30 Retro and Throwback Gifts, From Windbreakers to a Pet Rock

updated Nov 1, 2021
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Credit: Pixel Stories/Stocksy

Imagine that you’re back in middle school and you just got dropped off at the mall with your best friends to do some holiday shopping. The storefronts are illuminated in neon, the escalators are rolling, and somewhere, there’s definitely a jumbo pretzel cooking. Life is good, even if it smells a bit like recycled air.

While the memory of shopping with your childhood friends might be a thing of the past (along with some of those iconic mallrat stores that no longer exist), there’s no reason that your holiday gifts can’t contain a solid dose of nostalgia. After all, so many retro fashion and beauty items are trendy again (hello scrunchies, bell-bottoms, and bangs), and reminiscing about throwback faves is always in style.

So grab your favorite after-school snack, settle into your inflatable chair, and get ready to add these perfectly nostalgic items to your shopping list this year.

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The throwback virtual pet is a perfect gift for anyone looking to relive their childhood or keep busy — though it might be best for someone with a lot of extra time on their hands. Tamagotchi is pretty demanding, and if you don’t feed or play with it when it asks, you’ll be responsible for its little alien death. And you thought killing a houseplant made you feel bad!

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The Witch’s Broom? Jacob’s Ladder? Cup and Saucer? For your friend who always likes to have something to do with their hands, the OG Cat’s Cradle kit is a surefire way to test their muscle memory and take them straight back to middle school at the same time.

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Sure, everything is in the cloud now, but those old-fashioned floppy disks can still make an appearance in coaster form. Can’t you just hear the dial-up tune as a soundtrack?

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Pet rocks were somehow the coolest thing in the ‘70s, and there might be plenty of appeal for the busy person in your life. You can’t kill it like a houseplant, so that’s a bonus! This one even comes with its very own travel crate so you can tote it on the subway or take it out to lunch.

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was $39.99

Not only was Monopoly a childhood staple, you’ll get an extra dose of ‘80s nostalgia with the Care Bear theme. Instead of Park Place and Virginia Avenue, pick up furry friends like Funshine Bear or Wish Bear. It’s a lot cuter, TBQH!

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Hot Wheels are still popular today, but kids of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s will all likely remember playing with them — or at least spotting them on the shelves — while growing up. Wouldn’t a little car make a cute desk accompaniment?

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For the friend who still dresses in bright colors and loves to bullet journal, these classic Lisa Frank stickers are the perfect accompaniment to any desk or office. Because every notebook or calendar could use a neon unicorn or two!

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If it seemed like everyone and their mom was wearing this windbreaker in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it’s ‘cause they were. It’s time to bring it back!

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Honestly, who wouldn’t want to walk around with the jazz cup print on their socks? Share these with the friend who would absolutely dress like Clarissa Darling IRL.

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was $24.99

For the friend who was obsessed with Rainbow Brite in the ‘80s, this shirt is the perfect throwback — complete with the side twist tie to boot.

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For your artistically-inclined pal, look no further than the classic Magna Doodle, which was made popular in the 1970s and continued to fly off the shelves for the next few decades. It's the perfect doodling medium when bored in a Zoom meeting (just make sure your camera is turned off).

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Mood rings can change colors depending upon your mood (or, y’know, body temperature). But hey, they are still pretty and fit right in with that oversized ring trend of 2021.

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was $14.90

Teachers of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s really had it rough with this trend. Raise your hand if you ever did your math homework in a yellow gelly roll pen! There’s no reason a grocery list can’t get written in pretty pastel colors — bonus points if you get some dark paper to match.

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Remember putting these on as kids? They still exist, and can help spruce up any outfit while delivering a solid dose of nostalgia.

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Everyone’s desk could use a Magic 8 Ball. Part decoration, part paperweight, part assistant in crucial decision-making. It’s a win-win-win!

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Before there was Nintendo Switch or X-Box, there was the arcade, and Pac-Man was the king of all games. Give this to a friend who longs for the days of losing quarters at the arcade or playing a GameBoy on the bus home from school.

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Houseplants and Pokémon are combined in this adorable terrarium from Etsy, featuring a dozing Bulbasaur. The round container is shaped like a Pokéball, and comes with a remote control to make it light up. Just better hope that Bulbasaur doesn’t evolve into an Ivysaur overnight!

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Sure, they’re back in style now too, but nothing screams the ‘90s like a brightly colored scrunchie around your wrist — or securely holding a high pony into place. This pack comes with 60 assorted shades, so you’re guaranteed to always have one to match your outfit.

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Similarly, a set of butterfly clips are likely to invoke feelings of “getting ready for a middle school dance” — but hopefully with a lot less crying in the bathroom. Butterfly clips are making a comeback in the Y2K fashion resurgence — but hopefully we can all agree to leave low-rise jeans in the past where they belong.

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For the friend who is definitely more Daria than Quinn, this perfectly sarcastic tee will bring back memories of flipping the television to MTV on a school day afternoon. Can’t you just hear the theme song now?

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Sure, everyone has a phone in their pocket at all times now, but remember the feeling of buying a new disposable camera for that week’s sleepover? And the anticipation before getting the film developed? Iconic, really.

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Pretend you’re in an ‘80s workout video with these brightly colored leg warmers. Just make sure you add a high pony and some spandex to match!

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Because who wouldn’t want a manicure featuring Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash? These nail decals make for a cute stocking stuffer, and double as a fun DIY mani activity for later in the day.

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For the friend who loves to debate whether Ross and Rachel were, in fact, on a break, there’s this iconic shirt. It might not provide any answers, but it’ll make its wearer feel like they’re a character on the show — or at least a barista at Central Perk.

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For the friend who is still a kid at heart, throw it back to the fifth grade with a set of Pogs. If you really want to give the full experience, gift them alongside a binder with plastic storage sheets.

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If you have a friend who was a former camp counselor and can still remember how to start a box stitch, a set of colorful lanyard strings is the perfect nostalgic gift. This set comes with 12 different colors, plus a variety of clasps and clips so they can make keychains and necklaces to their heart’s content.

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Yes, this is actually a fully-functioning Lite Brite, just fun-sized! It would make a cute addition to a desk or bookshelf without taking up too much room.

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For the friend who still talks in Michelle Tanner quotes, this pencil set is both ideal and adorable. The collection contains some of the most classic Full House phrases including “You got it dude!” and, of course, “Have mercy!”

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These cute earrings, depicting the original cover of “Kristy’s Great Idea,” will help you embrace your inner BSC member. Perfect for the pal who can’t really relate to “I’m a Carrie” but will definitely insist that they’re a Claudia Kishi.

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Surprisingly, this candle doesn’t smell like pizza rolls and mozzarella sticks (it’s got notes of eucalyptus, geranium, and tangy orange), but it promises to bring back memories of skating with your friends under those colorful neon lights just the same. Just don’t trip over that awful carpet!