Baby showers are in no way like bridal showers or weddings. For starters, you don't need to be ready for marriage to enjoy a wedding. Any nuptial-related activity involves a bunch of people you like getting together and getting hammered while dancing and making happy fools of themselves. Baby showers, on the other hand, can be rather sobering affairs. They do not involve much drinking, since the person you're celebrating can't really get blitzed herself. The organizers often find themselves anxious and at a loss for activity, so you end up playing a few games, but really the focus of the entire affair becomes the presents. That's right, people-who've-not-yet-been-to-a-baby-shower, you must bring a present. Unlike weddings, where you can party your face off and then send something from an online registry four months later, if you show up empty-handed to a baby shower, you are going to look like a fool during the main event of the party, wherein the mother-to-be and friends slowly go through each present the guests have brought, ooh-ing and aahh-ing accordingly. Sitting at one such shower, I had a thought: Men would never do this to each other.
Should you, like me, find yourself needing to buy a close friend a gift for her baby or small child that won't make you or her feel like part of a saccharine Mad Men episode, here are some spots I've found that really (really) make lovely and interesting things. (That is, until said child is old enough to wear Phillip Lim's children's collection; it is beyond adorable.)
167 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope
I wandered all over Park Slope one afternoon before finally buying everything I needed for a chic pal's soon-to-arrive baby girl at this one store. They have the charming Trumpette socks that look, alternately, like little sneakers or Mary Janes (genius!), soft-and-sweet stuffed animals that don't look like FAO Schwartz cast-offs (I loved the pillowy teeth and cushy giraffe rattle), and crisp, soft striped rompers that looked almost Parisian.
123 West 10th, West Village
Ideal for babies and toddlers alike, the premise behind this toy store is that every item stimulates creative thinking. And once you start playing, you'll see why. A deceptively simple plastic bowl is carved in such a way that it can become a hat, a shell, a sand-scoop, anything. Basic building blocks get a few mirrored sides to surprise a child with his or her own reflection. It's all so wonderfully Dutch, and yet doesn't feel at all smug.
96 North 6th, Williamsburg
An idea so brilliant I'm a bit amazed it's in Williamsburg and not one of the heavy-stroller-traffic neighborhoods: a kids' consignment shop. Buy something for a five-month-old and trade up at nine months. Plus, considering the cool factor of the 'hood, the selections are seriously hip: from Like-a-Bikes to Harold and the Purple Crayon.