What’s old is new again: Dungeons & Dragons, combat boots, vinyl records are back in vogue

It’s true – pretty much everything old can become new again.

Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game in which fate can change with a toss of the dice, is racking up the best sales in its 46-year history. Teens weaned on iTunes are falling in love with vinyl. And fashionistas are stomping all over Instagram and Pinterest in combat boots. 

Sharing items enjoyed by earlier generations helps families, friends and peers find a new way to connect, experts say. 

“In today’s turbulent world, a lot of consumers take comfort in the designs of the past,” says Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail consultancy GlobalData. “There is something reassuring about retro products, many of which are also seen as being authentic because of their heritage.”

From left, Nicholas Prescott, 21, Lucas Davey, 22, and Austin Anderson, 21, all of Plymouth, N.H., get together every Sunday to play an old-school game, Dungeons & Dragons, one of the retro items and experiences that are back in fashion.

Lucas Davey, 22, a senior at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, began playing Dungeons & Dragons during his freshman year. It’s become a weekly ritual he looks forward to.

“Being introduced to it by older people in your life can definitely (make an experience) … cool,” Davey says, adding that one of his friends discovered the game through his father.

In addition to enjoying playing characters immersed in a fantasy world, Davey says he appreciates the camaraderie of the tabletop game.

“Just sitting in the room with people, just hanging out … is what drives me to it,” he says.

Old-school tech, fashion are in vogue

The NPD Group, a market research company, has also spotted the retro trend. Sales of classic sneakers were up 13% in November compared with the previous year, the group says, and purchases of fanny packs – which spent decades as a fashion don’t – soared 106%. 

Old-school technology is also making a comeback. The iPod, which debuted in the early 2000s, and the Game Boy, a handheld console that emerged in the late ’80s, are among the top trending items on Pinterest, the image-sharing site that has more than 300 million users.

“There’s a really strong theme of nostalgia on the platform,” says Swasti Sarna, Pinterest’s insights manager. It’s a way for users “to see things that remind them of their childhood, or maybe connect them with people like their grandparents.”

Generation Z, which loves all things ’90s, posts pictures of sweatshirts portraying the Powerpuff Girls, some of that decade’s animated superheroes. Pinterest users search for suggestions on how to display photos taken with Polaroid cameras rather than a smartphone. “Combat boots are trending like crazy,” Sarna says. 

The Signature Retro Hi-Fi Stereo System plays everything from vinyl records to MP3s.

Shay Studley Toland said a round of record shopping became a family affair, when she, her husband, Brian, and their two children, Maeve, 15, and Aidan, 17, visited Inclusion Records, a shop in Norwell, Massachusetts.

From left, Shay Toland and her two teenagers, Maeve, 15, and Aidan, 17, and her husband, Brian, show off their vinyl in front of tape cassette wallpaper at their home, examples of old-school items back in vogue.

“We’re fairly new to the vinyl phenomenon,” says Toland who lives with her family in Duxbury, Massachusetts. The visit “made me nostalgic for when I would spend hours at Tower Records in Boston while I was at school at Northeastern University.”

Toland and her husband gave their kids record players for Christmas. The generational divide became apparent in the choices the family members made during their stop at the record store. Toland’s son searched for A$AP Rocky while her husband scanned the stacks for albums by Foo Fighters and U2.

The outing is what mattered most.

“So much shopping is done online, but there’s nothing better than flipping through rows of vinyl records,” Toland says. “I was happy to share that experience with my kids.”

Retro with a twist

These throwbacks aren’t always exact replicas of what previous generations enjoyed. Often they have their own modern twist. 

Dungeons & Dragons’ creators revamped the rules for their latest edition of the game to help entice new players. Today’s turntables often are Bluetoothenabled, meaning they can connect wirelessly to speakers and earbuds. White combat boots are sold side by side with the more traditional shades of brown, black and green.

It’s the old-school vibe that makes retro products popular.

Rebekah Hill, 23, came of age when songs were downloaded and streamed, but when she was a teenager, she asked for a record player for Christmas. 

Hill’s mother, Victoria, found her daughter’s desire for a record player interesting.

“I found it amusing that she would want it when everything is about new technology,” says Hill who lives in Plainwell, Michigan. “When she got into her first off-campus house rental, it was one of the first things she had us bring out to her.” 

Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones

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