5 Old-School Things Kids Made Hip Again

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- "I just don't get these kids and their ..."

The list of items for the grumpy curmudgeons of the world to grouse about is growing shorter as young people go retro.

Contrasting with the high-tech world we live in, many in their teens, 20s and early 30s are enamored and enthralled by items and activities rooted in past decades.

Porkpie hats and fedoras are back atop heads. Burlesque shows pack theaters and clubs. Ear buds are being set aside for big, old-school headphones. Clove gum and hand-rolled cigarettes are once again the cat's pajamas.

We took a look at five blasts from the past that have found a modern home among the nerds, hipsters and cool kids of America.

It might be easy to ascribe the recent popularity in knitting to some sort of post-recession frugality. But there's more to it.

"I think there is a very different attitude among the 20-somethings and this whole 'do it yourself' generation that has evolved," says Mary Colucci, executive director of the Craft Yarn Council industry group. "There's just a new appreciation for things that you can do yourself and personalize. They thought it was cool and it made them happy."

The council estimates that as many as 38 million Americans are in the "knit one, purl two" set and that the popularity of the crochet arts among 20- and 30-somethings is being boosted by celebrity aficionados such as Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jessica Parker and Julia Roberts.

"I think the image of the craft only being for older adults kind of changed," Colucci says.

Knitting may not seem to have much in common with the addictive nature of social networks. But it does appear that the craft shares the "viral" multiplier effect of online videos and memes.

An online survey of 5,000 knitters and crocheters the council conducted in the fall of 2010 found consumers 18 to 24 years old were "more likely to use the Internet to seek advice and to watch knit/crochet videos" and 60% subscribe to at least one e-newsletter. In addition, 93% of respondents went online for patterns and 84% for project ideas. Yarn company Web sites were the most popular (71%), followed by social networking sites (52%).

Of respondents to the survey, 19% were 18 to 34 years old; 18% were 35 to 44; 32% were 45 to 54; 25% were 55 to 64; and 7% were 65 or older.

Colucci further stresses the social aspects of the hobby. Among respondents to the survey, 80% said they taught at least one person to knit or crochet last year. This, in part, "accounts for the amazing growth of these crafts."

"We asked knitting and crochet aficionados how many people they have taught and the average was eight people," she says. "There aren't many crafts or hobbies where you can say that, like 'Hey, I taught eight people how to play golf.' It's a very portable craft, so you are as likely to see it on the New York subways as you are in Starbucks. People take it everywhere and when they meet up in a bar, local coffee shop or library, they are all different ages and all different professions."

Colucci says her consumer research finds two top reasons for why people knit: "stress relief and creativity."

"I think that speaks to a whole generation of people who are working a lot harder," she says. "They will pick up their knitting or crocheting whether it is at lunchtime or 10 minutes after they put the kids to bed and it is therapeutic. They have done studies where the repetitive motion of these types of crafts is relaxing."

Bow ties
For the uninitiated, the long-running BBC science fiction series Dr. Who features a human-looking, English-accented alien who cruises the space-time continuum thwarting all manner of cosmic bad guys. His biology includes the ability to "regenerate" into a new form when mortally wounded (a convenient plot device as actors have come and gone from the role since 1963).

In the character's most recent incarnation, a post-regeneration Doctor, adjusting to his new look, grabbed a particular accessory that caught his eye from a pile of clothes.

"Bow ties are cool," he triumphantly announced, donning what has become a trademark for actor Matt Smith.

It can be debated, chicken and egg style, whether the character's fashion statement inspired or rode upon the trend of younger folks rediscovering the bow tie. But, overseas at least, it certainly seemed to coincide with a resurgence that started to gain momentum around 2009.

The Telegraph, a British newspaper, reported on one leading retailer in the U.K. who credited the series with as much as a 94% spike in bow tie sales.

Across the pond, the bow tie gained momentum as a "hipster" affectation and is inching more and more into mainstream fashion.

Forget the dowdy, professorial image the ties have had, or the mental image of C. Everett Koop and George Will. Ashton Kutcher has made it a standard look for his character on the now Charlie Sheen-exorcised sitcom Two and a Half Men. NBA stars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade sport the look, as does rapper Kanye West and tween heartthrob Justin Bieber.

If more people could learn how to actually tie the darn things, there might be even more of a fashion trend afoot.

Photo booths
This week, Eastman Kodak ( EK) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The financial troubles faced by the 131-year-old company certainly have some basis in management, but in the broader picture it's the latest example of digital dominance. Digital cameras forced the film variety into a very small niche of the marketplace; then the ubiquity of snapshot and video on smartphones and tablets made selling point-and-shoots more challenging.

Research released last month by the retail analysts at NPD Group underscored the fact that the share of U.S. consumers taking photos and videos on their smartphones has grown, while the camera and traditional camcorders share has declined.

