Elizabeth Porublev from Victoria University’s School of International Business has completed a PhD on the ways wrapping is used, or not used, and what it says about the status of a relationship and the gift giver.
In her study ‘Unwrapping the relevance of gift wrapping’ she identified three types of gift-wrappers: passionate wrappers, conventional wrappers and detached wrappers.
“Passionate wrappers believe gift wrapping is highly relevant to gift giving,” she said. “They believe they are more than capable of wrapping a gift and will often take risks with gift wrapping techniques and styles as a source of personal creativity.”
This type does it more for themselves as a form of creative expression than for the receiver.
The conventional wrappers may have less flair but respect gift wrapping as a social norm.
“These people believe gift wrapping contributes to social bonds between the giver and receiver,” she said. “They wrap because it is expected and as receivers, they like to receive gifts that are wrapped.”
But the third group, detached wrappers, feels gift wrapping is of limited relevance and only bow to pressure on special occasions.
“They will only wrap gifts when they feel it is required and are the most likely to outsource gift wrapping to a third party,” she said.
Poor awareness of gift-wrapping norms meant detached wrappers were often judged for falling outside acceptable standards by the other groups – but not as much as non-wrappers, who were socially unacceptable by choice.
“People have come to expect that a gift should be wrapped,” she said. “A naked gift can indicate the low worth of relationship or that the giver has an unwillingness to personally invest in the gift.”
Ms Porublev said whatever you decided to do, it was important recognise the power of wrapping.
“Just as we remove price tags to remove all commercial aspects of the gifts, so wrapping extends that process of turning a commodity into something sacred,” she said.
As the first part of the gift to be seen, she said wrapping could set the mood for a gift and also heightened the element of surprise and drama of the event.
Gift wrapping in its present form was first developed in 1917, when the Hallmark Brothers in their store in Kansas City began to offer envelope liners from France as a way to wrap gifts for Christmas as they had run out of tissue paper. According to Hallmark the worldwide retail gift wrap industry is now worth more than $2.9 billion a year.
Ms Porublev’s interest in gift giving and gift wrapping started with a year-long stay in Japan where she said gifts were presented beautifully, some even with several layers representing different blessings on the gift.