When it comes to gift wrapping, looks are everything. Rhiannon Batten gets busy with the sticky tape Name
Never mind the thought, these days it's the wrapping a gift comes in that counts. Even at many high-street stores, walk up to the counter clutching a purchase-to-be and the delicate wrapping that many shops will then dutifully provide makes it almost worth buying something for this alone. A simple bracelet at Oasis is extravagantly treated to sheets of tissue paper secured with a fashionable sliver of tape; a solitary French Connection lip gloss is hidden deep down in a sleek, bright white bag.

These services are far from unusual. More and more shops understand that the Nineties consumer is a sucker for a pretty package, whatever the occasion - and this is even more true at Christmas, when a stick of holly-patterned paper, a roll of Sellotape and a shiny stick-on bow just won't do any more.

For an original twist, and innumerable brownie points, stylist Beth Evans advises making your own wrapping by covering your gift in plain, coloured paper - putting it in a padded box first if the shape is awkward - and then buying a stem of coloured plastic flowers, cutting off the heads and tying them on to a handful of ribbon to wind round the present for a kitsch but pretty result. Alternatively, thread buttons or chocolate coins on to twine and twist it around the gift; or, "to get a really spangly look", Evans suggests sprinkling glitter across glue-swiped paper. For even more of a sparkle, throw sequinned stars inside the paper so that they scatter out on to the recipient's lap.

For those with less-than-nimble fingers, Evans advises buying galvanised mini tins (from pounds 3.50, After Noah) and filling them with shredded metallic paper. Or, place your present in a "bubbleope" (from pounds 1, The Holding Company) and add a Christmas-tree decoration for a festive touch.

More try-at-home ideas come from Labeena Ishaque, author of a new book, Paper Perfect (pounds 17.99, Batsford). Included in her techniques for glamourising gifts is making your own wrapping paper by painting gold-leaf squares onto Chinese or Arabic-language newspapers and securing this with tangled gold ribbon.

Those who never saw the point of Blue Peter don't have to resort to the harlequined paper and shiny bow, though, because original and exotic wrapping papers are easily bought. Paperchase is the place to start if you want your wrapping paper to match your outfit. This year the design team has come up with a funky Christmas paper range that matches the season's sparkly clothes in a mass of glittery and metallic pinks and silvers.

Stars are the key motif: they appear boldly on black, silver or pink papers; in foil on various pastel ones; glittery on silver or gold; and silver or gold on pink, purple or aqua wrapping to name but a few of the mostly exclusive designs. Individual sheets of paper - including "kitsch" Christmas designs such as robins, Santas and cherubs - cost from 85p per sheet, rolls from pounds 2; but the Paperchase collection also includes a pretty range of differently coloured cellophane rolls and leaf-shaped silver boxes for pounds 2.

Other good places to seek out unusual papers include Bureau - which stocks around 30 papers and charges from 95p per sheet or from pounds 1.99 per roll - and Designers Guild. The Designers Guild Christmas Collection is an innovative range of textural rather than traditional designs, in colours that sweep from deep magenta to brilliant lime, with names such as Maharaja and Magic Bird. Prices range from 40p for gift tags to pounds 15.80 for a giant teddy gift box.

Those who struggle with the present itself, never mind having to wrap it, have two solutions. The first is The Present Company which not only sends your chosen recipient a neatly wrapped present but, once you've registered, even reminds you when you need to book its services and sends you a specially chosen card to sign and post. Prices range from around pounds 10 to pounds 200.

If this sounds too impersonal, try somewhere with a good in-house gift- wrapping service and choose something from its shelves. Czech & Speake will be wrapping all its toiletries in a specially designed silver paper; alternatively, the gift-wrapping service at Selfridges costs between pounds 2.50 and pounds 10, and the staff will happily wrap anything from a Camembert to a cooker (two Ming vases were once treated to the Selfridges gift-wrapping service) in 15 minutes.

Finally, if you've ever wondered what the secret of well-wrapped presents is, Sarah Quiney, Selfridges' gift-wrapping supervisor, advises a stash of that old Blue Peter favourite: double-sided sticky-tape.

For details contact: Beth Evans (0171-627 2321); Paperchase (0171-580 8496); Bureau (0171-379 7898); Designers Guild (0171-243 7300); The Present Company (0171-610 5400); Selfridges (0171-629 1234); After Noah (0171- 359 4281); The Holding Company (0171-352 1600)