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Back to the Future

Posted on August 24, 2020 in News, Trends, And Insights

Although 2020 has coined itself as “unprecedented,” not all the recent trends belong in uncharted territory. In fact, Stephen King’s notion that “sooner or later, everything old is new again” feels exceptionally poignant right now. The pandemic has brought back several crazes from the dead that were not expected to make a comeback.

Drive-in theaters were once an icon of American pop culture, with around 4,000 locations nationwide in 1958. From the VCR to Netflix, the dated and often blurry viewings quickly lost their whim to more convenient options. With only 305 drive-in movie theaters in the U.S. last year, the concept was barely held on by a thread in 2019. However, the pandemic has breathed life back into the industry. Walmart is converting 160 of its parking lots to drive-ins, and existing drive-in theaters are adding multiple nights and times to their sold-out schedules.

These moviegoers can stay in their cars, and effectively the 1950s, if they follow their flicks with dinner at a carhop! The carhop model differs from a drive-thru in that customers park their vehicles and receive a flat surface to use while eating right in the parking lot. Sonic (known for its unique carhop experience) has solidified its place as the top fast-food destination since mid-March. Other traditional dine-in restaurants have taken note and are adopting the nostalgic model as a part of their COVID-19 adaptations.

Wistful revivals can be seen in purchases for the home as well. Home dwellers are dusting off their jigsaw puzzles, sewing machines, board games, and crafts. The hunt for these aged items is almost as crazed as that for cleaning supplies. On March 23rd, Amazon had more searches for puzzles than Clorox wipes. An additionally puzzling interest budding in the background has been at-home crafting. On the topic of time travel, crocheting, tie-dying, and beading and reviving have made us feel like we’re back in the 1960s. In the last three months, searches for cross stitch kits are up 217.2%, paint by number kits are +295.1%, and tie-dye kits are a whopping +707.8%.

Making your own tie-dye or buying it is up to you, but there is no arguing that the iconic 60s look has made a comeback in 2020. Searches for women’s tie-dye sweatpants increased 4578% YoY (now you know what people are wearing below their Zoom shirts). Many of the ‘in-vogue’ styles of 2020 seem to have taken inspiration from the past. Like tie-dye, there has been a similar surge in searches for bleached jeans, silk bandanas, and butterfly earrings.

Another booming apparel throwback is biker shorts. Maybe fitness fanatics are wearing these more than the infamous legwarmers and neon colors, but either way, the fitness industry is experiencing old resurgences itself. At-home workout videos that dominated VHS systems across the 90s are being refreshed by YouTube revamps, and even the carefree joy of roller skating has made a return.

Perhaps the rise in popularity of van and RV rentals sums up the COVID comebacks best. This surge denotes that Americans are on a quest for escapism, whim, and nostalgia. Since most public modes of transportation have been compromised and employees can work just about anywhere, many have taken to the road. These road trips help us embody pieces of our past. They remind us of old songs we used to dance to at concerts, the food we would eat on the way home from work or class, and the people that helped shape our day-to-day lives.

No one seems to know what day of the week it is, so we may not know what decade we are in either. Perhaps, the reason these outdated trends are making a comeback is that in a time when there is uncertainty in our future, there is comfort in our past. The nostalgia associated with these activities, trends, and habits bring ease and simplicity to the aspects of our lives that are not as clear as 20/20 vision.

Written by Caitlin Tirakian – National Accounts Research Analyst