What Is Vintage? Comparing Vintage vs Retro vs Antique Fashion

What EXACTLY Is Vintage Fashion? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

While vintage fashion is on-trend right now. there’s a lot of confusion around what is considered vintage in fashion vs retro clothing, and antique.

For the last two years, I’ve been running my own vintage fashion store in central London.

From every ten people entering my store, seven ask: “what does vintage mean in fashion?”

They also want to know what is considered vintage or, how old is vintage.

In this article, I’ll define vintage fashion and compare it with two other terms popular right now: retro and antique.

Then, at the end of the article, I’ll share 8 decade-defining vintage styles, from the 1920s to the 80s fashion, 90s fashion, and 2000s fashion.

Time to find out what is vintage, compared to retro and antique fashion.

What Is Vintage – In Fashion?

Vintage is a term used (in fashion) to describe old clothing made between 20 and 100 years ago.

However, for a piece of apparel to qualify as vintage, it must comprise stylistic elements relevant to the trends of those times.

Garments older than 100 years are not vintage but as antique.

Vintage Fashion Quote

Moreover, as terms like ‘vintage’, ‘retro’, and ‘antique’ are often used interchangeably, the age of the garment is crucial to differentiate between the correct terms.

Also, the age of the item is used to determine the price, together with the item’s condition and its rarity.

Therefore, terms such as vintage clothing, retro, and antique fashion are used to give the buyers clues to when items were made.

The Meaning of Vintage Fashion

Speaking to Vogue in 2017, Anna Wintour explained that the term ‘vintage fashion’ refers to pieces made between the last 20 to 99 years.

“The ‘vintage’ tag can be appended to pieces of at least 20 years old. However, only if these articles showcase characteristics associated with that era”

said Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief.

Wintour went on to say that the term vintage clothing in the case of designer pieces often implies collectability.

For example, a pair of sunglasses made in 1985 that looks no different from a pair made in 2022 is, technically, vintage.

However, you can’t refer to these glasses as “80s vintage” if the style is not reflecting any of the defining design elements of that era.

Exploring the primary definition of the word ‘vintage’ can shed more light on the subject.

The Meaning of Antique Fashion

An item of clothing, piece of jewelry, furniture, or artwork that’s at least 100 years old is described as ‘antique’.

However, the age of any piece marketed as antique must be verifiable.

For example, if you’re selling an item as an antique, but you cannot verify its age, it is safer to refer to it as ‘vintage’.

The Meaning of Retro Fashion

The term ‘retro’ is used to describe clothing, shoes, and accessories inspired by (copies of) older designs but made in the last 20 years.

Retro fashion is usually more affordable than vintage clothing or antique haute couture and tends to be more functional too.

Contemporary retro garments do not have to be exact copies of designs from past eras.

It is enough to be made in the style of the item that inspired it.

In this light, a dress inspired by a garment worn by a flapper in the 1920s fashion but made only five years ago is considered retro.

On the other hand, the flapper’s original dress, made in the 1920s, can be called vintage.

Furthermore, a 19th-century diamond brooch that belonged to your great-great-grandmother can be considered an antique.

Retro Paves The Way For Vintage

Not a season goes by without at least a designer launching a collection featuring retro garments or accessories, targeting vintage lovers.

One of the most recent – and striking – examples of contemporary fashion lines, inspired by vintage looks was Alessandro Michele‘s Gucci men’s collection for Fall/Winter 2020-2021.

Gucci Retro Collection Fall Winter 2020
Gucci FW20 Retro Collection – thevou.com

When the designer was asked “Why the retro immersion?”, he replied:

“The embodiment of retro and vintage stylistic elements was intentional, aiming to raise interest by creating collectability value. Moreover, given the indirect association to second hand clothes, vintage clothing is seen as a sustainable form of consumption.”

Decade-Defining Vintage Fashion Styles

Every decade sees an array of styles; however, only a few become famous and influential enough to become part of the look that defines that era.

Here are a few examples of popular vintage fashion styles, from the 1920s to the 1990s.

The 1920s Vintage Fashion

The 1920s Vintage Fashion
The archetypal 1920s women’s fashion styles included slip-over flapper vintage dresses, drop waists, strings of beads, T-strap shoes, and Mary Janes type of heels.

The 1930s Vintage Fashion

1930s Vintage Fashion
The 30s were defined by the appearance of puffy sleeves, Bolero jackets, fedoras, and new shoe styles such as Oxford, peep-toes, and slingbacks. (thevou.com)

The 1940s Vintage Fashion

1940s Vintage Fashion
The popular styles of the 1940s included straight wool plaid and tweed skirts, brooches, platform shoes, and handbags made from rare animal skins.

The 1950s Vintage Fashion

1950s Vintage Fashion
The 50s styles began to accentuate women’s feminine, hourglass shape. The most iconic looks of the decade included shirtwaist dresses, petticoats, full skirts, twin sweater sets, garments with fur trim, ‘Wayfarer’ sunglasses, and strings of pearls. (thevou.com)

The 1960s Vintage Fashion

1960s Vintage Fashion
Thanks to the counterculture movement that exploded in the late 60s, the decade has not one but two defining looks. In the first half of the decade, women’s fashion was driven by style icons such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Raquel Welch, Diana Ross, and Audrey Hepburn. Pillbox hats and box-jacket suits reigned supreme until the countercultural movement ushered in flowing tops, bell-bottom jeans, and colorful loose bohemian garments influenced by Asian culture. (thevou.com)

The 1970s Vintage Fashion

1970s Vintage Fashion
The most popular vintage fashion styles of the 1970s fashion include elements of boho-chic styles that spilled over from the late 60s, as well as flare jeans, high boots, platform shoes, block heels, and Birkin bags.

The 1980s Vintage Fashion

1980s Vintage Fashion
Among the classic vintage pieces of the 80s fashion, there were sweaters and blazers with shoulder pads, gold chains, Izod golf shirts, and shoes with stiletto heels. (thevou.com)

The 1990s Vintage Fashion

1990s Vintage Fashion
The 90s fashion styles that have become popular pieces among vintage lovers include oversized sweaters, baggy flannel shirts, leggings, and chokers. (thevou.com)

Quick FAQ Recap

What is considered vintage?

Any object representing a previous era or social period, at least 40 years old but not older than 100 years, can be considered vintage.

How many years old is vintage?

The word vintage means “of age.” According to top antique dealers, for an item to be considered vintage, it must be at least 40 years old but not older than 100 years.

For example, to consider an item as vintage in 2022, it must have been made between 1982 and 1922.

What is an example of vintage?

Any item can be considered vintage; however, the most appreciated vintage items are cars, watches, wines, furniture, and clothes.

What is vintage vs. retro?

Vintage refers to minimum age, construction, pattern, or style relevant to a specific period in time, while retro deals with the appearance of the clothing from a style or pattern perspective.

For example, vintage clothing must be authentic clothing from a past-time period, while retro clothes can be contemporary clothes made to reflect a particular stylistic period, like 80s fashion, or 90s fashion.

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