What’s the difference between retro and vintage clothing?

Vintage Clothing

What’s the difference between retro and vintage clothing? Well, fashion is a never-ending cycle, it takes its inspiration not only from what is popular at the moment but also from trends, which were raged about several decades ago. Some styles just never seem to go out of fashion, no matter how many years have gone past since they first made their appearance on the ramps. Vintage clothing are basically clothes that were in rage from the fifties till about the 80s.

Vintage Clothing

Today, there are many vintage clothes styles that are being worn with confidence and panache by the stylish people worldwide, mainly because these were styles that never really went out of fashion. Wearing vintage clothes does not necessarily mean wearing clothes which are hand-me-downs or bought from thrift shops, it means wearing a concept that is representative of a previous era, or clothes that have been purchased from stores, which specialise in selling outfits made during that particular era.


Clothing which has been produced since the 50s till the 60s has been termed as “vintage clothes.” Anything produced before that is generally termed as antique clothing. Vintage or classic clothing that has been reproduced following the designs of clothes of that time period is termed as repro, whereas retro or retrospective is a style which imitates the overall style of a time gone bye.


Classic clothes can be purchased from stores which specialise in these styles. Modcloth is one of those sites which will offer you an array of clothes for women, ranging from retro dresses to shoes, bags and accessories representative of the previous century. These can also be purchased at thrift shops or quality vintage stores. The Internet is also a great source for classic clothes of all types.


Styles such as the button down collar shirts, faded, soft T-shirts, saddle shoes, big collars, extra wide or extra thin ties, washed out jeans; all these are typical of vintage clothing. For the ladies, the cute flowery dresses, classic gathered skirt, sleeveless frocks – all these are evocative of an era when dresses were soft and feminine. The classic and timeless three-piece button down suit has made a dramatic reappearance in popular TV serials. It is easy to understand why these very graceful and elegant clothes have once again captured the eye of the public.


Genuine vintage or classic clothing is only available at thrift shops or second hand clothing stores. Care needs to be taken when purchasing these clothes, since they may be damaged beyond repair. Sizing is always a problem, and it may not be possible to try them out to see if they fit and whether the style suits the wearer. If retro clothes have been purchased, then the buyer needs to make sure that he or she is able to carry the style with confidence and poise. True vintage clothing needs to be looked after carefully, but then the fact that it has lasted so long, is in itself proof of the excellent quality of the fabric.

Retro Clothing

Retro Clothing

The word ‘retro’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘of the past’. Retro fashion involves wearing clothes associated with past decades, usually from at least 15 years ago, not generally more than a few decades ago. For example, at the moment wearing reproduction Victorian clothes wouldn’t generally be considered ‘retro’ as such (though plenty of retro fans do it), but clothes from the 1950s-1980s certainly would, and there’s a grey area covering the 1920s to 1940s, and the 1990s onwards.

‘Retro clothing’ is a wider category than ‘vintage clothing’, because as well as actual items from previous eras, it also includes reproductions, and items that combine styles from different eras.

Some people love the feeling of wearing clothes that have been worn by other people before: it can give you a connection to the past that isn’t quite like anything else. Others prefer the pristine feeling of reproductions. It partly depends on what kind of look you’re going for.

If your style is more on the hippy, bohemian side, then second hand might be best. But if you’re imitating a sharp 1940s spiv or a 1950s housewife, then you might prefer the crisp lines of a brand new reproduction. There’s no right answer, of course, and plenty of retro fans like both.

Some people wear retro clothes for purely aesthetic reasons, for example because they love the way a 1950s circle skirt or wiggle dress accentuates the female figure. Others do it to associate themselves with something wider like the music or culture of a particular era, whether that’s 1960s peace and love, or 1970s punk rebellion.

Retro can be distinguished from fancy dress because it’s about clothes, not costume. If you bought it in a fancy dress shop it probably doesn’t cut the mustard. But when there are so many wonderful retro retailers around to suit all budgets, why would you want to?

Charity shops can be a great way to find retro clothes and help a good cause at the same time. Car boot sales, flea markets, and jumble sales are other low cost options. Specialist vintage shops, both online and on the high street, are available for special items that you have difficulty finding elsewhere.

The internet is often the best first port of call for reproduction items too. There are some wonderful specialist shops that specialise in clothing from particular eras or of particular kinds, or in retro clothing more generally.

There are as many varieties of retro clothing as there are retro fans. It’s about connecting with the past and having fun finding your own style in amongst the styles of yesterday.

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