What is Retro Fashion? Retro vs. Vintage vs. Antique

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What is Retro Fashion?

Originating from the Latin “retro,” which means “backward” or “in the past,” Retro Fashion describes contemporary clothing, footwear, and accessories created in the styles of the 20th Century.

What is Retro Fashion
Retro minidress from the 70s.

In this article, we’ll delve into the origin of Retro fashion, its meaning, characteristics, and how it differs from Vintage and Antique Fashion.

The Origin of Retro Fashion

The emergence of retro fashion can be traced back to the 1970s when the fashion industry experienced growing demand for past fashion styles, particularly from the 1950s and 1960s.

Retro Fashion’s primary goal is to encapsulate the ethos and spirit of past fashion decades, such as the 1960s flower-power motifs that depict social movements of peace or the 80s punk movement against social injustice.

The Retro-revivalism approach is persistent in fashion design and manufacturing, often seen in the creations of notable designers such as Anna Sui, who drew inspiration from the Victorian era for her 2011 Fall collection.

Anna Sui Fall 2011 ready-to-wear collection

Retro fashion is a lucrative market, and companies like ModCloth have built an entire business model around supplying Retro-inspired clothing to a dedicated consumer base.

Retro Fashion in the 21st Century

It’s essential to notice that retro fashion is not monolithic but spans multiple decades and encompasses a myriad of styles, each with its unique significance and impact.

From the flapper dresses of the 1920s to the grunge looks of the 1990s, the proliferation of digital media sees Retro fashion styles gaining unprecedented popularity.

The grunge looks in the 90s and today.
The grunge looks in the 90s and today.

Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest serve as a catalog of Retro inspiration, making it easier for consumers to access and integrate these styles into their wardrobes.

What Are the Main Characteristics of Retro Fashion?

According to fashion researcher Fred Davis, retro fashion captures the essence of past fashion styles by borrowing iconic patterns, fabrics, and aesthetic elements from previous decades. [1]

flared jeans in the 70s and today
Flare Jeans in the 70s and today.

As such, Retro Fashion is not comprised of genuine creations from past eras but of modern copies that harken back to bygone fashion styles. [2]

What is the Difference Between Retro, Vintage, and Antique?

While retro, vintage, and antique Fashion are used interchangeably in fashion parlance, the terms describe very different concepts.

Vintage and antique are genuine garments and accessories from past fashion decades, while Retro Fashion is the sartorial bridge between the past and the present.

Retro vs. Vintage

While retro fashion comprises modern creations that evoke past stylistic eras, vintage fashion pertains to genuine fashion articles emphasizing characteristics of past fashion decades between 1920 and 2000.

Vintage articles imply authenticity and collectability, while Retro is only modern and functional reinterpretations at affordable costs.

Retro vs. Antique

Retro Fashion encompasses garments, clothes, attire, apparel, footwear, and accessories created to depict aesthetics and fashion styles from previous decades, typically from the early 20th Century to the 1990s.

On the other hand, antique Fashion represents genuine garments, footwear, and accessories at least 100 years old.

Final Takeaways

Retro Fashion serves as a vehicle for cultural expression and personal nostalgia, allowing contemporary audiences to engage with and reinterpret history through style.

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[1] Davis, F., (1994). Fashion, culture, and identity. University of Chicago Press.

[2] Keiser, S., and Tortora, P. G., (2023). The Fairchild books dictionary of fashion. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Championing sustainability and veganism from Sao Paulo to London, Ana Alves is a dynamic force in the fashion and beauty industry. With a decade-long writing career, Ana's compelling narratives on sustainable fashion have graced the pages of Forbes, Wired, Vanity Fair, and more. Ana's journey spans key roles at Unilever and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, where she honed her marketing acumen. As an Editorial Contributor at WTVOX and Fashion & Style Editor at The VOU, Ana shapes the discourse on sustainable fashion.

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