"Camcorders and lower-end point-and-shoot cameras appear to have taken the brunt of the movement to smartphones," according to NPD. The point-and-shoot camera market was down 17% in units and 18% in dollars for the first 11 months of 2011. Pocket camcorders were down 13% in units sold (27% in dollars). Only more expensive, high-quality, detachable-lens cameras bucked the trend, seeing sales (in dollars) increase roughly 10%.

There is one, novelty-driven marketplace for traditional photographs that is seeing upward momentum, however. Photo booths -- those cramped, curtained kiosks where you ham it up for multiple poses on an instantly processed strip -- are popping up all over.

It started in Europe, where the booths became popular in shopping malls, movie theaters and bars. Now the booths are returning stateside.

Famous folks such as Johnny Depp and Quentin Tarantino have boasted about installing booths in their own homes. Christina Aguilera had one for guests at her wedding, and noncelebrities are also renting booths (for roughly $1,000 to $1,500 a day using resources such as PhotoBoothDirectory.com) for their own weddings, charity events, school dances, class reunions and birthday parties.

The Web site PhotoBooth.net, a guide to all things photo booth related, past and present, has kept a running tally of pop culture evidence of the reinvigorated photo fad. A booth was featured recently as a wedding reception diversion on the Zooey Deschanel sitcom New Girl, and the hipster-tweaking sketch comedy series Portlandia featured one in a hotel lobby.

The use of photo booths in nontraditional settings has much to do with their new portability. Whereas vintage machines required a truck and multiple workers to move, modern versions are considerably more lightweight. Advances in printing technology have also removed the need for foul-smelling and expensive chemical processing from the process.

Technology also allows those old fashioned photo strips to be adorned with cute, funny graphics; some allow photos to be burned to a DVD or loaded directly onto a flash drive.

Hula hoops
In 1958, Wham-O took a circular piece of plastic, marketed it as the "Hula Hoop" and sold more than 25 million of them. The next year, a fad gripped he nation and 100 million were sold.

Like most fads, the hoop heyday tapered off. It's circling around again, though, promoted as both exercise and alternative culture.

The activity is now referred to as "hooping" and there is even a World Hoop Day (Dec. 12) and a plethora of hoop-related Web sites ranging from exercise-related to quasi-spiritual.

As the sport/game/hobby/lifestyle has gained popularity, its fans have proven to be diverse. Small-town senior centers and recreation departments are featuring it as an activity, while a younger, edgier demographic have made hooping a standard sight at burlesque shows, the Burning Man festival, "jam band" rock concerts and the recent spate of #Occupy protests and campouts across the nation.

Records and cassettes
In an age of digital music downloads and CDs, who would possibly still be buying vinyl records and cassette tapes?

Quite a few people, actually.

Predictions regarding the death of vinyl LPs and the record stores selling them are nothing new. Record stores have seen their revenues plunge by 76% over the past decade, according to market research firm IBISWorld (it estimates they will shed another 40% of sales by 2016).

Those grim numbers don't tell the full story when it comes to old-fashioned vinyl albums.

Since 2006, vinyl record sales have continued to increase over the previous year. Last year saw sales of 3.5 million, a 25% increase over the 2.8 million sold in 2010, according to Nielsen. Among the top vinyl sellers for 2011 was a mix of old and new: Abbey Road by The Beatles; Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes; Bon Iver's self-titled release; Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons; and Radiohead's The King of Limbs.

Who is buying those records? There are audiophiles who prefer the warm resonance and crackling charm of LPs over pristine CDs. There are also DJs (of the club, not wedding, variety) whose stock-in-trade requires the tactile manipulations vinyl records allow. Aesthetically, the look and feel of a gatefold of artwork adds a physical element those bits and bytes of electronic tunes cannot provide.

More surprising may be the growing return of cassette tapes, a left-for-dead technology that musicians and consumers are starting to embrace.

In 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan, roughly 15,000 cassette album recordings were sold; that number jumped by nearly 50% last year. (By comparison, about 442 million were sold in 1990.)

Granted, comparing sales stats for all music formats makes cassette sales little more than a rounding error. But those formal numbers don't account for the full spectrum of the cassette resurrection: the quaint return of mix tapes; boom boxes fueled by thrift store tapes that pump out a soundtrack for dance crews; musicians and DJs who find that handing out tapes makes for a memorable calling card; and garage bands who can hunt down old-school, analog four-track recorders easier and cheaper than state-of-the-art digital equipment.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont.

>To submit a news tip, email: tips@thestreet.com.


Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

If you liked this article you might like

The (James) Bond Market

The (James) Bond Market

Junk Mail Folders Can't Contain Spam Profits

Junk Mail Folders Can't Contain Spam Profits

Will Summer Concerts Sing the Blues?

Will Summer Concerts Sing the Blues?

'As Seen On TV' Rings the Till For Retailers

'As Seen On TV' Rings the Till For Retailers

Praise and Profit: How Religion Pays Off

Praise and Profit: How Religion Pays Off