, you know the rules: your swim shorts need to be shorter — ideally checking in right at or above a 5” inseam. These Italian-cut trunks fit the bill (they check in around 4”), and they’re exactly the kind of thing that most guys want but will never buy for themselves: super premium swim trunks that feel and look like they belong on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

Crown Royal bottle and box
Crown Royal
Sponsored by Crown Royal

Crown Royal Canadian Whisky

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s safe to say the holidays will be a little different this year. Thus a bottle of top-shelf whisky is very much the name of the game when it comes to holiday gifting, and for that you should look no further than storied Canadian distillers Crown Royal. No matter who you’re shopping for, they’ve got an expression to mark the occasion — from the classic Deluxe to the velvety Reserve to the sophisticated XR. This holiday season, all are available with customizable labels and bags so you can give the ultimate gift with a personal message for the special people in your life. Our suggestion: “Happy holidays, may we raise a glass together again soon.”

victory journal
Victory Journal

Two-Issue Subscription to Victory Journal

Think of the “journal of sport and culture” as the New Yorker meets Sports Illustrated, in newspaper form, delivered twice annually. Packed with gorgeous photos and underdog tales from the furthest-flung corners of the sporting world, it’s a unique and high-minded gift for any sports fan.

drake's scarf

Blue and Navy Circus Wool Print Scarf by Drake’s

If you’re aiming to utterly impress the new man in the family and can afford to do so, I don’t think you can do much better than a scarf from the knitwear kings at London’s Drake’s. Woven from Italian wool and featuring whimsical technicolor prints like this circus scene, these scarves have the singular effect of dressing up any casual look but dressing down any formal one. And the best thing about a scarf? One size fits all, so you don’t have to worry about that awkward dance where something doesn’t really fit your recipient but they pretend like it does anyway because they don’t want to come across as ungrateful.

leatherman free p2

The Free P2 Multitool by Leatherman

There are, of course, some gifts that are entirely cliché and yet still immune to criticism because they are just that good. A Leatherman is one of those things. Any man who doesn’t have one needs one, and any man who does have one could probably still stand to upgrade to the Free series, which came out last year and boasts the biggest innovation the brand has seen in decades: the addition of a magnetic architecture that allows all the tools to move in and out of their stow-wells more … freely. Bonus points if you customize it with some clever inside joke that only you and your brother-in-law will understand.

mr bingo hate mail
Mr Bingo

Hate Mail: The Definitive Collection by Mr Bingo

Mr Bingo is a British illustrator who rose to fame thanks to his “Hate Mail,” a project wherein he sent puerile, vulgar and incendiary postcards to anyone who was willing to pay him money. This volume collects the best of them across 320 pages. The great thing about this gift is that if your guy-in-law doesn’t think it’s funny, you will have learned that he has a terrible sense of humor and poor taste, which permits you to then gift him whiskey stones every subsequent year until one of you dies.

American Trench

Retro Stripe Socks by American Trench

We overthink gifts. We really do. Most people will ultimately be happier if you just give them something they’ll use on a regular basis. This is doubly true if you get them a more premium version of a product than what they would buy for themselves. Enter American Trench’s plush, cozy, American-made cotton socks. In my eight years of writing for this magazine, I’ve been sent — I don’t know — somewhere on the order of 50 different pairs of free socks, and these ones top them all.

curse of lono

The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson (Illustrated)

This is one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received and a thing that I will happily give to anyone I like. One of Thompson’s lesser-known titles, it’s basically Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas gone Hawaiian: Hunter calls his friend Ralph to see about a press junket in the Aloha State, and from there, the pair devolve into all manner of drug-addled hijinks, with the line between fact and fiction never really making itself clear. Be sure to get the illustrated hardcover version from Taschen, which is a great conversation piece for any living room.

pro-ject record cleaning

Vinyl Maintenance Kit by Pro-Ject

This one comes with a very obvious caveat: your giftee needs to be someone who likes collecting records. If he is, congrats, that guy is easy to shop for, because he probably doesn’t care about anything in the world but biting his lower lip and feeling his pulse quicken while he runs his fingers down the spine of some early John Prine pressing that he dug out of a crate in Asheville.* You are NOT buying him anything of consequence, because he definitely has very strong opinions about all of it. What you are buying him is this dead-simple stylus and record cleaning kit, which is imminently useful but also entirely non-threatening to his status as the resident vinyl-knower in the family.

*Actual record-collecting editor’s note: FYI, early pressings of John Prine records are a dime a dozen and wouldn’t likely get my pulse racing as described here. The really desirable Prine stuff is from the late-’80s and early-’90s, when his popularity waned and vinyl was being replaced by CDs. Those would get my pulse racing for sure.

sanuk puff n chill

The Puff N Chill by Sanuk

You know that pair of slip-on shoes you keep by the door for mundane little tasks like fetching the paper or letting the dog out or signing for a package? This is that, winterized. Featuring a puffer jacket-esque upper, faux shearing liner and sawtooth soles for added traction, it’s the perfect indoor-outdoor house shoe for the colder months. Which means that unlike just about any other pair of slippers you can buy him, these actually have a use case beyond being a slightly inferior version of the slippers he already wears and loves.

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