What Is the Difference Between “Vintage” and “Retro” Clothing?


The terms “vintage” and “retro” refer to the descriptive style of anything “old” or “antique” – music, movies, clothing, architecture, furniture, automobiles, etc. This article explores the vintage and retro clothing styles and their differences.

Both vintage and retro clothing styles evoke quaintness and nostalgia. While a lot of people love modern and contemporary clothing styles, others still fall in love with the vintage and retro clothing styles. Some people mix vintage and retro clothing styles with contemporary ones.

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The two terms “vintage” and “retro” are often intertwined and have similar concepts, but there’s a line between them – a thin one, but there’s still the line nevertheless. This article intends to draw the line in a brief, clear, and concise manner so that readers will be able to distinguish between the two.

In addition, this article provides some helpful tips on how to shop for authentic vintage garments, especially if you are a fan of anything vintage (rather than retro).

Vintage clothing

“Vintage” clothing refers to the style of clothing that was made during the 1920s to 1990s (or 20 to 100 years ago). Any piece of clothing made during a specific period is considered as “vintage,” as it is a representative of the style of that era. Usually, vintage clothing is original, authentic, long-lasting, and of high quality. Some pieces of vintage clothing are entirely handmade, as opposed to sewn by machines.

The term “vintage” was first used (and is still used) as a reference to a wine’s age. Also, the word used to describe secondhand clothing. The term is Middle English and is most likely a derivation from Anglo-French word vendage or vendenge, which itself is a derivation of the Latin word “vindemia.” The term “vintage” was first used during the 1400s, and as a term, it can be used as an adjective and noun.

Retro clothing

 “Retro” is short for “retrospective” or “retrospection.” It derives from the Latin word “retrospectus,” which means “backwards.”

“Retro” refers to the style or design which describes the fashion trends of the past, especially the vintage style. “Retro” is also known as  “vintage look” or “vintage-inspired.” In other words, it’s a more recently produced clothing which throws back to the designs of the past.

Retro garments feature an old design or style but are otherwise made with newer and more modern materials. Retro-style clothing is all the rage these days. Some retro garments entirely copy the styles of the past, while other retro clothes feature a modern design but are incorporated with some retro elements including a vintage 1920s dress.

How to shop for genuine vintage garments

Many retailers offer both vintage and retro clothing, which allows shoppers to have more options especially when they’re looking for uniquely designed garments. However, such stores that lump both vintage and retro clothing together may leave some customers a bit confused, especially if they’re looking for authentic vintage clothes. 

Shopping for vintage clothes requires some knowledge and a bit of research. If you want to look for genuine vintage garments, it’s best to go to vintage shops, thrift stores, charity shops, as well as garage and yard sales. Take time to examine and “date” the clothes by its parts and accessories – e.g., zippers, buttons, patterns, material, handmade garments without labels or tags, sizing, or designer tags, etc. For example, if you find a piece of clothing that has metal zippers, you may have scored an authentic vintage clothing. Metal zippers were first used in garments during the 1930s, but even then they were quite rare.

Vintage clothing is most likely to have faded colors or some damaged parts. You can also tell a vintage clothing by its quaint and musty odor, which is one of the typical characteristics of “old” clothing.

If you want to shop for vintage garments online, the best way to do is to look for online stores that specialize in vintage or secondhand clothing and other items. However, sizes are different in vintage clothing, so shoppers are also likely to know their exact measurements when shopping online. Unless you have a solid background in vintage garments, it’s still best to go to an actual vintage shop or retailer so that you can try on their clothes prior to buying them.

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