Ask Sophie: Should I Tell My Friend I Regifted Her Gift?
A few years ago, a friend of mine went on a vacation that ended in a visit to a perfume boutique. Knowing that I like perfume, she declared she was going to find the perfect scent and give it to me as a Christmas gift.
In the weeks before the holidays she kept excitedly mentioning it, saying she’s sure I’m going to love it and can’t wait to see my reaction. Finally the day came: sometime in January, we went out for brunch and exchanged gifts.
And out of the gift bag came Chanel No. 19.
Now, mainstream perfume boutique selection considered, I think she did a good job of choosing one for me. I tend to like fresh dewy green scents over floral or sweet ones, and No. 19 has a good dose of bitter, aromatic, and green notes.
But it still has that powdery-floral-aldehydes thing going on in the base. I wore it a couple of times and tried to make myself like it, but it was nothing more than “okay” to me.
If that was all, I probably could have kept it, broken it out every once in a while to make her happy. But the truth is I’m kind of uncomfortable wearing Chanel. I feel like we don’t talk about the fact she was a Nazi collaborator nearly enough. She may be dead and have nothing to do with the brand anymore, but it just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
I would feel so awkward if someone asked what I was wearing and I had to say Chanel. I know lots of people probably don’t have a problem with it, but it just feels weird to me. I can’t put it out of my head. It bothers me that we as a society keep treating Chanel like this peak of glamor and class when she betrayed her business partners and collaborated with the Nazis. Maybe it’s silly, but I just don’t feel comfortable owning or wearing anything with her name on it. It just doesn’t feel good to me.
I haven’t tried most of the Chanel perfumes. I’d like to keep it that way. Their style isn’t for me, but what I’d hate even more is if I liked one and had to debate whether or not to buy it.
I don’t know how else to explain it except that it gave me the ick. It felt gross to wear. Even though it smelled kind of nice, I felt dirty and wanted to wash it off.
So I did what I think any sensible person would do. I thanked my friend for the perfume, tried it in front of her, and then promptly regifted it.
I gave Chanel No. 19 to an older family friend who I knew would delight in the glamor of the Chanel name and have no further thoughts on the matter.
(For the record, she loved it — she couldn’t get enough of the idea that she was wearing a Chanel, and that it wasn’t the same Chanel that all her friends were wearing. I don’t think she cared what it actually smelled like.)
I thought that would be the end of it. But my friend who gave me the perfume keeps mentioning it every once in a while. She likes to sniff my wrists and ask what perfume I’m wearing today and listen about my hobby. And occasionally, she mentions that I never wear the one she gave me.
She never asks why or goes further than that, but she hasn’t forgotten about it. Once or twice I wore something that smelled kind of similar and her eyes lit up and she asked whether it was the perfume she gave me. I probably should have said yes but I can’t lie to save my life. I said no.
We’re not fighting about it or anything, but it’s been years now and I know she hasn’t forgotten. She doesn’t know what I did with the perfume after she gave it to me, but she knows I never wear it. She comments on it in a joking sort of faux-sulky tone sometimes, but I can tell she actually feels some kind of way about the fact I never wear her gift. At the very least, she’s probably confused or sad that she didn’t pick a good gift for me.
I don’t know what to do to make this whole thing go away. It’s a little thing, but the guilt gnaws at me every time we go out and she asks what I’m wearing.
Do I tell her? She might feel hurt that I regifted it, but then at least this will all be over, right? I just hate that nagging feeling like I’m lying to someone or avoiding something I need to do. I want to stop feeling weird about this. Is telling the truth the only way to put this behind us?
This sort of thing is exactly why I advocate against gifting fragrance generally unless you are very confident in your knowledge of someone’s tastes.
If we’re going to talk about gift etiquette, let’s start with your friend. Repeatedly remarking that you never wear the thing someone got you, even in a joking way, is tactless. She gave you a gift, and what you do with it afterwards isn’t for her to decide.
If someone you see frequently never wears that thing you gave them, there’s a tacit understanding that they don’t like it enough to bring it out often. What’s the point in bringing it up? Sure, it can feel disappointing for the gift-giver, like they’ve failed to pick a good present. But is there any value in bringing it up repeatedly besides making you a little uncomfortable, even as a joke?
Though doubtless it’s unintentional, what your friend is doing is inconsiderate. It’s making you feel uncomfortable and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. You’re right that you need to do something about this if you don’t want that creeping awkwardness and guilt to keep poisoning your relationship.
Without knowing you, your friend, and everything about your friendship dynamic, it’s hard for me to give the best advice to solve this problem with the least amount of hurt feelings. Still, I’ll do my best to untangle this based on what you told me here.
Because I know far more about you than about your friend — you wrote to me and she didn’t — this answer is going to be rather focused on making you feel better, not her. That’s your goal here, after all, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Your concern for not hurting your friend is holding you back from doing what you actually want to do, which is to stop feeling guilty about this yourself. But I think making a decision that frees you of your guilt here will ultimately strengthen this friendship if it’s worth anything.
That’s what friends do for each other, isn’t it? We tell the truth. We’re open and honest and vulnerable in being ourselves. We own our choices and voice our problems. That’s the foundation of a comfortable friendship, and you don’t seem comfortable right now.
