Wrapping presents in pretty paper is a weird tradition, when you think about it. It also takes on a slightly sinister, “big industry” quality when you look into its origins: Gift wrap was popularized in the United States in 1917 by the Halls Brothers, the very ones who also founded Hallmark. Wrapping paper is now a $3.2 billion industry, according to 2011 research conducted by the megachain, and a nearly unanimously upheld tradition, particularly at this time of year.
Hallmark also claims that its No. 1 best seller since 2002 are gift bags—which, according to Dabney Lee Woglom, is the lazy way to conduct your gift-wrapping duties. Woglom, who wraps gifts professionally for her online and Shelter Island, New York-based gift shop Dabney Lee, makes it a rule to never use gift bags (if necessary, she’ll do clear bags with colorful tissue paper). “A big part of the gift is the presentation,” she told me over the phone earlier this week. If you really want your gift to stand out—or make impersonal gifts, like gift cards or money, more meaningful—you have to wrap it, and wrap it nicely. Get a box, cut in straight lines, crease the folds, and hide the tape.
You don’t want your present looking all rumpled and bulky sitting next to a slickly wrapped present in thick, beautifully patterned wrapping paper, do you? The answer is no. We asked Woglom to patiently take us through the steps she takes when wrapping presents, no matter how obvious, and emerged with this list of tips that the pro-wrappers use.
If we’re going to spend $3 billion annually on colorful paper, we should at least do it right.
In addition to running her brick-and-mortar store from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, Woglom manages online and client orders from her home in Brooklyn. This season, she’s been working on gift wrapping for a corporate client with more than 200 gifts to wrap. With four years of professional practice, she’s worked out a system. She also knows the supplies that work the best for her, and brings them back out each year.
When wrapping, Woglom wields two pairs of super sharp scissors, one for cutting paper and one for cutting ribbon. She recommends a pair of gold-handled ones from Haute Papier.
She buys gift wrap in sheets rather than rolls so that it’s easier to lie flat on a work table, and prefers thicker, matte wrapping paper. “Glossy paper shows every imperfection,” she says. “If it’s too thin, it will rip on a sharp edge, and if there’s too much glitter it’s hard to get the tape to stick.” Woglom buys a lot of her paper from Rock Paper Scissors, a Nashville-based paper store ($5 per sheet). We have a few recommendations of our own.
One rule that almost all professional gift wrappers abide by is to only use double-sided tape so that no tape is visible. When wrapping a box, set it on the paper and fold the paper’s edges along the length of the box, bringing the side on top all the way to the box’s edge. Make a seam (fold the edge of the paper under), put the double-sided tape on the underside, and press down. Same goes for the shorter sides: After folding into that triangular flap, seal it down with the double-sided tape on the underside.
Woglom uses a 3M tape dispenser and crystal clear tape, both from Uline. The tape comes in different widths—she uses 3/8 of an inch for regular-sized packages—and is completely transparent so it won’t show up even if it peeks out from underneath.
Wrapping your gift in a box looks the nicest and shows an extra degree of thoughtfulness, so recycle gift boxes from last year or buy these nice glossy ones from the Container Store. Woglom also buys white label stickers from Paper Source to conceal the price sticker instead of trying to scratch it off.
If the gift is weirdly shaped, or there’s no time to wrap, Woglom recommends buying clear gift bags, filling them with shredded metallic paper, tying them with ribbon, and sticking in a sprig of holly. Otherwise, wrap your presents this year with a healthy dose of perfectionism and tie it up in a bow (Woglom recommends these lovely ribbons from Angela Liguori).