Are Dorm Room Registries a Thing? Interviewed by Maclean’s Magazine

Dorm room gift registries on the rise

Students are sick of hand-me-downs and are giving dorm gift registries the old college try

Rosemary Counter

Before 19-year-old Meaghan Vital moved away from home and into a dorm at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont., she attended a baby shower for her cousin’s wife. As the soon-to-be-mom was opening blankets and onesies from her registry, she turned to Vital with a tip. “She told me there was one for dorms now, too,” says the hairstyling student. Vital headed immediately to TheBay.com and created her own.

Just a few years ago, Vital would likely have been scrounging through her parents’ kitchen for freebies. Now she can benefit from a gift bounty thanks to a plethora of registry options now on the market. The Bay’s include anniversaries and housewarmings, “wish lists” and “holiday lists,” as well as the event option, added quietly in 2012, which Vital was most excited about: “dorm life.”

And so Vital began her list of 20 must-haves: Basic kitchenware such as cooking utensils and measuring cups, a $160 oversized blender, $130 Tassimo single-serve coffee maker with matching $25 disc carousel, and a $90 portable chopping system. Longer shots, she’ll admit, included a pink cotton-candy maker and a stainless steel deep fryer. Bay gift cards, their amount unspecified and unlimited, were also appreciated.

Gift-giving etiquette and expectations are continually changing, but if anyone had a less-than-positive response to Vital’s list, they were too polite to say so. “I told my mom, and she told all my aunts and uncles and stuff,” she says. “So they could go here for my birthday and Christmas presents and get me exactly what I need.”

For stores, dorm registries are a winning model, a response, perhaps, to the popular phenomenon in the U.S. of “trunk parties,” gatherings held by families before their high school grads head off to college; guests bring gifts of kitchenware, linens and the like. Bed Bath & Beyond allows students and parents to create a registry in their local store and pick up at a location nearby the college (making moving day much easier). In June, Target rolled out its College Registry program in the U.S. Thousands of students have since enrolled, and plans to expand the program into Canada are in the works.

Already there is Wal-Mart’s recently launched a “school supplies list,” a collaborative wish list that both students and their parents can access and manage. “It’s very close to a registry, except that it goes far beyond move-in day and has no specific date or event that goes with it,” says Rick Neuman, director of site experience at Wal-Mart Canada. Thirteen thousand lists have been created at Wal-Mart in the past month, some with as many as 10 “collaborators.” Students here seem more practical in their choices; top products listed are Kraft peanut butter, chunk tuna, loose-leaf paper, pens and pencils and laptops, although Neuman has also seen a seven-speed electric bike, a Zoomer Zuppies Interactive Puppy and one 80-inch flat-screen TV. “Somebody is dreaming big,” he says.

But registry makers should proceed carefully when navigating between needs and wants, says Toronto gift etiquette expert Karen Cleveland. “A registry shows you unequivocally expect a gift, and that’s a gesture of entitlement. No one owes you a gift for taking a step toward adulthood.” But while it’s tempting to see the phenomenon as a cash grab of sorts by the Me Me Me generation, for Millennial and writer Heidi Oran, it’s not so simple. “All registries are created by companies for profit,” she says. “They reflect the commercialization of every event in our lives.”

For students who do register, the same rules apply as for bridal registries: “Have a balance of price points, and spread the word via word of mouth,” says Cleveland. “A mass email is in very bad form.” And don’t be upset with gift-givers who go rogue. In this case, they might know something that you don’t know. “I actually got a lot of things that weren’t on my list but were way more helpful,” says Vital. “I got an electrical frying pan instead of a deep fryer, a Crock-Pot instead of a blender, and a toaster.” She never got her cotton candy machine, but there’s hope. Vital’s left the registry open, just in case.

 

(Originally published in Maclean’s Magazine, August 2014)

Regifting and New Year’s Eve tips on Canada AM

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Decoding your office holiday party invitation

holiday cocktails

Festive? Cocktail? Or festive cocktail? The language of party invitations is key to cracking the dress code, well, code. Following are some cues to heed in your choice of attire. And heed away. There is a return to an interest in dressing with intent (thanks in part to a movement against ‘Casual Fridays’ getting too casual). Taking pleasure in dressing for a sense of occasion has triumphed over huffing about having to fuss with a suit or cocktail dress. Wear the hell out of that formal wear.

If you’re fortunate enough to be invited to an event that calls for black tie, why not fully embrace it? Wearing your best can be a point of pride, as well as a nod of respect to your host.

While you open your closet, consider falling nicely in the middle of the sartorial spectrum. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you don’t want to be the flashiest person in the room, but you don’t want to be the most underdressed.