Let’s start with any guilt you may have about regifting. I, for one, love regifting. It’s one of my favorite things to do with gifts, along with donating them. As someone who’s generally staunchly anti-consumerist (a bit ironic considering I write a fragrance blog, but we’ll discuss that some other time) and doesn’t like receiving gifts unless they’re highly useful or deeply sentimental, regifting is a perfect way to get by in a heavy gifting culture. It’s pragmatic, eco-friendly, and efficient.
When I receive something I don’t need and give it to someone else, I save myself having to buy something new. Hopefully, I match something I don’t care about to a delighted owner. I am burdened by one less possession, and they are happy to have one more. That seems to be exactly what you did with your bottle of Chanel No. 19. Well done.
Not everyone is going to feel the same way about regifting. That doesn’t mean you should keep stuff you don’t like owning just because you feel you can’t get rid of it. What a horrible curse that would be, lugging dozens of possessions you don’t want, use, or need along with you just because you feel there’s nothing you can do except keep them.
Don’t lock yourself into owning stuff you don’t want. The decision to sell, donate, swap, regift, upcycle, recycle, or return any particular item is entirely up to you. It seems like this bottle of No. 19 was a great candidate for regifting, and you found it a good home. What you did is nothing to feel wrong or guilty about. It might clash with your friend’s philosophy of regifting, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon yours.
If you get the impression your friend disapproves of regifting or would feel particularly hurt by what you did with the bottle of No, 19, that complicates things. One might advise you to make up a story about what happened to the bottle of Chanel No. 19 that’s less damning than regifting.
Maybe you dropped it. Maybe it got stolen. Or you could try for the classic “my dog ate my homework” of perfume: John Mulaney drank it.
Or maybe a subtler untruth would do the trick: you could buy a small sample of Chanel No. 19 and break it out sometimes to appease your friend and prove you still have it.
But as you said yourself, you can’t lie to save your life. You’d keep feeling that nagging guilty feeling you’re feeling right now: the feeling of not telling the whole truth.
That is what you’re feeling right now, after all, isn’t it? Do you really feel this guilty about not wearing a gift? Or is it the lack of truthfulness that’s bothering you?
If your goal is to stop feeling guilty about this, lying is counterproductive, because you’re not a person that can feel comfortable telling a lie. You’re someone who is deeply invested in the morality of choices. You know what you say, do, and wear all matters. It makes up who you are. Trying to smooth things over by wearing something that makes you uncomfortable isn’t the answer.
One possible compromise is that you can politely ask your friend to stop bringing the gift up without explaining why or what happened to it. You never owe anyone an explanation of why. Simply agree to no longer talk about it and move on.
But I have a feeling you wouldn’t be fully satisfied with that either. Your inquisitive friend seems quite likely to ask why you don’t want to wear or talk about the perfume, and continually shutting down a friend in refusing to talk about something can feel really tiring and awkward.
It’s an important boundary-setting skill to have, and this could be a great opportunity to practice it. But you’d be left with an untreated wound, an awkwardness in your friendship, a continued sense of guilt about not telling the whole truth and an awareness that your friend is assuming the worst.
Perhaps this answer wouldn’t be popular among etiquette experts, but it’s obvious to me that you need to tell your friend the truth for your own peace of mind. Maybe it’s a little selfish to tell your friend something that might upset her in order to stop feeling guilty yourself. But then, there’s no rule saying you always have to choose others’ feelings over your own.
Between perpetual nagging guilt for me and a temporary feeling of disappointment for a friend, I’d pick the latter. From a utilitarian perspective, it’s less total pain in the long run. From a practical social perspective, it means we can move on from a nagging problem that’s perpetually weighing on the relationship.
Besides, is telling your friend really going to hurt her much more than she’s already feeling hurt right now? She bought you this perfume years ago and you haven’t worn it once. Assuming you two see each other frequently, she’s likely assuming the worst already. Surely she’d feel more comfortable in your friendship knowing that you told her the entire truth instead of leaving her to conjecture for yourself.
The next time your friend makes a comment about you never wearing the perfume, consider casually and honestly admitting that you regifted it. You don’t have to explain your entire ideological stance against Chanel if you don’t want to — again, you don’t owe an explanation to anyone. It’s understandable that you don’t want her to feel attacked for not feeling the same way you do about Chanel.
You can certainly share your reasoning if you feel strongly about sharing this information in a Coco-Chanel-idolizing culture. You can also simply say that it wasn’t for you and that you regifted it to someone who loved it and leave it at that.
Tell the truth and take steps to repair your friendship. That’s the only way to stop this from continuing to needle at you and your friendship, dear Redolent Regifter. Once the whole truth is out there, the hardest part will be done. Repair should come easily after. You’re friends, after all. You know how to forgive and care for each other.
I think the not knowing is more torturous to your friend than a definitive knowledge of the truth. It’s probably why she keeps bringing it up: not because this is some insurmountable heartbreak, but because she wants to know what happened. Once you’re both on the same page, this whole thing can fade away. Your conscience will be clean and your friend will never buy you Chanel again.
And if a Christmas gift from several years ago is really enough to permanently scar a friendship, ask yourself how much that friendship is worth to you anyway.
The game you’re playing right now is exhausting. Tell the truth, be yourself, and let that be enough. For anything worthwhile, I promise that it is.
P.S.: If you, dear reader, are stuck with a sample or decant of a fragrance you don’t like, consider signing up for my traveling sample box!