MintStyle with Rachel Weingarten: Valentine’s Day Gift Trends Then and Now

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Who would have thought that a holiday that began as the commemoration of an ancient saint would become one of the biggest spending days of the year?

According to the National Retail Federation, the average person will spend $130.97 on Valentine’s Day gifts this year, with men spending significantly more than women, and total holiday spending expected to reach $18.6 billion.

That’s a lot of bon  bons.

Gifts are expected to include candy, jewelry, flowers and expensive nights out. But were those always the most popular options?

Cards: Always Classic

The most common Valentine’s Day gift is a thoughtful card, following a tradition that began in the 1800s when cards were handmade and considered a token of love.

“I don’t think that the theme ever changes. It’s always about love and hearts. It’s the technology and delivery that changes,” says Sharman Roberts, Image Collection Manager for Hallmark.

These days, cards are just as likely to be electronic or include messages from Justin Bieber.

Frugal tip: Consider giving a friend a card with seeds embedded in the paper. They simply have to plant and water and your gift becomes a bouquet. 

Chocolate: Updated Classic

We tend to think of Valentine’s Day as the quintessential American holiday, but it’s celebrated internationally in many different ways. In Japan, it’s traditional for women to only give gifts of chocolate to the men in their lives including bosses, husbands, and fathers.

PR consultant Emi Kamiya spent her childhood in Japan and remembers looking forward to Valentine’s Day when her father would come home from work laden with chocolate gifts given to him by female colleagues.

To even things out, Kamiya says, “Men, in turn, have to give gifts to women on a “flipped” Valentine’s Day concept called White Day, which is later in the month.” Gifts include white chocolate and, more recently, pricey jewelry and designer handbags.

Some might consider chocolate to be an old-fashioned gift, but Meghan Fitzpatrick, Marketing Specialist for Lake Champlain Chocolates, says that for the past three decades, Valentine’s Day has always been their top holiday.

But it isn’t just a holiday for expressing romantic love. Fitzpatrick says modern trends evolved to include sending a heart-shaped box of chocolates to your mother or best friend.

Feeling nostalgic? Pick up a Mastrad Chocolate Fondue set for about $17.00 and relive the groovy ’70s with your unattached friends.

Frugal tip: Share Hershey’s holiday-inspired miniatures with co-workers.

Jewelry: The Big Splurge

There are countless statistics about how many people plan to get engaged on Valentine’s Day. But that doesn’t mean that gifts of jewelry have to be expensive or of the “ever after” variety.

Eric Freiberg, CEO of, a site selling designer jewelry at steep discounts, says modern consumers prefer seeing the value of what they’re buying. “They like nicer things, but they’d rather stretch their dollars and get the most value for it.”

He continues, “The new status symbol is bragging about how much off of retail you paid.”

During the ’70s, a true gift of love was considered a Speidel I.D. bracelet that could be engraved. At about $20 each, they’re still a thoughtful retro gift idea.

Trends change though, and many of today’s hottest gifts are inspired by pop culture. Helzberg Diamonds recently launched the Infinity X Infinity collection (starting at about $49) inspired by the TV show Revenge.

Going along with the theme that Valentine’s Day celebrates love of every combination and permutation, jewelry designer Udi Behr told me that to him, the double infinity design symbolizes the ultimate bond of love- that between a father and a daughter.

“The traditional heart shape represents only one kind of love,” said Behr. “The double infinity symbol opens up the possibility for so much more.”

Flowers: A Classic Symbol of Love

For generations, red roses were the quintessential gift of love.

“Roses and other flowers were often used to express feelings and emotions that words could not fully express throughout history  and across various cultures. Red roses, signifying love and romance, and with its elegant and precious scent, became the flowers of choice for Valentine’s day,” says Olivier Plusquellec, co-founder of Ode a la Rose, a NYC-based floral company that aims to bring back the flower’s classic charm and beauty.

For forgetful types, H. Bloom (available in five major cities) offers a tongue-in-cheek romantic floral gesture. Visit where you can choose to be a hero for a day. Have flowers delivered to your own office and then act the part of a thoughtful hero and present a gorgeous bouquet to your sweetie.

And while roses are still a classic choice, they’re not the only choice. Teleflora’s Violets and Butterflies arrangement (about $45 at is a thoughtful pick-me-up for a newly single friend.

A Final Thought

MintStyle debuted last year on Valentine’s Day and while it’s been a true labor of love, all good things must come to an end. I’ve loved exploring and sharing the best in shopping, saving and splurging with all of you over the past year.

Most of all, I loved hearing from readers about their personal style evolutions and style challenges faced and vanquished.

If I have to choose only one piece of wisdom to leave you with, it’s that true personal style is timeless and comes without a price tag.

True style includes not only what you wear, but everything that makes up your personal brand and trademarks.

Rachel Weingarten had a blast working on MintStyle and thanks each and every one of you who wrote in with questions, comments or pleas for help. Rachel is a noted style expert and contributes to outlets including CNN, Crain’s NY Business,MSN and Newsday among others. She’s the author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s and an as yet unnamed book project that will debut in Spring 2014. Visit her online at or on Twitter @rachelcw.