Black tie|
Men

  • Black tuxedo jacket and trousers
  • Crisp white formal shirt with button studs and cuff links
  • Bow tie (or formal long tie, smart tie clip optional, as is pocket square)
  • Cummerbund or vest
  • Black patent shoes and black dress socks

Women

  • Floor length evening gown, or dressy cocktail dress
  • Evening heels or shoes (fabric over leather, often)
  • Formal accessories (not the handbag you schlep to the office, for example) and hair very done

Semiformal or Cocktail

Men

  • Dark suit
  • Crisp, pressed dress shirt
  • Tie, cuff links, tie pin if you’re feeling it
  • Leather dress shoes and dark dress socks

Women

  • Cocktail dress, top and skirt combination or smart pantsuit in an evening fabric
  • As dolled up in accessories as you like: jewellery, handbag and shoes
 
Business Formal – a slightly less smart or formal version of the above for both men and women
Festive Cocktail
Men
  • Relaxed cocktail attire, but a bit more ease. A vest over a dress shirt. Reindeer sweater is not required (be relaxed, but not costumey)
Women
Business Casual

Are jeans ok for business casual? If the function and occasion are more casual than business, then yes, but opt for your darkest, pristine denim.

Men
  • Blazer or sport coat in a seasonally appropriate fabric
  • Casual dress shirt (tie is optional) or collared polo
  • Loafers (if wearing socks, they should be good socks, not white gym socks. And hipsters may bare ankle as they see fit).

Women

  • Casual dress (nothing strapless or too precious) or a shirt with skirt or pant
  • Keep the business in “business casual” – nothing too slinky or bombshell
  • Wedges, modest heels or a smart flat (look no further than Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge for a study in casual)

The Art of Hosting

The Art Of HostingBy Karen Cleveland
Photography by James Pattyn

 

There is something undeniably satisfying about feeding people you love. If your go-to dinner party plan consists of ordering take-out and eating on the couch, step up your game with these hosting guidelines.SET THE TABLE: Place dinner plates in the middle of the setting. Glasses go on the right side of the plate–first the water glass, then the wine glass. Place side or salad plates to the left of dinner plates.
Forks go to the left of plates; knives, then spoons, go to the right. Just to make things complicated, small cocktail forks go to the outermost right. Blades of knives face in towards the plate, and napkins go to the left of the forks.

NOW SET THE TONE: Anticipate your guests’ needs. Be ready to stash jackets, wet umbrellas and anything else they need to unload, and welcome them into a clean, tidy, cozily lit place. Washrooms should be spotless and fully stocked with provisions like toilet paper, soap, clean towels and a scented candle. Immediately popping a welcome cocktail into your guests’ hands won’t hurt, either.

 

LIBATIONS: Aperitifs are meant to open up and stimulate the appetite. (Cocktail trivia: the Latin word aperio means “to open.”) For a refreshing start to the meal, offer a Campari and soda (with a twist of orange) or a glass of champagne. Avoid anything too intense that could singe the palette. After dinner you can serve digestifs, such as scotch, brandy or port. Darker and typically higher in alcohol than aperitifs, these nightcaps are meant to help digestion.

HOW TO SERVE AND CLEAR: Serve your guests from their left and clear from their right. Typically women are served first, starting with the eldest through to the youngest. Once the ladies have been served, dole out to the gents, starting with the most senior. Or, if there is a guest of honor, begin with him or her and serve clockwise from there. Alternatively, you can serve family-style: place serving dishes on the table and let guests help themselves.

KEEP A HAWK-EYED POST: Keep an eye on your guests to ensure they have what they need. Keep their wine and water glasses topped up and ensure that dishes, sauces and condiments make their way around the table to everyone. Offer guests second (or third) helpings and revel in their enjoyment. When everyone is finished the main course, clear everything from the table, except what’s needed for the dessert course, and tuck it out of sight in the kitchen. Then you’re ready for the grand finale of dessert, digestifs and coffee. At the end of the evening, make sure your guests are able to get themselves home safely.

(Originally published on 2 For Life Magazine, August 2013)

 

Host an “Oh, it’s no big deal” Summer Party

As promised, here’s the second in a little series as a guest contributor for This Beautiful Day.

Host an “Oh, it’s no big deal” Summer Party

We’re helping you have the BEST summer evaaaaa with Etiquette ExpertKaren Cleveland who will be sharing her gems all summer along. This is the second in our three-part series. Missed the first one? Catch it over here!

Summer weekends are prime real estate in social calendars, booking up well in advanced. Between cottage weekends, weddings, showers and vacations, I’m lucky if I’ll be able to round up all of my dearest and dearest before Thanksgiving! When weekend dinner plans aren’t in the cards, midweek entertaining is the answer. Even an intimidated host can pull together a Thursday night dinner party with ease and it is a fantastic respite to break up the work week.

Barque-BBQ

The dog days of summer, with fresh produce, late sunsets and BBQs, beckon for unfussy dinners. Invite friends a week or so out, then use that window of time to set mini deadlines. Plan the menu one night, shop for beer, wine and shelf-stable ingredients the next night. Buy flowers and ice, do some chopping and before you know it, everything will practically be done.

If your space (and menu) is conducive to it, make the most of your BBQ. You can tend to it within chatting distance of your guests and it minimizes clean-up. Bonus! Grill everything you possibly can: some bread to serve with a salad to start, fish, meat, veggies or pizza for mains, then some hard fruit for dessert (grilled peaches with a brush of bourbon? Pineapple with a super easy rum sauce? Yes, please). Add in some beer and wine on ice at arm’s reach, an abundance of white candles and a fun soundtrack — recipe for a nice midweek for the night and you’re set. Best part of grilling your entire meal? Very few dishes to wash up.

(Originally published on This Beautful Life, July 2013)