Hipsters’ delight? Retro is big this holiday season

Everything that's old is new again this holiday season. 

Retailers are offering a bounty of retro-themed gifts this holiday, as customers ranging from millennials to baby boomers look for comforting brands and merchandise from past decades.  

 Marketers are turning to nostalgia just as research is demonstrating the powerful reach of the emotion. Academics at the U.K.'s University of Southampton, for instance, have found that nostalgia can boost optimism by helping foster a sense of belonging. 

"When engaging in nostalgic reflection, people … describe their lives as more meaningful; and they often indicate higher levels of self-esteem and positive mood," the group writes on its Website

In other words, exactly the rosy feeling retailers hope their customers embrace when holiday shopping. 

With many Americans still pinched by the slow economic recovery, retailers are under increasing pressure to find ways to get customers to open their wallets. Holiday retail sales are forecast to be only 2 percent higher than last year, Nielsen predicts. 

For Schwinn Bicycles, its classic Sting-Ray is bringing a blast of joy back to aging Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who popped their first wheelies on what's been called "the Corvette of bicycles." A new version of the classic 1960s bike -- complete with its hard-riding banana seat -- is selling out this holiday season, with stores ordering additional inventory, a spokeswoman tells CBS MoneyWatch.  

At The Vermont Country Store, nostalgia is a way of life. 

"To have memories evoked through a product is a rare thing," said Eliot Orton, who runs the Vermont retailer with his brothers and father. "We sell old scents and fragrances, and that's really amazing when you watch women come into the store and smell Evening in Paris. They'll remember their mom wearing it -- it'll bring them to tears."

The Vermont Country Store has grown its two stores and catalog business partly by purveying classic toys, once-popular beauty care products and clothing. Among its more popular items are the Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo, a 1970s and 1980s product that's now bought as a stocking stuffer. 

Another is Tangee lipstick, which Orton notes was popular in the 1950s. 

"My dad called it a mood ring for your lips" because the lipstick changes color depending on the wearer's body temperature, Orton notes. 

Classic Fisher-Price toys such as its Change-a-Tune piano and Chatter Phone Pull-Toy are also big sellers with The Vermont Country Store. 

At ThinkGeek, a retailer selling items with a geeky appeal, old video games and TV shows are behind some of its best-selling holiday items, such as the Tetris Stackable LED desk lamp, inspired by the 1980s video game, or the Star Trek: The Next Generation Hoodies, based on the 1987-1994 syndicated show. 

In some cases, customers are showing nostalgia for items they didn't even experience as kids, but are discovering as adults. Take the turntable, that piece of musical technology that faded in the 1980s as compact discs proliferated. 

The analog record player has returned with a vengeance, with Urban Outfitters among the retailers stocking turntables this holiday. The clothing store, which targets teens and 20-somethings, is now one of Crosley Radio's biggest customers, Elizabeth Braun, vice president of sales and marketing at Crosley, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

The turntables have proved so popular with Urban Outfitters' customer base that the retailer has increased its vinyl collection to 1,000 titles in order to give record-player buyers something to play, she notes. 

The record players aren't exactly what Gen Xers and baby boomers remember from decades ago. For one, some of those sold by Crosley are fitted into portable suitcases and allow hipsters to plug in their iPods. 

"You have these sixteen- or seventeen-year-olds who are starved for the medium," Braun notes. "They love the clarity of digital, but there is something romantic about holding an album in your hands."